In previous seasons, the week between the NCAA Quarterfinal and Semifinal rounds can best be characterized as a mad scramble by the school chosen to host the final two rounds of the playoffs. Historically, the right to host the Division III men’s ice hockey championship weekend has been awarded to one of the four remaining participant schools and their staff then has had to complete all of the necessary arrangements in a very short period of time.
For this year, and each of the next two seasons at least, the story is different. Almost two years ago, the NCAA decided to try a three year experiment of using pre-determined sites for the final two rounds of the playoffs, and first on the list to host is Elmira College at the First Arena this weekend.
“We had the First Arena open about five years ago,” said Patricia
Thompson, Vice President of Athletics and Health Services at Elmira College. “Since then, we have been looking for opportunities to do some collaborative community activities. When this came about for a neutral site tournament, the general manager and I got together and put together the proposal. He has since left, but the commitment from the First Arena was still there. Since I have been consistent through the change, I have been working with the local organizing committee to put it all together.”
Having more than a year to develop and execute plans, rather than five days, can make a world of difference for the event as a whole. With just a few days, planners tend to focus on the basics, ensuring that certain minimum tasks are covered to pull off the event.
But with so much extra time, the organizing committee in Elmira has been able to cover both the essentials and the extras to try and make this weekend special for the participants and the fans.
“For some of the things we are doing, it is great that we have had more than a week to prepare,” said Thompson. “As far as advertising, things have really started moving the last couple of weeks with promos in particular. We targeted our local advertising to really kick in tw oweeks ago, with ads on ESPN, MTV and other cable channels. There are many neat things you can do when you have more time.”
The added time also has allowed the organizers to reach out to the community in ways not utilized before and also plan a couple of surprises for the student-athletes.
“We have been able to get more local involvement,” said Thompson. “One level of local sponsorship allows us to get some tickets in the hands of youth hockey teams. We have been able to do some special things for the participants that you can’t normally do with only a week to prepare. But I don’t want to ruin the surprise for them, so won’t reveal what those are.”
For teams involved, the change in venue selection has also had impacts in sometime subtle ways. Nearby teams, including Elmira’s own Soaring Eagles, have been able to use the location as both motivation and a source of a little extra stress as they tried to earn the right to play at a location that is an easy travel for their fans.
“When Elmira got awarded the site for the tournament, my first reaction was ‘Uh oh, no pressure for us to make the tournament to help to sell tickets.’,” Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski said with a chuckle. “We have used it a motivation. It is a comfort level to not have to worry about travel. There is enough stuff going on to not have to deal with all that.”
Even Hobart, located just under an hour north of Elmira, has kept the location of the championship weekend in the back of its mind as the playoffs approached.
“There is an extra bonus with the finals in Elmira, because then a lot of extra fans may get to see the games if we could get there,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “It makes it a lot easier for our local fans to be part of it.”
Hosting the tournament can lead to distractions for the home team, but the use of a predetermined site also takes a little motivation away from every other team. While top ranked teams continue to strive to make the NCAA semifinal round, they no longer are also playing for the right to host those games in front of their own fans.
In general, though, the use of pre-determined sites is expected to be good for Division III college hockey as fans around the country who normally may not be able to travel long distances will be able to partake in the sport’s pinnacle event.
“It is good to spread the wealth around so that schools have a good chance to sell tickets and prepare instead of only having five days to prepare,” said Ceglarski. “It is good to spread the wealth just like it is good for the local league’s playoffs to be spread around also.”
A pre-determined championship site not only can lead to a better event for fans, it can also make it easier and cheaper to attend. Fans can now request vacation time from work, make airline and hotel reservations, and other travel plans well in advance thereby avoiding the high prices that sometimes accompany making last minute arrangements.
An informal poll of Division III fans from across the country showed that while many have waited until the last week or two to see if their team might make the tournament, everyone felt that the pre-determined site made it easier to make plans to attend.
Elmira has experience at successfully hosting national championships, including the 1991 men’s ice hockey championship, with only a few days notice. This year, with over a year to prepare, the participants and fans should be in for a real treat from the Elmira hosts.