College Hockey:
Committee leaves 2017, 2018 regionals open for possible return to team arenas

Miami coach Enrico Blasi watches his team warm up before last season’s Midwest Regional final against St. Cloud State in Toledo, Ohio (photo: Rachel Lewis).

The announcements of men’s Frozen Four sites on Wednesday carried a high level of interest.

What was left unsaid by the NCAA men’s ice hockey committee, however, may end up having more long-term implications.

The committee did not award regionals for the 2017 and 2018 tournaments because it’s considering a return to on-campus tournament play, said committee chair Jim Knowlton, the athletic director at Rensselaer.

“We did not want to tie our hands with four years of regionals,” Knowlton said. “So we went out two and we’ll continue to assess how the regionals do and whether or not the fan experience and the student-athlete experience will benefit from being on campuses.”

The regional system has been in question as attendance has fallen off in recent years. The combined attendance at the four regional sites in 2013 was off 48 percent from 2012.

NCAA tournament games leading up to the Frozen Four were played at school venues from 1977 to 1991. The regional system started in 1992, although team rinks occasionally served as host sites.

The success of this season’s regionals — in Bridgeport, Conn.; Worcester, Mass.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Cincinnati — could play a big role in the committee’s decision on the system’s future.

Another year of poor attendance and lackluster atmosphere in the venues could essentially force the committee’s hand to give home-site tournament games a chance.

Knowlton said he couldn’t put a date on when such a decision would need to be made, but if it’s done it would probably be during the 2014-15 season.

The committee already did pull the trigger on something of a return to campus sites for regionals, but only because it had no choice.

It awarded the 2015 Midwest Regional to Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena because there were no neutral-site bids for that opening, Knowlton said.

“Our goal was to do all of them off campus,” he said. “We didn’t have any options for that particular one.”

Notre Dame will be the first team to host a regional at its home rink since Minnesota in 2009.

The committee awarded Frozen Fours to Boston in 2015; Tampa, Fla., in 2016; Chicago in 2017; and St. Paul in 2018.

Boston and St. Paul are highly experienced hosts, but of the group, Tampa has hosted a Frozen Four most recently, in 2012.

It’ll be four years between the Tampa Frozen Fours, the shortest for one city since Milwaukee landed the 1993 and 1997 events.

In Tampa and Chicago, the committee selected two cities that have no native college hockey presence. But Tampa earned rave reviews on its first Frozen Four, Knowlton said, and Chicago has seen a groundswell of hockey support because of the success of the NHL’s Blackhawks.

“Anytime you do something different, people are going to question why you’re doing it. We expect that,” Knowlton said. “But we have really thought through each site. We’ve thought through all of those different criteria.

“The fan experience, the fans being able to get there, the fans being able to do other things besides going to our event — all of those things play into wherever we pick being a destination and being someplace that they’re going to enjoy going to. And we think we’ve done that with all four of those sites.”

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  • John Terry

    They should go back to campus sites. While it may be a logistical nightmare, waiting until the selection day would be best. Award the four #1 seeds the regionals. If a site has an existing obligation, find the closest arena that works. Unfortunately the neutral sites just don’t generate the buzz, even with they mess with the “integrity” of the bracket to cater to schools and their fans. Games in Albany (for example) look like they’re 25% full and the city has no idea that a tournament is happening. I guarantee you’d sell out almost every host on-campus game.

    And why shouldn’t the #1 seeds have an actual advantage in the games? College hockey is unpredictable as it is, and single elimination in the NCAA’s just make it a complete crap-shoot. Yes that can be fun, but I feel like those four top teams should be rewarded.

    • Kyle Lindgren

      Agree. The attendance of some regional sites is horrid. one solution maybe to simply give the regionals to cities that actually can fill the seats. However, I can certainly understand giving it to top four seeds. People may cry about the home ice advantage but in a win or go home situation anything is possible.

    • Brandon

      Agreed. Give it to the 1-seeds. The tournament is such a plinko game as is that I think it makes so much sense to give the 1-seeds some kind of advantage with their home ice. I guarantee you that the NCAA regionals would sell out every year. It would make for much much better TV than watching Michigan play Miami in front of 500 bored people in Fort Wayne, IN (for example). Put that game at Yost or Goggin/Cady and I guarantee you those arenas will not have enough seats for all the fans wanting to get in

    • ChuckGandCrew

      Last year in New Hampshire, UNH was the host team (I believe the 4 seed in the bracket), but because they were the host they were able to discount seats for their fans (in the UNH section). This caused for low attendance in the first game, because UNH fans only showed up to watch their team. If UNH lost, the final game would have been pretty empty besides the thousand or so Lowell fans. But my point is, the host team had the advantage, not the top seed.

      • NDB

        Lots of great points being posted here and there’s no clear solution (imo). As far as the UNH host site last year, with two of the four team’s campuses within 30 miles or so, I would have thought that situation would have been ideal for good attendance.

