The expansion of the NCAA tournament was on everyone’s mind Monday, even though it wouldn’t take effect until next year’s event in Buffalo.
Men’s hockey is farther along with the NCAA than it’s ever been in the four years of attempting to expand the national tournament. And a vote from the NCAA’s Management Council is due at its upcoming April meeting, scheduled for right after this year’s tournament.
Jack McDonald, athletic director at Quinnipiac and chair of the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee, and Tom Jacobs, the director of championships at the NCAA spoke about the issue and more during a pre-selection conference call Monday afternoon.
Jacobs said contingency plans have already been made for two extra regional sites, indicating they are leaning heavily towards four separate four-team sites should the expansion be approved.
Expansion of the tournament to 16 teams has always been preferred because it eliminates the bye situation for the top four teams that currently exists. But the matter became more urgent when the MAAC received an automatic bid starting last year, and will get worse when the committee, if all goes as expected, approves the CHA’s automatic bid at their summer meetings this year. That would leave only six at-large slots.
For the second straight year, men’s Division I hockey got approval for expansion from the Championships and Competition Cabinet. But last year, the expansion was seventh on the priority list, while this year it is first.
Helping the cause was the lumping of hockey’s expansion with that of men’s lacrosse to 16 teams and women’s softball to 64 teams. Since the Division I men’s ice hockey tournament is one of a select few that earns a profit for the NCAA, lumping it in with two non-revenue-generating sports probably helps its cause further.
“There’s one million dollars available in the budget next year,” said Jacobs. “It’s not all for championships, but that will get the lion’s share. Up until now, it’s been looked upon as the worst case: If expansion brought in no additional revenue, what expense would we be looking at.
“It’s about two or three hundred thousand dollars. But hockey is one of the few sports that generates net profit. This year, the expectation is we’ll be close to one million [dollars] in the black. The committee conservatively estimates that adding two more sites could bring in a quarter million more.”
The frustration last year was that, hockey expansion was shot down because the focus was on expanding opportunities for women, yet hockey felt its expansion could fund other expansions, such as those in women’s sports.
“That is something that I think the Cabinet has started taking a closer look at. Hockey is self-sustaining and that has helped play a factor,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs and McDonald also reiterated the new travel rules implemented in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedies. The transportation requirement has been bumped to 400 from 300 miles, meaning any team within a 400-mile radius of the regional site, must travel by bus. And the emphasis will be on keeping teams in their home region, unless a team would have flown no matter what region it was placed in.
This year’s selection “show” has been reduced to 10 minutes, and will air on ESPN News at 9 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. McDonald said next year, the show would be back to 30 minutes, “and we’ll need the time with 16 teams getting in,” he quipped.
McDonald addressed whether there was any suspense left to those shows, considering how places like USCHO have published the PairWise Rankings for a number of years, which, thanks to the objective system the committee uses, gives a reliable assessment of who will make the NCAA tournament.
“There’s still a lot of suspense and mystery,” said McDonald. “We spend a lot of time on who the 12 teams are, and also the pairings, seedings and sites. It’s not a simple science. The committee wrestles with quite a bit of issues when we meet next weekend.”
Jacobs said it was all good for college hockey.
“It shows the interest and loyalty of your hard-core college hockey fans,” he said. “Publishing the PairWise, fans get excited, they’re talking about it … in the chat rooms. That sort of discussion in general is very good for the sport. It shows the loyalty these fans have for the team and the sport.”