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College Hockey:
Committee studies changes to TUC cliff, suggests lower NCAA regional ticket prices

The NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee would like to turn down the volatility in the PairWise Rankings based on the so-called teams under consideration cliff.

Now it just needs to figure out how to do it.

The committee discussed potential changes to national tournament selection criteria at its meeting in Indianapolis last week, and the group is looking at ways to alter the definition of how many teams are involved in the comparisons.

New ideas for regionals and items to be included in specifications for the upcoming Frozen Four bid process also were on the agenda, but potential changes to the at-large selection criteria could have the biggest implications.

As the criteria stands, the number of teams that are compared to each other (a process mimicked by the PairWise Rankings) is fixed as all teams at .500 or better in the Ratings Percentage Index. Formerly, it was the top 25 teams in the RPI.

That creates what has come to be known as the TUC cliff, where a team’s place in the PairWise can fluctuate based on which teams leave and enter the group of teams under consideration.

“We’re looking to see if there’s a way to reduce the variability that seems to happen as people watch that at the end of the year,” said committee chair Tom Nevala, senior associate athletic director at Notre Dame.

“It’s going to happen a lot early, but by the end of the year it seems like it should be a little bit more cut-and-dried. So we’re going to see if there’s some options there.”

Nevala said there are no concrete ideas yet on how to alter the cutoff, but the committee is looking into ways of applying weights to the RPI or developing another metric that involves strength of schedule.

Using a weighted approach also was in discussion in terms of applying more value to road wins.

The NCAA basketball committees value home and road wins differently, Nevala said, but only on one school’s winning percentage. The hockey committee talked about how it could potentially apply the weight to the strength of schedule as well.

A bonus for nonconference road wins was awarded in tournament selection from 2003 to 2007, but the concept has new life now in part because of the imbalance in hosting nonleague 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.

As for regionals and the issue of small crowds, Nevala said the committee will encourage “more reasonable ticket prices” from hosts for the next bid cycle.

In 2013, 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.

Two-day regional ticket packages through Ticketmaster cost between $72.70 and $87.30 last season.

“It should help to some extent,” Nevala said of lower-priced tickets. “I guess I would still be in the camp that our game deserves better than half-full buildings at best for regional games, so we’ll see what comes of it.”

Nevala, whose term on the committee is expiring this offseason, is a proponent of playing first-round matchups at campus sites.

That idea, however, isn’t as much of a topic of discussion for the committee as he would like it to be, suggesting that neutral sites remain the committee’s preference.

“The fans who come and support us all year are in and around our campuses,” Nevala said. “Whether it’s east or west, at least I’m not satisfied looking at the numbers that have generally appeared at regionals.

“Whether we’ve considered some of the eastern regionals well-attended or not, I think you could still do better. And hopefully the ticket pricing and the things that they’re going to attempt to do in the next cycle will help. But I’m convinced that we would be better off on campus in general.”

Bids for Frozen Fours from 2015 to 2018 will be accepted starting in July, and the committee has a few items it wants to see from hosts.

One is a ticket pricing level for students from the competing schools, Nevala said. Another is to encourage the host venue to open the home NHL team’s locker room for one of the teams to use.

The committee has a follow-up call scheduled for later this month to continue discussions.


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  • Travis

    Dropping the price of regional tickets isn’t going to help. As a fan of WMU living in Minnesota, if they were to play out East (ex: Boston), I’m not going to travel that far for possibly one game. However would I drive to North Dakota, Minnesota, or Wisconsin…YES.

    • Joe Crowley

      This is the primary reason the 1st band teams should play as close to home as possible and the 2nd band teams get the next priority.

      Also, the leagues themselves should be hosting the regionals to prevent 1st band teams from having to travel 1500 miles.

      Travis alludes to something in his post, and that is the need for fans of hockey but not of a particular school to attend regionals. This is the reason that some regionals are successful even with small fan-base schools in the house. They are close to college hockey fans.

  • joe

    Super Regionals would help a lot with a fixed location each year. Minneapolis/ST Paul in the West and Boston in the East. Why are they not considering this? Also, put the off week before the regionals instead of before the frozen four. Give the fans a chance to recover from the conf. tournaments.

    • Powers

      Yes, a permanent home-ice advantage for BC/BU and Minnesota… I wonder why they aren’t considering that…

      • Joe Crowley

        I agree with you, Powers. Also, there is NO WAY the TD Garden wants to lose 5-6 nights of revenue for two nights of regional play in the NCAA. Because the NCAA does not allow advertising (other than very specific advertisers and NONE under the ice, other than the building name in specific font), the ice has to be taken up to paint over the ads. Just what we need. Regionals on brand new ice.

