Nobody Cares About Your Problems, Wisconsin

Submitted by Brian on January 23rd, 2012 at 2:44 PM

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pictured: the NCAA's ideal crowd for a regional

College hockey is currently infected with two things that exacerbate the general meaninglessness of the regular season and often make tournament venues sterile, embarrassingly empty events. They are a fetish for neutral sites and a general agreement to ignore the Michigan/Ohio/Indiana nexus of college hockey in favor of putting everything out West. Only the miraculously blinkered Wisconsin athletic department and their press apparatchiks manage to combine both.

Neutral sites are stupid. They lead to things like sixty people in an NHL building in St. Louis hundreds of miles from any college hockey program. They should be viciously abolished wherever they don't obviously work already. This is something we can all agree on. Except Wisconsin. After months of reporting about how Wisconsin was unhappy with the way the Big Ten hockey conference was shaking out, Andy Baggot's back with a helpful suggestion.

Shifting Big Ten hockey to neutral site would eliminate WIAA conflict

Argh. Baggot is under the mistaken impression that anyone outside the state of Wisconsin gives sixth thousandths of a damn about some high school tournaments. This is the enormous problem that must be fixed:

UW officials wisely voted against this format for two reasons: One, it would create the current scheduling problems with the WIAA state tournaments for wrestling and boys' and girls' basketball; and two, there's a more sensible option.

There is not one person associated with the Big Ten who cares about option one. If the state of Wisconsin had a second arena, it wouldn't even be an issue. Hey, wait… THAT'S ANDREW BOGUT'S MUSIC

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Milwaukee's Bradley Center

If the Bradley Center's too busy, Milwaukee has a 10,000 seat backup currently occupied by nothing at all. We have saved the children of Wisconsin from having to compete for state championships on Lake Michigan. Time to party.

As for two, the "more sensible option" is <drumroll>…

The Big Ten should revisit the idea of a neutral site tournament, which would bring all six teams to one location in a one-and-done format over three days. There are several possible venues and a future rotation could be devised, but the best for now is the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Not only is it a fantastic NHL facility, it's in the middle of a great hockey culture with a genuine appreciation for the college game. The building also has experience handling such an event given its work with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five.

…blithering idiocy. There are six Big Ten hockey schools. They are:

  • Minnesota: zero hours from Minneapolis
  • Wisconsin: five hours from Minneapolis
  • MSU: 11 hours from Minneapolis
  • Michigan: 12 hours from Minneapolis
  • Ohio State: 14 hours from Minneapolis
  • Penn State: 16 hours from Minneapolis

Only an idiot would suggest the fairest "neutral site" that could be proposed is the home city of the westernmost school in the conference, one that only two of the six schools could reasonably drive to. Arenas in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Columbus, Toledo and Indianapolis would be better geographically and could probably handle the enormous strain of putting on three games over a weekend. Only an idiot would suggest throwing away the money four to six opening round games would generate*.

Instead, the Big Ten has decided to put the finals at the home rink of the top seed, something that both gives the conference winner a needed edge in the barely-weighted plinko that is single elimination playoff hockey and guarantees attendance between decent and sellout. This is "unwieldy at best and, at worst, irresponsible." No, seriously, dude said it was irresponsible.

This is the rationale:

Regardless of location, you're asking an awful lot of the six teams and their fans in terms of time and travel logistics. That's especially true of the four lowest seeds, which meet the week before the semifinals in a best-of-three series at the home of the higher seed. The survivors advance to the next round.

In a nutshell, the Big Ten is giving its members two weeks to ready an arena, sell tickets, secure hotel space, line up ground and/or air transportation and make sure its teams are ready to play.

Meanwhile, fans of those teams are being asked to be flexible and keep a credit card handy.

This is something literally every hockey arena in the country has to be ready for because they may host a first or second round playoff series. Unless I missed a spate of unprepared zamboni deaths, they've managed. The argument here is a campus site is just impossibly daunting to prepare on short notice, which is why every NCAA sport other than D-I football, basketball, and hockey uses such things for their playoffs.

If there's a cost analysis between the campus site and neutral site, I'll bet the difference is significant and it favors the neutral site.

If you're an idiot who thinks anyone cares about WIAA playoffs and believes that four Big Ten teams are going to vote to have the Big Ten finals at least eleven hours away, next door to Minnesota's campus. How about this: if Wisconsin wins the league they can hire the X. Problem no one cares about solved.

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*[The problem with the Big Ten's format is it does not adopt the actually logical playoff structure: three weeks of best-of-three series at the higher-seeded-team's rink. That's more money, more games (always nice when you're competing against OHL teams that point out a relative lack of games in the NCAA), and avoids the strangeness of the current format wherein the second-place team gets no home games.]

