NCAA Hockey Tournament Might Make Sense In Near Future

Submitted by Brian on May 7th, 2010 at 11:58 AM

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Apparently "we put a regional in St. Louis that four people will attend" is the 37-man Houston Nutt recruiting class of the NCAA hockey tournament: the rock bottom at which changes are made. From Grand Forks comes news that the hockey tournament is likely to go back to its roots:

Proposals were discussed at an annual college hockey national meeting in Florida last weekend and one gained the most traction.

Under the most popular proposal, the tournament would stay as a 16-team field, but the first round would be a best-of-three series played at the venue of the higher seed.

The eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals would play at one of two super regional sites. The quarterfinals would be one-game shots with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. The Frozen Four would not change.

Before the regionals era, teams played best two-of-three series in the higher seed's building. That's how Michigan stole Cornell's cheers in 1992.

I'm dubious about these super-regionals. If you go back to a best two of three and leave the Frozen Four alone—with its Thursday semifinal—you're either adding a week to the tournament or playing on Tuesday. If it's a Tuesday game, you're jamming a lot of games into a short period of time and putting those short-notice weekday games anywhere other than a campus site is going to be an attendance disaster. [UPDATE: Yes, I'm an idiot. There is already a week off between the Frozen Four and the regionals.] If you're adding a week to the tournament, you might as well play another series on home ice for fairness and attendance reasons. A super regional is okay if you can day-trip it, which will be the case in the east, but will be problematic in the west when they put it in Minnesota and expect CCHA fans to make it out or vice versa.

But even a Frankenstein tournament like the one proposed above is vastly superior to the current system, which frequently rewards top seeds with road games in near-empty buildings. Fort Wayne was a nice arena but the exorbitant pricing and unwise scheduling kept people away, resulting in an embarrassing profusion of empty seats that did not reflect well on college hockey. Home games are the most likely way to keep the exorbitant pricing and actually fill an arena.

Surprisingly, there are some protests this could lose money:

There was some debate whether it would be good financially for the NCAA. If teams that play in large buildings like UND, Minnesota and Wisconsin hosted, it would certainly be more lucrative than the current format, which awards regionals to off-campus, neutral sites.

Money could be lost if teams that play in small buildings are the host.

That's almost impossible if the NCAA holds per-game pricing level at about 30 bucks a game. The regional rounds will go from three games to five, six, or seven. Average attendance would have to be about half what it currently is for the NCAA to lose money. Last year's attendance:

  • Fort Wayne: 4,133 and 3,204
  • Albany: 4,073 and 3,737
  • Worchester: 6,572 and 6,054
  • St. Paul: 7,281 and 7,182

The total attendance for first round-games: 22,059 paying double prices.

NCAA one and two seeds last year:

  • Boston College (7,800)
  • Wisconsin (15,200)
  • North Dakota (11,600)
  • St. Cloud (5,700)
  • Denver (6,000)
  • Cornell (4,200)
  • Miami (4,000)
  • Bemidji (currently 2.5k, will be 4,000)

Total capacity: 58,500.

Required capacity to at least match last year's attendance: 22,059. Required capacity per team: 2,700. Actual capacity: 7,300. Tiny RIT's rink: 2,100. There's no way going back to home playoff series can lose money, especially if the second round goes to best two-of-three.

Don't Forget The CCHA

The next year or two promises seismic change in NCAA hockey. First, the tournament is moving towards sanity. Second, realignment and the implosion of the CHA sees the WCHA and Atlantic Hockey go to twelve teams, the CCHA down to eleven, and Alabama Huntsville adrift.

The CCHA has already made the easy decision by tweaking their playoff format, but attempting to shoehorn 11 teams into a 28-game conference schedule is considerably more difficult. We might see a confusing one-off as the league tries to keep a robust number of conference games, but in the long term a move to 20 seems in the offing. With the Big Ten Network's voracious appetite for content looming and the demise of the College Hockey Showcase—a move Wisconsin explicitly made in an effort to get more Big Ten games on the schedule—some version of a Big Ten hockey conference is in the offing in the near future. It would probably be an out of conference round-robin unless Illinois or Penn State or Iowa starts up a program, in which case all bets are off.

(HT: MGoUser jcgary.)

Comments

GCS

May 7th, 2010 at 12:32 PM ^

 

If you go back to a best two of three and leave the Frozen Four alone—with its Thursday semifinal—you're either adding a week to the tournament or playing on Tuesday.

Uh, hasn't there been two weeks between regionals and the Frozen Four, making it easy to put the super regionals in that empty weekend? Or am I missing what he's getting at here?

Alton

May 7th, 2010 at 1:32 PM ^

You are correct, GCS.  The hockey tournament currently takes a week off in between the regionals and the Frozen Four.  Adding a week to the tournament is easy--the extra round will happen the same week as the basketball Final Four.

I Blue Myself

May 7th, 2010 at 12:35 PM ^

If you go back to a best two of three and leave the Frozen Four alone—with its Thursday semifinal—you're either adding a week to the tournament or playing on Tuesday.

I don't know how things were done in the past, but at least this year, they skipped a weekend between the regionals and the Frozen Four.  http://www.ncaa.com/brackets/2010/ncaa_bracket_DI_hockey_men.html

(Note the 10 day gap between regionals on March 28 and Frozen Four on April 8.)  So they can just fill that empty weekend with the super regionals.  Of course you're right that, in the interests of fairness, it would be better to do the super-regionals as a best two of three on the higher seed's rink.  