        • ChuckGandCrew

          UNH fans don’t travel well. Maine fans do, Lowell fans are starting to but that’s about it for Hockey East teams that have a traveling fan base. BU seems to do a good job coordinating busses for students to visiting campuses but the alumni don’t turn out. The hockey east finals offer discounted student section seats, and it gets a pretty good turn out every year. I don’t know why the NCAA doesn’t do this. I mean it’s a pretty simple cost volume analysis. This is college, someone in the NCAA should know how to analyze this.

  • smack_libs_around

    Tampa won not because it is a hockey hotbed, but because it did a great job in 2012. The key is: choose a ‘hockey hotbed’ OR a city people would like to go to, anyway. ‘Orlando’ would be a great city, but there must be a reason why their arena doesn’t pass muster. Probably has to do with the Magic NBA team. As for Regional attendance, those are self-inflicted wounds that won’t go away as long as prices stay unreasonably high. And going forward as people get more financially pinched (saving for healthcare, anyone?), NCAA Regional tickets fall way down the list. Lodging, meals, and travel are necessary ‘add-ons’ and it becomes an expensive endeavor unless you live driving distance away.

  • I BLeed Maroon And Gold

    It seems like there’s really two solutions to the regionals issue right now. Either return to campus arenas or think about doing two “super regional” sites, with 8 teams (two regionals) each. If you go to on campus, I think it would be wise to award it on selection Sunday to the top seeds. As the article mentions, the Gophers hosted at Mariucci in 2009, but they didn’t make the field, which still doesn’t help attendance. Awarding it to the top seeds solves this issue, but could create logistical issues. This way of doing things has seemed to work just fine for baseball, volleyball, and women’s basketball NCAA tournament games.

    While I think campus sites are the best option, I think super regionals could work too. At least in that scenario, you’d have the fan bases of 8 teams converging on each site, which should boost attendance. If they were to go this route, they could do Thu-Sat and Fri-Sun games at each site or they could do one day with all 4 opening round games and both regional finals the next day.

    Either way, something has to be done. The Cincinnati regional this year is likely going to have terrible attendance. The others might do ok, but even then, most regionals tend to have woeful attendance and less than ideal atmospheres. These are important games and should be played in atmospheres that are fitting for such games.

    • puckluck

      Completely agree with all comments. While the super-regional idea is good, I think the better option is to have the four number one seeds host. While logistically this may be tough, it’s not as bad as it sounds. After all, teams don’t find out until selection Sunday where they are headed and then have to make travel arrangements last minute. Possibly hotel, staffing, and concession issues may arise in towns and at the arena, but realistically, there are 6-8 teams with a shot at a number one seed. This means that going into league tournaments, maybe 8-10 schools have to make contingency plans in the event that they are a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. For the five or so teams that make contingency “one seed” plans and have to travel, that is the cost of having packed arenas. For the most part, teams that find themselves at the top of the polls tend to have nice arenas that can host and solid fan bases to fill seats. Think this is too obvious for the NCAA to figure out?

      • spook

        To increase attendance just give the teams a week off after the league tourneys. Don’t worry about the basketball conflict. No one can plan a trip after their team qualifies in the League tourney, then the seedings are announced on Sunday and the team plays on Friday. Fly from Boston to Grand Rapids, get a hotel booked, Most of the fans were at the league tourney and are tired, hungover and broke, so you’re only going to attract a few die hards and the locals. The locals don’t give a rats butt so put it back on campus, reduce the price and let some people watch some exciting hockey.

        • reardensteel

          I agree. Having only one week to plan a trip is not enough if you have to fly or book a hotel.
          The impact of coinciding with the basketball tourney is minimal. Most serious fans (the ones who would actually buy tickets) of one sport are not serious fans of the other.
          Get rid of the week off between the regionals and the FF… it ruins the momentum and doesn’t help attendance all that much anyway (b/c the site is already known and tickets have been available for months).

    • stod_2

      I would like to see them try the super regional idea first. The logistics and travel is already pretty hard for the tourney so if they could avoid making that much harder it would help. Give it to the top hockey spots over and over, at least people would know where they are going.

      Look at the old WCHA final 5. Was always held in the Minneapolis/St Paul area and it was one of the best tournaments and hardest tickets to get.

      Pick two super regional locations, maybe Boston and St Paul and have them each host the east and west super regional for two or three years and lets see how it works. Could make for some pretty incredible hockey.

  • Ben Weihrauch

    The same is basically true in Women’s Basketball–top seeds host and it probably the only way people show up for the games (outside of the Final Four). Men’s Hockey should highly consider this model.

  • :3

    The current top 4 seeds are:
    St. Cloud
    Ferris State

    If these 4 places got all the games, we would have 2 regionals in Michigan and 2 in Minnesota.

    While I get that the four top seeds should be given some credit, this ignores all but the fans of those two areas. There’s a lot of people in NY and New England that like hockey, too!

    Additionally, we could see some situations where big-time programs with smaller arenas (e.g., Yale) could get snubbed in the polls from 4 to 5 as the selection committee wants to push bigger venues. Additionally, we could see teams, opposite of my previous scenario, where the actual #4 team gets snubbed to put in a regional team (e.g. Boston College) to draw more fans.

    The same definitely happens with the existing model, too.

    Say, when’s Portland going to host a regional? UMaine should be all over that!