Comments

cheesheadwolverine

January 23rd, 2012 at 7:22 PM ^

I have been to several WIAA hockey tournaments, they are quite wonderful events.  I mean yes I was in high school, and yes my high school was playing in them, but its not fair to say no one cares.  There's even a website (www.wisconsinprephockey.net), and we all know how hard it is to get a website.  You have to give like two dollars to the stripping Danica Patrick fund. (actually the Kohl Center hosts the basketball tournament, some excessivly warm dump hosts the hockey tournaments).

But seriously, die neutral site games always.

chisf

January 23rd, 2012 at 3:03 PM ^

Brian - the argument is even more absurd when you consider Wisconsin has a backup arena all of 2 miles from campus - the Alliant energy Center, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alliant_Energy_Center (fka the Dane County Coliseum).

In fact, Wisconsin hockey played here until the Kohl Center was built.  Even better, they can sell beer there, as it's off-campus.  Also, when conflicted out of the Kohl Center for the very reasons discussed above, Wisconsin has played 1st round WCHA playoff series at THE ALLIANT ENERGY CENTER as recently as the mid-2000s.

Yinka Double Dare

January 23rd, 2012 at 3:26 PM ^

Not to mention the old Field House, where Wisconsin's basketball team played for like 70 years, is still standing and in use (for wrestling and volleyball, they opened it up to use for warming up and concessions during the UM/UW Camp Randall hockey game and it's still in damn good shape) and seats 11,500, except the WIAA is being total brats about being moved there. 

CRex

January 23rd, 2012 at 3:13 PM ^

A neutral site makes sense when you're sharing a league with BGSU and want to avoid ending up having to run everything through the frozen drainage ditch they call an ice rink.  In an all B1G conference though every school is a school that has the ability to handle 80k+ crowd for college football.  These are cities whose hotel industry views the period between Dec and Aug as the dark period and will have the capacity to handle a bunch of bookings for a tournamet.  

I see no value to moving it to a neutral site.  All you do is starve some school's local hotel industry of some revenue and remove the natural source of the local students as people to sell tickets to.  

If Wisconsin loves XCel that much, they and Minnesota can go run their version of the GLI at it.  

Hardware Sushi

January 23rd, 2012 at 3:26 PM ^

On Wisconsin.

/rimshot.

Seriously, though - who the hell does Barry Alvarez think Wisconsin is? I always enjoy a good fisking, especially about hockey, so good job, Brian.

That's literally the second worse neutral location in the participating states' footprint (outside of Philly, which being an East Coaster, I don't mind because it's only an hour on the Acela).

abcdefghijklmnop

January 23rd, 2012 at 3:23 PM ^

Having lived in Madison for a couple years, I will attest that this is good logic . . . for Baggot. Believe it or not, this is one of his better pieces of writing. I do not kow how he has managed to keep that job.

 

kevin holt

January 23rd, 2012 at 4:04 PM ^

Wait, so does that format mean that there could hypothetically be a neutral site championship game on another school's campus? That seems like a good plan, but then upon inspection turns out to be stupid.

Let's say PSU wins the conference, UM places second, and whatever combination thereafter (doesn't matter). PSU loses their semifinal game, and UM wins. The championship game is going to be a 2-seed UM vs. whatever other school, at Penn State's arena?

Screw that. No one's going to want to travel to Pennsylvania to watch Minnesota vs. Michigan (for example). That's a very real possibility under this format. Winning the conference should definitely have an advantage for the top team, but if they end up losing their semifinal, they need no further advantage and shouldn't be given that championship game.

It might even border on humiliating to have teams like MSU vs. OSU in a final at freaking YOST. Imagine that? I would be furious, and I bet they would too. If the top team loses in the semis, it should be at the 2-seed's arena. The one problem is that this would be very short notice, so you'd have to have time in between semi and final, which usually is undesirable.

kevin holt

January 23rd, 2012 at 4:09 PM ^

Also, NHL teams get around this by selling prospective tickets ahead of time. Maybe the 2-seed team (and even the 3rd seed in case both lose) could sell tickets ahead of time just in case they end up hosting, then giving refunds if the game isn't there. Somehow it could be in the ticket package like how the season tickets at Yost include prospective playoff tickets that aren't even necessarily used. There has to be a way they could structure it.

I would much rather buy prospective tickets to host a game than have the possibility of state vs. ohio in our own house. I'm shuddering at the idea.

EDIT (from last post, since I can't edit it anymore): I realized just now that Brian said best-of-three series. This fixes everything, because you need time between the semi and final anyway. I don't like the CCHA format of best-of-three-which-then-turns-into-one-and-done-when-it-actually-matters. I would fully endorse his idea, and it would fix the problem of short notice vs. long layover.