        • joe

          If you do the super regional it would be 4 days/nights (Thursday-Sunday) of games making the advertising issue more manageable. It would also be much easier to promote 6 games over 4 days instead of 3 games over 2 days.

          • Joe Crowley

            If the event is four days, the arena is out of commission for at least six. For an arena like TD Garden, six days with no concessions (beer/wine) and not a guaranteed sellout loses money. This is especially true in late March/early April, when the Bruins and Celtics can have dates.

            The Hockey East Championships sell alcohol and keep the ads. The Garden does not have to do anything other than print the tickets and open the doors.

          • bronxbomberz41

            It also helps that its a really fun tournament to watch

      • joe

        Well you can’t have it both ways. Either pick a place that will fill the building like St. Paul or Boston or live with the crappy attendance in places like Toledo, Green Bay, Columbus, Manchester. etc. It may favor Minnesota teams and Boston teams, but it certainly isn’t as big of an advantage as going back to #1 seeds hosting on college campuses.

        • bronxbomberz41

          Manchester always has strong attendance. As a regional it stands out. It helps that UNH is almost always there, and there are a smattering of HEA schools within an hours drive. So at least one of those schools will likely be sent there with UNH. Dartmouth and Vermont are not that far either. Yes, Toledo, Columbus and Green Bay probably have low numbers, but i’ve watched and attended regional games at Manchester. The only thing driving people away there are the high price and the requirement to buy tickets for the whole weekend, not single games.

    • Joe Crowley

      Agree about the week between the conference finals and the NCAA regionals. Not sure the NCAA wants to move the NCAA Ice Hockey regionals, as it “conflicts” with the cash cow, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.

      • joe

        The only conflict would be the Saturday afternoon and evenings games. The Thursday, Friday, and Sunday games would be unaffected. Besides I’m sure ESPNU shows nothing but crap TV during the NCAA final four basketball games anyways so they should have no TV conflicts.

        • Joe Crowley

          This website has, in the past, mentioned the Final Four specifically, if I remember correctly.

  • Tim

    What type of help are these guys getting to come up with these new metrics? We are talking about collegiate athletics, couldn’t they get at least a single math/computer science/physics/etc professor from any of these schools to help out and advise what could be best here based off of their goal.

    • Michael Rutter

      The American Statistical Association has a group of members called the “Statistics in Sports Section.” A number of our members have published on or maintain websites that rank college hockey teams. I am currently the chair of the section. All the NCAA has to do is ask, and we would be happy to discuss.

  • Joe Crowley

    If they are going to “change” the TUC cliff, then I think they should do the following:

    A team that is a TUC after the first 10 games remains a TUC for the rest of the season. A team can be really good in the first half, then lose a key player, fire its coach, have a scandal, etc. Beating that team in November or December was a tough thing to do.

    This could be tweaked to give credit to wins/losses for games played when a team was a TUC after the 10 game window, so that another team would not get undue credit for beating a team with a new coach and a new goaltender, for example.

    My preference: Once a team is a TUC after 10 games, they remain a TUC throughout the entire season. A team should not fall off the cliff just because another team swept the season series and conference tournament games against the TUC. Basically, as it is written today, a team can be a TUC until you beat them four times late in the season.

    • Tim

      I don’t know about the 10 games and remaining a TUC. Ideally you would weight the games based on of that team was a TUC at the time you played them so that other teams do not get the TUC advantage when they fall out.

      It could be the like point system used during the regular season but for the entire NCAA. You get more points for beating a TUC. And because it is a running tally, you wouldn’t fall off a cliff since the weighted TUC win is already added into your points. Then you could define a TUC as a team in the top 25 for points or something.

      • Joe Crowley

        Your addition is what I unsuccessfully tried to describe in the third paragraph. I completely agree with your suggestion. It would prevent good wins from being erased as currently happens.

  • bill

    First round best of 3 to 8 high seeds it will raise more money then the rest of the tournament and reward fans I want it on the campus rinks

    • Jack Ryan

      For starters, the NCAA will not allow a series for the first round of the tournament, then go single-elimination for the next two. Baseball/softball is the only sport that uses anything other than single elimination, and they’ve got a double-elimination, best-of-three, double-elimination, best of three format. Not happening for hockey.

      Secondly, you’d be cool with your team getting the ninth seed by the slimmest of margins and having to go all the way across the country to play on the road based on essentially a coin flip?

