The proposal to expand the Division I men’s ice hockey tournament from 12 to 16 teams appears dead, at least for now.
The push for bracket expansion generated a head of steam after being approved by the NCAA’s Championships Cabinet, but the item was not discussed at the recent meeting of the Division I Management Council, and is running into opposition from the Division I Budget Subcommittee.
In early February, the Championships Cabinet approved 15 different proposals, including the men’s ice hockey expansion. Those proposals were officially forwarded as “budget requests” and placed on the agenda of the Management Council’s meeting on April 10-11. But the MC cannot approve budget items, only make recommendations.
“The Management Council discussed a lot of budget items, but it is not in the line of approval authority on the budget,” said Jane Jankowski, spokesperson for the NCAA.
The final approval, therefore, would come from the next and final step up the chain, the Division I Board of Directors. They are set to meet April 27 in Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, the Budget Subcommittee, at the behest of the Committee on Women’s Athletics, has recommended that only women’s tournament expansion be funded this year in order to achieve a 50/50 ratio between postseason championship opportunities for men and women. The current ratio is 52/48, according to the Championships Cabinet.
The WAC and the Championships Cabinet seem to be at odds over this issue. According to the CC, in the last seven years, participation in women’s championships has increased 40 percent, to over 8,400, while men’s participation has risen slightly to just over 9,100, creating a 52/48 ratio. But the WAC contends Division I-A football bowl games should count, making the ratio more like 59/41.
The WAC therefore recommends that “the equalization of postseason opportunities be achieved before any new championships opportunities for men are funded.”
As a result, the proposal to establish a four-team women’s ice hockey championship was approved, and passed on to the Board of Directors for final approval at its April 27 meeting. Men’s ice hockey, on the other hand, appears to be shut out.
“I know there is a focus on expanding opportunities for women, but those things are not finalized,” Jankowski said.
According to Championship Cabinet figures, if the top eight items on their priority list get approved, it would result in an additional 500 opportunities for men, and 897 for women. (The 15 budget items are prioritized, with men’s hockey bracket expansion ranking No. 7.)
Taking men’s ice hockey expansion out of it would get the NCAA closer to the 50/50 ratio, but it would also cost an estimated $336,000 in lost revenue.
“A problem for the men’s ice hockey community is the politicization of the gender equity issue by certain [women’s sports] advocates,” said Richard Ensor, commissioner of the all-sport MAAC. “In my 12 years of being involved in NCAA governance, any proposal for bracket expansion has always been made on the merits of the case, not on political concerns, caps or quotas. To see such influences come into the process would be very unfortunate.
“I hope to see the NCAA just continue the expansion of sports opportunities on the merits of school sponsorship, conference sponsorship and fan interest. I expect that process will continue to provide sustained growth for both men’s and women’s sports opportunities as it has for the past decade.”
According to budget estimations from the NCAA, the expansion of the men’s ice hockey tournament would have cost an extra $254,000, but generated an additional $590,000 of net revenue. It is the only one of the 15 proposals that would pay for itself; hockey already is the second highest revenue-generator of any postseason NCAA tournament, behind only men’s basketball.
“NCAA Division I ice hockey has demonstrated continued program, conference and fan growth that warrants bracket expansion,” said Ensor. “Its business plan for expansion is sound and would provide funds for the cost of expansion. That is why the NCAA Division I Championship Cabinet endorsed the bracket expansion. It is why the MAAC supports expansion.”
The men’s bracket was most recently expanded from eight to 12 in 1988. There are currently 54 men’s teams in six conferences, a figure expected to reach 60 in the next few years.
“I think expansion will come in time, if not this year, perhaps next year,” said Ensor, whose conference will receive an automatic bid to the men’s ice hockey tournament next season for the first time, giving further urgency to the need for bracket expansion. “The budget process within the NCAA is complicated in a good year, with many groups seeking limited resources given the membership’s desire to have as much of the NCAA basketball TV revenue as possible flow back to the schools.”
In February, The Championships Cabinet laid out eight rationale for recommending the bracket expansion for approval:
No additional time would be needed to conduct the championship. There would be four, four-team regionals played (two in the East and two in the West), two weekends prior to the Frozen Four. Currently, there are two, six-team regional sites (one in the East and one in the West), which are conducted two weeks prior to the Frozen Four. All five eligible conferences (it increases to six in 2001-02) would receive one automatic qualifier. Currently, four conferences receive two berths each (one for the regular-season champion and one for the postseason conference tournament champion). The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is currently in the second year of the two-year waiting period. Championship attendance has continued to grow in the 1990s, reaching a high of 54,355 (three sessions) in 1998 at Boston. The championship is one of a few that generates revenue for the Association. It consistently is second behind men’s basketball. In 1998, the championship generated $824,776 in net revenue. The number of club teams sponsoring the sport has grown steadily (134 institutions currently). Within the next three years, sponsorship numbers are expected to increase nearly 18 percent, from 51 in 1998-99 to 60, effective with the 2001-02 season. Expanding the bracket to 16 teams would eliminate the byes. Expanding the number of regional sites would expose college hockey to more areas of the country.
The Management Council did recommend one men’s bracket expansion proposal, in soccer, whose tournament could increase to 48 teams. Men’s soccer was fourth on the Championship Cabinet’s priority list. Men’s lacrosse, which is eighth on the list, is also looking to increase from 12 to 16 teams.
In other Division I actions affecting hockey, the NCAA has placed a two-year moratorium on further movement of Division II and III schools into Division I. This could restrict further movement of those schools looking to move up in just a single sport, as many of the D-I hockey schools have done.
Also, the men’s and women’s ice hockey rules committees will be merged into one, eight-member committee.