Saturday, December 15, 2012

Time to tweak the NCAA Division I Hockey Tourney

Boston College Eagles men's ice hockey
Boston College Eagles men's ice hockey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, there was an November 29 article by Mark Bedics at and the chair of the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee and current athletic director of Notre Dame Tom Nevala, would like to see the first round of the Men’s NCAA Division I hockey tourney moved on campus and have the games played at the home ice of the higher seed.
Our current setup provides a lot of challenges,” said Tom Nevala, chair of the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee and senior associate athletics director at Notre Dame. “You need to find buildings that are neutral sites, have NHL ice and ideally are within close proximity to the host school’s fan base. Right now for the most part, we really need the host to qualify if we are going to have good attendance and atmosphere at our regionals. In an effort to increase attendance, the NCAA has been working with the hosts to try and make tickets more affordable but the nature of neutral sites and non-traditional game times works against us a bit.”
Although, there have been five fairly major format changes in the first 65 years of the tournament, there have been none in the last 20. The ongoing debate about championship format has become more active during the last couple years.
“Personally, I would like to see us move to an on-campus best-of-three series format for the first round,” Nevala said. “The top seeds would host regardless of size of its building. Right now we do it at the conference level and it works very well. There are upsets even with the home ice advantage and the atmosphere for everyone involved would be better. We have such great campus facilities that are such a part of the fabric of college hockey, it’s a shame that the national tourney isn’t played in them.”
I personally would welcome the change with open arms.
I would imagine something like this 1 versus 16, 2 versus 15, 3 versus 14, 4 versus 13, 5 versus 12, 6 versus 11, 7 versus 10, and 8 versus 9. This would protect the integrity of the NCAA Tourney; I would imagine that there would be some tweaks to avoid conference matchups during the first round of the playoffs, if possible.
Obviously, after the first round there would be eight teams left and you could play two regionals at predetermined locations.
This would seem a little fairer to me.
Apparently, a majority of Division I Hockey coaches would rather play in quiet half empty arenas that in some cases aren’t very attractive venues.
One of these less than attractive regional sites that immediately comes to mind is the 2010 Midwest Regional that was held in Fort Wayne, IN, where a whopping 7337 people attended three NCAA Midwest Regional games held on March 27 and 28, 2010.
Watching the Midwest Regional on television, you could see that regional was poorly attended and you had to ask; why? Seriously, why was that regional held in that location? All of the hockey arenas in the USA and the NCAA couldn’t do better option than that? Notre Dame could have hosted that tourney in Chicago or some other attractive location. Hence, the more logical idea of having the first round of the NCAA Division I Hockey tourney the on campus of the higher seeds.
In 2006, the University of North Dakota hosted a West Regional at the Ralph Englestad Arena and it was one of the best attended hockey regionals in NCAA Division I Hockey history when it drew 22,645 fans. For comparison sake, the 2006 regional outdrew the 2012 West Regional Championships that was held at the Xcel Energy Center drawing 20,360 fans.
Obviously, some teams aren’t going to be real excited about going to another teams building to play in the first round of the NCAA tourney but there needs to be an actual reward for getting a number one seed.
Most years, it wouldn’t make much difference if a number four seed played in the home building of a number one seed or played at a regional site; they’re lucky to be in the tourney and anyway you sliced it and they also deserve  play a game against a higher seeded team.
Also, why shouldn’t a higher seed be able to have the luxury of playing in their building with 11,500 of their screaming fans cheering them on. Why shouldn’t the better seed be rewarded for good play during the course of the season? Isn’t that what the NCAA is trying to do?
I am not so sure.
Is it fair for a team that is ranked number one over-all; have to fly half way across the country to Worcester, MA to face the Boston College Eagles in an arena that is 37.9 miles away from their campus. This happens on a very regular basis.
Make no mistake about it, the Eagles have been a great team over the last 10 seasons and they have the record to show for it.
But that being said, why should a number one seed from the west be rewarded with traveling to a regional championship where they have to play the Boston College Eagles in their home state a mere 40 miles away. There’s no way that you can convince me that’s a neutral site.