      Third, you sure it’ll raise more money? Just how many people do you think will pony up $80 for a three-game series in Marquette or Big Rapids? You’ve also got the additional costs involved in getting teams to far-flung outposts (Sault Ste. Marie, or Anchorage, or Clarkson) on short notice in addition to having to pay for additional hotel room nights – again, on short notice.

      Finally, you’ve clearly never seen half the rinks in the eastern half of the country that are older, smaller and don’t have the infrastructure to host a three-game NCAA series. Or not having a standard size for rinks so that all games can be played as uniformly as possible (enjoy that 204×87 rink at Harvard). Good luck holding a series at Merrimack, Niagara or St. Lawrence.

      • Joe Crowley

        In the east, only BC and Lowell have big enough on campus rinks, in my opinion. Perhaps I missed one. The other rinks have history, with the exception of Agganis, which is state-of-the-art but lacks seats. Perhaps Matthews will be state-of-the-art soon, too.

        I would be nervous about BC hosting for fog reasons. The air-conditioning usually suffers during warm weather. Why use Tsongas in Lowell, when Manchester and Worcester are vastly superior buildings?

        Lowell would have hosted this year, and while I am sure the alumni would have loved playing the game at Tsongas, Verizon Wireless in Manchester is a much better arena.

    • Joe Crowley

      So, what do we do between the first and third rounds? What does the second round look like? Another on-campus best-of-three? What happens if Union, Lake Superior State, Vermont, Clarkson, St Lawrence or Maine host one or two such series on campus? Each of those schools has been ranked high enough in the past to be a host. I respect all of those schools, but those arenas and those cities are too small.

      I have been to regionals in Worcester, Albany and Providence, plus best-of-three at Walter Brown. All of the regionals seemed packed enough to me to be making money. As a fan, I was awarded with excellent hockey and awesome fan experiences.

  • Jack Ryan

    “Whether we’ve considered some of the eastern regionals well-attended or not, I think you could still do better.”

    Nevala is an idiot, as proven by his comment above. The regional final in Providence between Union and Quinnipiac drew a posted attendance of 5,007, yet he thinks they could do better on campus? Does he realize that the combined seating capacity of both Union and Quinnipiac’s rinks is only 5,103? Lowell and UNH played in front of 8,357 in Manchester, which is about 3K more than the seating capacity of either school’s home rinks. So, even with the bloated ticket prices, demand was still more than any of the four schools could handle in their own rinks. Tom, how, pray tell, do you think you could do better by playing on campus?

    As I’ve stated before, Nevala’s own school is a huge part of the problem. Notre Dame fails to bring fans to regionals that are located three hours from their own campus. Perhaps he should figure out why the 4,885 average attendance at his sparkly new building refuse to make the easy drive to Grand Rapids or Toledo to watch his own team play (total attendance of 2,988 in Toledo for ND vs. SCSU in the semis, which also included fans from Miami and Minn. St.).

    Todd, has anyone from your outlet considered calling Mr. Nevala out on these idiotic statements of his? I’d love to see what his response to basic mathematics would be.

    • Tom Nevala

      No need for a follow-up from Todd, Jack. Thanks for your feedback.

      What this article doesn’t mention is that I am not just in favor of campus sites, but I am also a proponent of best 2 out of 3 series hosted by the top 8 seeds…my sense is that the preliminary rounds of our national tourney should look like most of our conference tourneys. With a minimum of 2 games at each of those 8 sites (16 games minimum plus another round of some sort to follow vs. a maximum of 12 ticketed days of regionals it would be a much better environment (attendance, atmosphere, ice conditions, etc..) than our current regional set-up among other things. My opinion on format can certainly be questioned, but based on that disclosure I think you might agree with my math at least.

      When your fans are used to paying $15/game for an adult (and $7 for kids) current regional pricing determined by host sites (or determined by NCAA prior to 2011) has been a little too steep, especially when travel is also involved…and 2-3 hour drives are a pretty significant commitment.

      TN

      • Jack Ryan

        I don’t disagree the prices are too steep as currently set up, but imagine this scenario: the eight seed is Denver, the nine is BU, but by the slimmest of margins in the comparison criteria – essentially a coin flip. Is that small margin enough to justify Denver getting a three-game home series in front of their full home crowd when few BU have the ability to travel to Denver on short notice, the same item you yourself brought up? Does BU get half the ticket allotment at Magness? Are those seats empty if Terrier fans don’t travel three-quarters of the way across the country, or do you sell them to Denver fans?