EDIT: D'oh, too slow.

jcgary

May 7th, 2010 at 12:51 PM ^

Yes there is a week already in there but I believe the NCAA did so for hockey to avoid the Final Four weekend which is the weekend in between the regionals & Frozen Four.  I guess if it was a Super Regional on the same weekend as the Final Four that wouldn't be so bad.

Yostal

May 7th, 2010 at 1:09 PM ^

Final Four is Saturday/Monday, Women's Final Four is Sunday/Tuesday, which leaves you Friday Night/Saturday Afternoon/most of Sunday wide open.  So if you did a couple of games on Friday night, say 6:00 and 8:30 PM at one Super Regional, then do 12:00, 1:30, 2:30, 4:00 (staggered starts at the two Super Regional sites, not perfect, but avoids running in to the basketball games), and then did 1:00 PM and 3:30 PM for Sunday, you would get two days worth of tickets out of each site, maximize your television exposure, and while the guys playing on Sunday might have some issues playing again on Thursday, just make sure that the teams that play on Thursday are one Friday/Saturday pair and one Saturday/Sunday pair.

Not perfect, just rough drafting here, but it could work.

jcgary

May 7th, 2010 at 1:30 PM ^

Correct me if I am wrong but under the plan outlined in the article wouldn't the Super Regional just consist of 2 games.  Each being a quarterfinal game which means each team is only playing one game. 

jcgary

May 7th, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

Yeah I thought having the Super Regionals would work.  I know originally the NCAA didn't want the Frozen Four & Final Four on the same weekend but I am sure they could do the Super Regional and Final Four on the same weekend and in terms of television it doesn't really matter as the Regionals tend to be on ESPNU anyway.

Alton

May 7th, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

If you use the rules that Division I Lacrosse uses to pair the tournament (they have the same system, but with a single-game first round), you can get a pretty good projection of what would have happened this season under this system:

First Round:

Alabama-Huntsville at #1 Miami

Alaska at #2 Denver

Michigan at #3 Wisconsin

RIT at #4 Boston College

New Hampshire at #5 North Dakota

Northern Michigan at #6 St Cloud State

Vermont at #7 Cornell

Yale at #8 Bemidji State

(In Lacrosse, the first round has a "minimize the number of flights" rule and a "no intraconference matchups" rule, which gives slightly goofy pairings sometimes).

Quarterfinal Round:

EAST [Albany?]

Alaska/Denver winner vs Vermont/Cornell winner

RIT/Boston College winner vs New Hampshire/North Dakota winner

WEST [St Paul?]

UAH/Miami winner vs Yale/Bemidji winner

Michigan/Wisconsin winner vs Northern Michigan/St Cloud winner

Seth

May 7th, 2010 at 2:24 PM ^

1. I don't get why they want the extra games occurring in the earliest round (where the matchups are the least interesting).

2. My dream system would be a 12-team field, with the first round (top 4 get byes) a Thursday 1-shot at the higher seed's home, the quaterfinals a best of three (Fri - Mon) on the higher seed's home ice, and then a Frozen Four held at one of four possible neutral sites,* chosen by the top overall seed.

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* The four potential sites change each year depending on availability, so one year it may be Denver, Detroit, Boston and Minneapolis, another year it may be Chicago, St. Louis, Lake Placid and Boston -- whatever. The idea is we know it's one of those four, and once the seeds are generated, the first overall team lets us know which of the four it will be.

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3. Until we know what the Big Ten's final football configuration will be, there's no way to gauge what a Big Ten hockey conference would be. There is potential, I think, for BTN to turn college hockey into a major sport (since it occupies what is essentially the same footprint as hockey). A WCHA/CCHA superconference would make this possible, especially if the football grab nets us a hockey-playing school (yoohoo, ND). Nebraska may be a possibility as well (they have a club hockey team, there's a new arena being built in Lincoln, and the Big Ten $$ bump could take care of Title IX with a women's hockey team).

To make this work, we would probably need to have a few non-Big Ten rivals jump on -- Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami-Not That Miami.

zlionsfan

May 7th, 2010 at 3:57 PM ^

I would say it is a television thing in that there is more drama when you know a game will eliminate a team for sure (thus ESPN/CBS/whoever screwing up the baseball tournament a few years ago). Especially if the quarterfinals will be played around the same time the men's basketball tournament is wrapping up.

I think you're right, a Big Ten-ish conference would have to include some other schools. i don't think there are any schools being considered that already have varsity hockey programs (I think we should all agree that Notre Dame is off the list forever) ... so any newcomers would be in roughly the same position, needing to use some of the TV money to fund men's hockey + a women's sport (and of course that might take some time depending on what they'd have to pay to get out of their current conference and how long it'd be before they get a full share of BTN money).

steve sharik

May 7th, 2010 at 2:38 PM ^

That's how Michigan stole Cornell's cheers in 1992.

Um, exactly which cheers of Cornell's did we steal?  They came to Yost and copied ours, especially the c-ya cheer.  (Actually, we--specifically my roommate at the time--copied that from Duke basketball.)  They took it back to Ithaca, used it, claimed it as their own, and even had it published in a college hockey periodical that it was theirs, as well as claiming that their home ice venue was the most difficult in which to play in college hockey, based largely on the c-ya cheer.