Maybe question should be; neutral site for who? In its present form the NCAA Division I Hockey tourney is awarding select teams the luxury of playing close to home more times than not. That’s hardly fair for all of the teams involved in the NCAA tourney.
That scenario has happened to the Miami University RedHawks twice in the last four years. In 2008, the Miami RedHawks traveled to Worcester, Massachusetts to face the Boston College Eagles and lost 4-3 in the Championship game – a great reward for finishing with the number one seed over-all.
Not Really!
In 2011, the number one seeded RedHawks would travel to Manchester, NH and this time they had to face the fourth seeded University of New Hampshire Wildcats who were playing a short 35 miles away from their campus, the top seeded RedHawks would again lose, to the host team the UNH Wildcats. Again, where was the reward for gaining the number one seed?
If you look at the schedule of the Boston College Eagles schedule over the last 10 season, they haven’t traveled very far very often. Here is a breakdown of that less than strenuous travel.
In 2003, the B.C. Eagles jumped on highway 95 and traveled a short 46.8 miles to play the Cornell Big Red in the East Regional, the Eagles would go on to lose 2-1 in double overtime.
In 2004, the B.C. Eagles traveled to Manchester, NH; a mere 60 miles up I-93 from the campus of Boston College to play the in the Northeast regional. The Eagles would advance to the Frozen Four where they would lose to Maine in the Semifinals.
In 2005, the B.C. Eagles would travel to Worcester, MA to play in the East Regional. The Eagles would lose to the University of North Dakota. To get to the Frozen Four the Fighting Sioux would have to go a mini Bean Pot Tourney beating both Boston University and Boston College to qualify for the Frozen Four, no easy task.
In 2006, the B.C. Eagles would again travel to the friendly confines of Worcester MA to play in the Northeast Regional and would advance to the Frozen Four where they would lose to NCAA Champion Wisconsin in the Championship game of the Frozen Four. (NCAA runner up)
In 2007, the B.C. Eagles traveled to Manchester, NH for the Northeast Regional, where they would again reach the Frozen Four before losing to NCAA Champion Michigan State in the Championship game of the Frozen Four. (NCAA runner up)
In 2008, the B.C. Eagles were back in Worcester, MA for the Northeast Regional where the Eagles would advance to the Frozen Four by beating both Minnesota and Miami. The Eagles would go on to win the NCAA title beating Notre Dame in the Championship game. (NCAA Champs)
In 2009, the B.C. Eagles missed the NCAA playoffs.
In 2010, the B.C. Eagles would again make the short 37.8 mile trip to Worcester, MA for the Northeast Regional were they would again advance to the NCAA Frozen Four where they would beat the Wisconsin Badgers in the Championship game. (NCAA Champs)
In 2011, the B.C. Eagles would finally travel outside of the Northeast to St. Louis MO, where the Eagles would get drubbed by the Colorado College Tigers 8-4 in the quarterfinals.
In 2012, the B.C. Eagles would again make a return to Worcester, MA to play in the Northeast Regional where they would advance to the Frozen Four and win the NCAA championship with a win in the championship game against Ferris State. (NCAA Champs)
So you can imagine that the Boston College Eagles would like to keep the status quo and keep going to regional held in Manchester, NH Providence, RI or Worcester, MA.
Obviously, the B.C. Eagles are a great hockey program and Jerry York is a great hockey coach but you can’t say that Boston College didn’t benefit from getting to play close to home where their fans travel no more than an hour to see their favorite teams play hockey.
This short travel is a huge advantage over the teams, especially the team in the west unless you’re the University of Minnesota who gets to enjoy the same luxury of getting to have a regional in their back yard virtually every other year.  The distance for the Gophers from their campus to the Xcel Energy Center is a short seven mile trip.
If you break this down, B.C. won three NCAA titles in five years and the year that they didn’t get to play close to their home they failed to make the NCAA Frozen Four and ended up losing in the first round.
What are we to make of that?
I also think that there are a certain handful of teams that benefiting from having the regionals championships in their back yards almost yearly at the expense of others.
The NCAA has announced that the 2013 Division I College Hockey regionals are going to be at Grand Rapids, Michigan, Manchester, New Hampshire, Providence, Providence, Rhode Island and Toledo, Ohio. The 2014 regionals will be held at Bridgeport, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Paul, Minnesota. and Worcester, Massachusetts. Do you see a pattern here?
So I agree with Tom Nevala lets do a few tweaks to the NCAA Division I Hockey Tourney, the status quo doesn’t work for everyone.

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