        Look at this year: North Dakota was 8, Denver was 9, but they tied in the comparison with three wins apiece. Is that really a decisive enough advantage to have that series played at North Dakota, in front of 11K North Dakota fans? It’s really not.

        I do disagree about 2-3 hour drive being a significant commitment, though. Quinnipiac and Union were two hours and three hours away from Providence this spring, respectively – they didn’t fail to show up like ND or Miami’s did in Toledo. Again, almost as many fans were in Providence than could fit in both schools’ rinks combined.

        The current format is the most fair system we have as far as determining the best team. Would you not also agree that these issues are not just related to hockey, but that nearly every NCAA sport is facing similar issues? Basketball has tons of empty seats, lacrosse is facing issues of declining attendance (for a sport supposedly on a rapid rise).

        • Tom Nevala

          Jack, thanks for your reply.

          Your original point of contention was the math, so let’s stick with that for now. I believe that more games (minimum of 20 and possibly a minimum of 24 over 2 rounds with at least the first 16 games on campus versus max. of 12 ticketed days in the current regional set up) would make for a better event attendance-wise and financially.

          I would expect that a 2 of 3 series would rely on the host fans to fill the building (which is the case in many/most conference tournaments). Visitors would get their usual allotment of tix (and their fans could buy more if they were available). I don’t know of any conference or NCAA tourneys (WBB, both soccers, both laxs, baseball, softball, etc.) that host preliminary rounds on campus that expect visitors to fill 50% of the building.

          Do you agree with my math above? If not, we will have to agree to disagree.

          If I have time and/or if Todd wants to discuss tourney format in general, I would be happy to entertain that discussion.

          TN

          • joe

            Regardless of the financial and attendance impacts, going to campus sites for the the first round is grossly unfair and a step backward in making D1 hockey legitimate.
            I can’t speak for the East Regionals, but in the Midwest and West, if you had Twin Cities and Detroit hosting a regional every year, instead of Toledo, Grand Rapids, Green Bay, etc and lowered ticket prices, it would help quite a bit.

          • Joe Crowley

            Speaking for an eastern fan, the current rotation of Manchester, Worcester, New Haven and Providence work well, much better than any on campus site in the east.

            In a previous thread, I said only BC had a rink of the necessary size in the Northeast/East regional area. One could add Lowell. However, I am comparing on-campus arenas to the AHL buildings being used. I love Alfond and Agganis, but neither of have enough seats. Perhaps I missed a rink, but the comparison must be against the current rotation, plus Hartford and Albany.

            I would contend that prices had something to do with attendance, but more was caused by the alumni/fan base size of the schools close to the Northeast/East regionals. I suspect that the BC fans wisely stayed away because in their hearts, they knew what was in store for them in Providence. Even so, the attendance in the east was not terrible, the two buildings are quite large. Providence suffered for attendance, even with four “local” schools, the furthest being Union (Albany area) and Canisius (a few more hours west), because of the size of three of the four schools.

          • Jack Ryan

            Tom,

            If that’s your position, then the article was severely lacking, because at no point in the article are you quoted as being an advocate of a best-of-three. In fact, the original article only says you’re a proponent of playing first-round games on campus sites, with no mention whatsoever of going back to a series for the first round.

            Based upon the information that was originally presented, the math in my scenario still works. Based upon your interpretation with information not presented in the original article, then yes, yours should get more total attendance.

            Beyond that, though, what happens when you have two nearby teams playing in a regional, as we had with UNH and Lowell playing in Manchester this year? You get a larger crowd in Manchester than you could have at either school, and you don’t have one team with 90 percent of the crowd.

            While I’m aware that the NCAA and the committee would rather see full buildings and a good atmosphere, I think if you ask the players (and I have), they want as fair of a shot at winning a national title as possible. Did Yale complain about playing in front of only 2,000 people in Grand Rapids? Did playing in front of only 2,000 people have a negative effect on Minnesota and North Dakota that caused them to lose to Yale? The game is played inside the glass, and is the same game regardless if there’s 20,000 or 20 people in the stands. Winning four games and a national championship is paramount to losing in front of a good crowd. And the current system, even with all its flaws, provides all 16 teams in the field with as equal a chance at fulfilling a player’s ultimate goal as possible.

          • Tom Nevala

            Jack,
            Not many articles written for online (or other) publications actually quote the entirety of a conversation. That’s why I gave you the context of my opinion in my original reply so that you would no longer have to assume what you did about me and my opinion/quote.

            As I said in my second reply, I am not going to debate the merits of my opinion (or yours) about tourney format here, but it is safe to say that we will have to agree to disagree about what would make for the best tournament and whether fairness/equality of opportunity to advance actually exists in the current format (or if that is even the goal of a bracketed tournament).