    • Brandon

      The quick response is, if you don’t like where the regionals are, win your games. There might be years where 3 are in NE and 1 is in Colorado. It’s far, but the home fans will be there and if you want to see your team, you’ll travel. Not much different than it is now other than the regionals will actually sell out for once

    • reardensteel

      As you noted, when a regional is filled with schools that are nowhere near the site, no one shows up.
      Or sometimes the fans of the nearest school are there, but if it’s a small school, that’s still not very many fans.
      If the top four schools hosted, the stands would be full most of the time.

      WRT messing with the seeding, the committee uses the “band” system, so the top four teams will always be #1 seeds. And the ranking system is pretty much unchangeable once the season starts, so they won’t be able to “cheat” a small school out of hosting a regional.

  • Steven Birn

    Grand Rapids would have had more local support if they didn’t play games in the middle of a Friday afternoon. The NCAA has only itself to blame for poor attendance at last years regionals.

  • ChuckGandCrew

    My three points to fixing the regional issues:
    -lift the restrictions on alcohol. We’re all adults, most of the players are over 21, let’s treat the fans like adults.
    -provide deeply discounted seats, 1,000 to each school. The atmosphere in college hockey is second to none, until the regionals, them it’s pretty weak because college students can’t afford these ticket prices (unless you go to BU, then I’m sure daddy will give you another grand to bring some friends).
    -move the days to a doubleheader Sat, with the final a day game Sunday. I know some regionals do this, let’s have all of them move to this.

  • KGR11

    Some of the problems with regional sites at top seeds:

    1. You will have instances where the home arenas are too small for the demand. If the season ended now and regionals were at the top seed, Ferris State would host a regional in an arena that seats 2,500.

    2. I think that some may overlook just HOW remote some college hockey locations are. Clarkson, currently number 7 in RPI, is 2.5 hours from the nearest American airport (90 minutes to Ottawa), and there are very few hotels in the area (When I’ve gone, I stay at a hotel 40 minutes away).

    3. Some arenas have very poor sightlines for televising events. While the arena may be buzzing, those of us watching on the TV may be watching the back of people’s heads.

    I think campus sites has some strengths (as others have mentioned), and it might very well be better than the current format, but regionals at specific schools would be disastrous.

    • reardensteel

      If the host school’s arena is unworkable, maybe they could choose to make arrangements to use the nearest reasonable venue; at the school’s discretion of course.

      MN, for instance, might choose to use the Exel Center since it’s very close and is a great place to play/watch hockey.

      Of course, contracting with an off-campus site means sharing revenue and diminishes the feel of the home game. But if you could sell twice as many tickets, the total profit would probably be higher and if the stands are packed with your own fans, that’s still pretty cool.

      • KGR11

        Schools with smaller arenas probably would try to move to a closer venue, but many arenas would probably already have events for the time of the tournament. Also, going to a bigger arena means they won’t get the full benefit of hosting a regional on-campus.

        Let’s take a look at Ferris State as an example since they’re currently number 3 in pairwise. They probably wouldn’t hold the regional in their own building since it fits under 3,000. The nearest reasonable venue is less than an hour away in Grand Rapids, which is also an hour away from Michigan State. So if Michigan State plays Ferris State in that regional, Ferris State has NO geographic home ice advantage. Now the committee could move Michigan State somewhere else, but then it is making a move that would decrease attendance. It is possible in this example that Ferris State would say we’ll just hold it in our building, but I assume that they would be pressured by a combination of the NCAA, opposing teams, opposing fans, and the television broadcasters to change venues.

        Having the regionals on campus is an absolute benefit to schools like NoDak, Minnesota, and BU, since they can rest assured that if they get a 1 seed, they WILL play on their home ice. Granted the current system is already unfair, since it benefits schools who host regionals (Yale, Minnesota, and New Hampshire come to mind), but I prefer a system that benefits schools who take the initiative to host than to benefit schools who have larger arenas.

  • stod_2

    Giving the top seeds that much of an advantage just seems that it could drastically change the outcome.

    Part of what we all love about college hockey is that a team like Yale can barely make the field and then beat power houses MN and ND in back to back games, get to the FF and take it all.

    Does anyone think that happens if the games are in Mariucci? I don’t. A lot of people on this post are talking about making it like the women’s basketball. Do we ever see upsets in that tourney? It always amazes me that nearly all of the #1 seeds make the final four of the women’s basketball tournament. I like the unpredictable nature of college hockey, just like March Madness for the mens b-ball tourney. So I say we try the super regional idea first and see if that doesn’t make it better, otherwise I am betting that the #1 seeds will get to the FF way more often than not. Playing in your building is a big difference, especially if you have a team that is not built for olympic ice and they have to go play on that size of a surface.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Jeff

    Although putting all games on campus sites would be great, it wont be perfect, but the random sites with a lack of a hockey fan base such as Cincinnati just doesn’t add up. I think the arena in the MGM in Vegas would out attendance any regional you put in cities other than Minn/St. Paul, Boston (greater Mass area), or Denver because it is easy to get to logistically. Since I know that will never happen, On-campus sites are the best alternative.

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