French West Indian

January 23rd, 2012 at 4:56 PM ^

12 hours, really?  What is that, like, hitching rides on crop dusters?

A direct flight should only be a little over two hours from DTW to MSP.  I'm not sure about the other airlines, but Delta offers several non-stop flights.  Even with ground transport to the airport, security and check-ins it should probably only be 5-6 hours door-to-door, tops.

BraveWolverine730

January 23rd, 2012 at 5:04 PM ^

I'm pretty sure that it's not going to be in the average college student's budget to hitch a plane ride to go to a game(and we're talking about student's here with distance from campus). Those figures are obviously driving times as it's assumed most will drive(my friends even drove to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl). 

Number 7

January 23rd, 2012 at 5:04 PM ^

Here's the ECAC's solution to the same problem:

 

 

Atlantic City.  Three hours (or more) from all but one of the confrerence's members.  In a concert / beauty pageant venue with a giant can-can stage at one end. 

Seriously, a high school rink in Springfield would have been a better option.

Dion

January 23rd, 2012 at 5:57 PM ^

Problem with Bradley, marquette and the admirals also play there, us cellular is the home to Marquette women and UW-Milwaukee mens team, The Colleseum is probably the only venue I've been in that I dislike more than the Metrodome. all three actually already host a ton of events. the planned solution is really really dumb though

lhglrkwg

January 23rd, 2012 at 7:53 PM ^

1. It won't affect hockey. It's affecting wrestling and then boys and girls basketball

2. I assure you, no one cares about the Marquette women's basketball team or the Wisconsin-Milwaukee mens hockey team. The big ten would get say over either of those teams any day of the year

kw_hanna

January 23rd, 2012 at 7:57 PM ^

The WIAA is more than likely going to end up using the Resch Center in Green Bay....currently used by USHL's Green Bay Gamblers (Alex Kile!!), the UWGB men's basketball team and various concerts and expo shows....it's the best optino and the Green Bay community is excited about the option.

 

Yostnut

January 24th, 2012 at 1:10 AM ^

I'm fine with neutral sites, but they need to make sense.  Traveling 5-plus hours by car or plane is okay for the Frozen Four, but I dunno about the conference tourney.  Ideally a site would be near as many fans as possible, and would rotate to be fair.

Campus sites are great, but they tend to be smaller.  At least Yost and Munn are.  And while either of those would be a sure sellout (which even Joe Louis struggles to get, even with both Michigan and FYS), it's hard to imagine that working out for a six-team tourney in the long run.  Yes, it's been done at both, I know, in the NCAA regionals, and mostly it was great for Michigan, but I think the Big Ten needs to think bigger; otherwise, what's the point of it?

There's still the Joe, of course, and that should definitely be in the rotation.  And Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities, and sure, even somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania would be fine.  The Discount Furniture Rink in that state down there is okay too, if you can stand it.

But what about Chicago?

Of course, I'm selfish: I want to be able to see some college hockey without leaving my own city.

But except for the slightly inconvenient fact that there are no college hockey teams in the whole state of Illinois, Chicago would seem a natural central location for a Big Ten hockey tourney.  And it's got to be better than St. Louis or Fort Wayne or Grand Rapids for a regional.  There are lots of alumni from B1G schools here, plenty of hotels, and I mean, come on, it's Chicago!

The only other negative I can think of is that the United Center is surrounded by nothing but parking lots. I was really impressed by the atmosphere at the Frozen Four in St. Paul: the Xcel Center is a fine rink, but it's in a great area, right downtown with lots of things to do.  So a tourney in Chicago wouldn't quite have that same feel right outside the rink, but there's still plenty going on not too far away.  The UIC Pavilion (former home of the UIC Flames hockey team) is a better location, but its capacity is only about 7000.  (Although the regionals have been in smaller places.)  There's talk of some games at Soldier Field, which could be fun, but Michigan is apparently not involved.

This all makes me miss the CCHA, with its wonderfully easy road trips.  When I was living in Ann Arbor, even when I was poor, I could easily make over half of Michigan's road games.  Tickets were cheap, most of the road trips were within a couple of hours, and there was a great group of Dekers to hang out with.  The Hockeymobile made it a lot of fun too.  And of course, the hockey team was regularly kicking butt, even on the road, in the heady days of the 90s.  There were some great trips to places like Bowling Green, Kalamazoo, and Big Rapids, as well as the Soo, Oxford, and South Bend.  There will still be trips to Munn for FYS, and the den of ultimate evil is only a few hours south, but I can't imagine too many people hopping in the car on a Friday afternoon to head from A2 to Madison or State College, let alone Minneapolis.

Anyway, come to Chi-Town.  You can all stay with me.  ;^)