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.)