Handicapping the Field

It all comes down this week. Where will 15,000-plus college hockey fans be trekking to at the beginning of April in the years of 2007 and 2008?

It’s down to five cities:

Denver (Pepsi Center)
Detroit (Joe Louis Arena)
Philadelphia (First Union Center)
St. Louis (Savvis Center)
St. Paul (Xcel Energy Center)

(Make sure to also see in depth looks at four of the cities: St. Louis, Denver, Detroit and Philadelphia.)

The process started with 12 cities that submitted bids. In addition to the five above, bids were submitted by:

  • Albany, N.Y. (Pepsi Arena)
  • Auburn Hills, Mich. (The Palace at Auburn Hills)
  • Boston (FleetCenter)
  • Buffalo, N.Y. (HSBC Arena)
  • Columbus, Ohio (Value City Arena)
  • Omaha, Neb. (Omaha Arena)
  • San Antonio (Alamodome)

Why were these seven cities eliminated after the first round?

We can surmise that Boston and Columbus were eliminated because they are in the next rotation of three sites and the NCAA did not want to go back to them so soon. Plus, Columbus has not proven itself yet. The same can be said for Buffalo, since the 2003 Frozen Four was there.

Albany and Omaha are just at, or barely above, the recommended 15,000 seats per the NCAA application. We are guessing that the capacity is not high enough and they were eliminated.

San Antonio is a newcomer to this list. The lack of a college hockey association in conjunction with the bid could have hurt (the co-host was the University of Texas-San Antonio); or the Alamodome could have hurt. Either way, I don’t think that college hockey is ready for a warm weather site again.

And then there is Auburn Hills, which probably lost out because of the bid from Detroit getting through to the next round.

That brings us to our Final Five. Two get to host, three get to try again. Taking a look at the factors and the five remaining sites, we can see if we can make heads or tails of how the committee will think.

The criteria for choosing a site is laid out by the NCAA as follows:

  • Facility Requirements and Needs (Seating Capacities, etc.)
  • Locker Room Space
  • Media Facilities
  • Hotel Facilities
  • Headquarter Hotel
  • Media Hotel
  • Officials Accommodations
  • Team Accommodations
  • Fan Accommodations
  • Financial Projections
  • Ticket Prices
  • Projected Ticket Sales

The five sites are all NHL arenas. Therefore it has to be dead even when it comes to facility requirements, locker room space and media facilities.

Each of the five finalists has hotel facilities very close by for the NCAA, officials, student-athletes, media and fans. The furthest would be in Philadelphia, but that’s only a seven-minute ride to the main hotel facilities. It’s dead-even.

This is very important to the committee. Remember the last time around in choosing sites in 2000? Then-ice hockey committee chair Bill Wilkinson said, “The building is very important for the players, and that’s the most important thing we’re looking at,” he said. “That we can get a quality building, similar to the Providence Civic Center, with hotels nearby and all the amenities that go with it, that’s the key.

“We don’t want to have the players 10, 15 miles away from the facility because it becomes a bus trip every time they go to practice and the games. The easier it is on the players, the better.”

What about financial projections? It’s all about finances right? Who can provide the financial aspect of the Frozen Four? St. Paul has proven it, the other four sites have not had the Frozen Four ever, or in a long time. So there really is no previous sheet to compare the other four sites. It has to be dead-even and give St. Paul an edge.

But looking at the criteria, it makes everything seem dead-even between the five sites. So how will the committee decide? How will the five groups decide how to make their site seem better than the others?

“There’s two things it comes down to,” said Marc Schreiber, Director of Marketing and Communications for the St. Louis Sports Commission. “We’re going to put together a package that is as good as any others. It may be hard to surpass a St. Paul, but we won’t disappoint people that come here. It’s an NHL building like all the others, it’s a great downtown package and you have the whole atmosphere where the event is the focal point to downtown St. Louis.