            For example, is it fair for a #2, 3 or 4 seed in the current format to play in front of a home/local crowd just because they were awarded the bid to host a couple of years beforehand and then they made the tournament in the year they hosted? I don’t believe it is.
            I think it is fair for a team to host if they have earned a top 8 seed in any given year by the defined selection and seeding criteria…based on performance…just like it happens in hockey at the conference level already (and happens in NCAA baseball, softball, soccer, lax, etc. in their respective national tourneys).

            Winning in an empty building may not seem to matter, but I guarantee you that we should expect more of our national tournament than playing in less than a full house. Doing so does impact the game that is being played and the overall perception of the importance of the game that is being played.

            Lastly, I think our game is better if more meaningful post-season games are played, not as few a number of games as possible.

            Have a good summer. Looking forward to getting home to New England for Hockey East games next season.

            TN

      • Afterfurtherreview

        $15/game for an adult and $7/game for a child? Damn, I could really handle those prices. Just go to UNH games, $23-$25 a game no matter who. Regional prices are about the same or cheaper.

      • Joe Crowley

        Mr Nevala

        Thanks for replying to Jack’s post, even if some of it was rather inflammatory.

        The goal, in my opinion, should not be a return to on-campus sites for best-of-three series (or the old two-game aggregate), but to model what is successful in the leagues’ last two rounds.

        Most leagues have a final four/five that is located in an NHL caliber arena (large leagues) or AHL caliber (small leagues), scheduled a long time in advance. It is destination travel for hockey fans, in the same manner that the Frozen Four is destination travel. By scheduling the regional games five-six days after the league tournament, travel becomes a nightmare. A two-three hour drive being an obstacle is not an obstacle. Getting from Boston to Grand Rapids with 5 days notice is an obstacle. Getting from Minneapolis to Providence with days 5 days notice is an obstacle. Even Hockey East fans make long drives to Maine and Vermont, neither is merely 2-3 hours away.

        Here is how the NCAA can show they are serious about attendance at regionals:

        1) Regionals start 13 days after selection Sunday, aka Saturday and just one week before Frozen Four (Friday afternoon limits attendance)
        2) Regionals are hosted by LEAGUES, not individual schools (so we do not have small school like Brown possibly moving a big school 1,000 miles away)
        3) Each league determines which regional is best for its 1st and 2nd band teams (e.g. Notre Dame/Hockey East, Manchester may not be the best site)
        4) Set up Frozen-Four so that East/West and Northeast/Midwest meet in national semifinal
        5) Allow leagues (like Big Ten/NCHC) to have regional at an on-campus site like Wisconsin and North Dakota if that league thinks attendance will be improved.

        6) Reward venues that sell more than 8000 tickets by putting them in heavy rotation (Worcester, XCEL, Manchester, Detroit etc.)
        7) Stop trying to place college hockey regionals in cities that do not have a significant college hockey following
        8) Prioritize ticket pricing to get more walk up business and reduce ticket resale markup. Focus on the lower bowl, so that the games look good on television.

  • Joe Crowley

    As we discussed earlier this year, there are two separate things going on with the NCAA Hockey Tournament.

    1) In the east, only Boston College and MAYBE UMass Lowell have a rink up to the seating capacity of the arenas currently in rotation for the Northeast and East regionals. As a BU alum, I love Agganis Arena, but it is not big enough for a regional, when Verizon Wireless, DCU and Dunkin Donuts are a quick drive away. Bridgeport, Albany and Hartford would all do nicely, too.
    2) In the west, there are a number of large State Universities with arenas that are the equivalent or better than the arenas currently in rotation for the West and Midwest regionals. Obviously, the marquee facility in the west is XCEL.

    Unlike the NCAA Basketball tournament, where ticket sales are not an issue, attendance is frankly an issue away from New England, Minnesota/North Dakota and possibly Detroit. Unlike basketball, where there are many casual fans of the regionals, NCAA Hockey depends on the schools’ fan bases to drive up attendance. Even traditionally strong fan bases have trouble going 500+ miles five days after the conference tournament.

  • Joe Crowley

    By the way, some years, it is Michigan and Michigan State in a Midwest regional in Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota in a regional in XCEL, BU and Maine in a regional in Worcester and BC UNH in a regional in Manchester.

    Other years, it is Yale in Grand Rapids or BC in St Louis. Other years, it is a lot of small schools doing better than the “name” schools, both getting in the tournament and getting to the regional final.

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