As the saying goes, everything old is new again.
When the Division I men’s coaching body met last week during the annual American Hockey Coaches Association convention to discuss the hot topics in college hockey, two of the major themes centered around moving NCAA regional games back to campus sites and tweaking the selection criteria to reward teams for non-conference road wins.
Bonuses for road wins were a part of the formula as recently as 2007, and before the advent of regional play in 1992, all NCAA tournament games leading into the Frozen Four were played in home rinks. Since 2010, the NCAA regionals have been exclusively at neutral sites after 18 years of mixed campus and off-campus venues.
While those were major threads at the convention in Naples, Fla., trying to get 59 college hockey coaches to agree on anything can be an exercise in futility.
“There’s no consensus. There’s definitely a split in what people are thinking,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “I think the committee will have to decide what they’re going to prioritize.”
Changes to the selection criteria and regional sites were never going to be decided at the coaches’ meetings, but NCAA committee members were listening and have some more information to take into their sessions next month.
Some in the coaching fraternity have argued that it’s time to take first-round games back to campus sites, where fans of at least one of the teams can attend without significant travel.
This season, the combined attendance for the four regionals was 37,321, down 48 percent from 2012. The Yale-North Dakota regional final in Grand Rapids, Mich., drew only an announced 1,918 fans.
Other coaches are uncomfortable with the idea of giving an advantage to schools that would host opening-round games.
One proposed format included eight best-of-three series feeding into two regional sites.
Regionals have already been selected for the 2014 tournament, so any changes in tournament format that the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee wouldn’t take effect for two seasons.
“What we’re trying to do as a committee is trying to think of what’s the best format for the tournament, what makes the tournament the best,” outgoing committee chair and Notre Dame senior associate athletic director Tom Nevala said. “And so that’s what we have to continue to debate. I think if we look at whether it’s our options for locations for regionals, ticket pricing, attendance, all the things over time, we’d realize that it can be better than it is today. And we’ve got to figure out how to make it better.”
Revamping the criteria?
At the same time, they might be looking at ways to make the formula that picks at-large teams for the tournament better.
The coaches talked about the concept of rewarding teams for road non-conference victories, which was one component of the selection criteria from 2003 to 2007.
The idea has new legs now because of concerns with the imbalance of hosting non-conference games. Last season, the 12 Atlantic Hockey teams hosted an average of only two non-conference games per team in their home rink; in the WCHA, the average was over four and a half games.
Bonus points toward a team’s Ratings Percentage Index for road victories could entice the bigger programs to schedule more road games, but it was a controversial piece of the selection criteria in the five years that it was in place.
Nevala said that the committee will see how some potential changes would have impacted past tournament selections, but the upcoming conference realignment makes those comparisons tricky.
“From our committee’s standpoint, we have to be very careful on that or any criteria change at this point using the current math,” Nevala said. “With the new conference alignment and varying the levels of non-conference games, we don’t know what the impact of that math will be.”
Among the outside-the-box ways to get more of a balance in scheduling was this idea: Disqualify any teams that play more than 60 percent of their non-conference games at home from NCAA tournament consideration. That concept, however, was a non-starter among the coaching body as a whole.
Minor discussions on rules
The rules committee is in the middle of a two-year rule book cycle, so no changes can be made this offseason.
There were some small discussions, however, on giving on-ice officials the ability to use video to review major penalties and ways to increase offense.
Anastos, the rules committee chair, said the most prominent idea presented to increase scoring opportunities was to not allow players to intentionally leave a skating position (i.e., kneel or lay down) to block shots.
Potential recruiting change opposed
The coaches also got an update on potential NCAA legislation changes, including one that could impact the recruiting competition with major junior teams.
Joe Bertagna, the Hockey East commissioner and AHCA executive director, said the NCAA could institute a 100-day limit on recruiting for college coaches. In that scenario, two of a team’s coaches recruiting on the same day would count as two of the 100 allowable days per season.
“We don’t want a recruiting calendar,” Bertagna said. “We certainly feel that our needs in recruiting against Canadian junior hockey are so unique that we can make a case that we shouldn’t be lumped in with everybody else.”
Bertagna emphasized that not only is hockey different from other Division I sports in recruiting, men’s hockey has a vastly different landscape than women’s hockey does.
Division I men’s college hockey teams have a lot of ground to make up by the time they’re able to contact recruits that may have been talking to major junior teams since the age of 13, Bertagna said.