“The other side of it is that you hope the NCAA and the college hockey insiders see an opportunity to expand the college hockey community and find untapped potential and that’s what our bid is focused on.”

Denver’s people had similar sentiments.

“They’re probably looking for convenience, the hotel package, the revenue side of the budget and of course the history of hockey,” said Jon Schmieder, the Executive Director of the Metro Denver Sports Commission. “They’ve only had the Frozen Four out this way one time lately, and that was the Pond in Anaheim. We’ll have to convince the people on the committee from the East that Denver is where to come. Two of the committee members are from our backyard.”

Ah, now here’s an interesting point. Frank Serratore of Air Force and Ron Grahame of Denver are both on the committee. Unfortunately for Denver, they’ll have to sit out when discussing Denver. But, that could give Denver an edge.

“It appears to me that the key elements involved are financial and the willingness of the city to make a movement to get behind an event,” said Tom Anastos, CCHA Commissioner. “And the city [Detroit] here has convinced me that they’re ready for this.

“I don’t know what to expect, I haven’t been part of the process before, so I have no idea what other groups will submit, but I feel real good about our bid. The city and Joe Louis Arena are putting an incredible commitment to begin with. That was important to me because if we were going to be involved with this and be a part of this, we were going to make this the best Frozen Four that ever existed or let’s not do it. All groups stepped up to do it. Whether or not that commitment can be conveyed in a binder of information, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Philadelphia’s organizers are confident the city will step up.

“There’s so many fantastic places to have events, the Franklin Institute, the new Constitution Center, the Art Museum,” said Larry Needell, president of the Philadelphia Sports Congress. “There’s so many places you can do special events in association with major events. We’ve put some basic options [into the bid], but ultimately we leave it the to folks from the NCAA.”

Said Schmieder, “I’ve been in several markets and I have never been in a situation where the convenience to the fans, players and NCAA, I’ve never been in a city that’s as set up to do with it as Denver is. I’ve been to seven Men’s Final Fours and one Women’s Final Four and I have not seen anything set up like Denver.

“You can walk from the hotels to the Pepsi Center, we have a light rail system, and other spaces available for all the events. You will not have to rent a car in Denver at all. Once you get downtown, it’s all encompassing. You can go up and down and there are 116 restaurants and bars in downtown Denver. If I was a fan, I would love that kind of setup.”

I think we’ve got it narrowed down. The criteria of the building, hotels, etc. is not as important this time around. What is important? The experience for the student-athletes and for the fans.

It’s become more about what happens surrounding the event and that is going to be the key.

But the question remains, how do you handicap who is going to get the two bids? There are many thoughts out there.

How do I see the race? There are so many variables out there and thought processes.

In 2000, one of the implications was that the committee wanted to choose a non-traditional site in order to find new grounds for college hockey. It didn’t go that way as three traditional sites were chosen.

How about geographic considerations? A lot of people have come to the conclusion that the Frozen Four has to go East in 2007 or 2008, making Philadelphia a lock. After all, the Frozen Four will be in the “West” for 2005 and 2006. But let’s not forget that in 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003, the event was in the “East.”

It’s been said the NCAA has to go to St. Paul; look at the success it had in 2002 after all. True enough, and one would think St. Paul has an advantage, having proved themselves in 2002.

“You’re dealing with so many sites that have done such a good job in the past years,” said Schreiber. “It’s very clear as to why the NCAA would want to be in St. Paul. And you figure they’ll want to be back in the Northeast as well.”

How about the history of college hockey aspect? That certainly would give Denver, Detroit and St. Paul an edge.

What it is going to come down to is the intangibles. The entertainment aspect of the Frozen Four. Who can give the best facilities for the Hobey Baker, Humanitarian and USCHO Town Hall Meeting, what can the fans do to enjoy themselves, what’s the atmosphere in the city going to be like, that’s what it will come down to.

It’s going to be a tough decision, no matter what. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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