Commentary: Starman opens the mailbag

I decided to answer some fan mail from the recent column I wrote about the outdoor game in Ann Arbor.

This article kind of reminds me of someone who follows an indie band, right up until the point where they decide to play an arena show. Then they get all indignant and angry and wonder how could they have ever followed them, the sellouts!

One might ask, instead, “How many times per year is college hockey TRULY the focus of the sporting world?” If you answered “During the Beanpot” or “During the national tournament”, I would argue that the actual number is legitimately zero instead, because even at our best events, people don’t really care about college hockey except in a few specific places. People know little to nothing about the sport, and they’re ok with that. How many times will it be the focus of ESPN, the BTN, national newspapers, and other media sources this year? Yes, player development is important. But getting exposure of the game to those players and educating them on the positives of the college game is just as important. Events like this give exposure where it might not have been available prior.

And as much as we in the college hockey community appreciate teams like ND, DU, BU, Maine, UMD, Miami(OH), LSSU, the Alaskas, and UNO, the average sports fan has no idea their history and often scoffs at their mention. But they sure know Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Michigan State. Again, to gain exposure, there are some teams that need to be successful and showcased at times on an enormous stage. It draws the focus of the rest of sports for a moment, and in turn benefits the whole in those moments.

Some fair points here. I’d disagree on the indie band thing, having followed some good indie bands to monster arenas. I was an Islanders fan as a kid when they were a disaster and still liked them when they won four Stanley Cups in a row. Now, not so much, but that’s another story completely.

We all know college hockey is never the national focus, but I would argue that the Frozen Four gets college hockey into the highlight packages on ESPN mainly because the games are on ESPN, and ESPN is promoting its programming. Sad fact, but true.

Remove BTN from the equation; they do nine games a year featuring five teams as opposed to the biggest national package out there by my employers, CBS College Sports. It does 24 games, a conference championship tourney and a CCHA playoff game. CBS College Sports covers all five conferences in the regular season, the only network that can say that. NESN, FS North, FS Rocky Mountain — those are regional sports networks that really devote a lot of time and money to college hockey. They care about it.

Your third paragraph has merit. People like the teams that move the meter, and research and ratings in college football show that while people say they like the underdog they don’t watch them on TV. The big programs need to be good to attract the casual fan.

The problem with this game was it showcased Michigan and Michigan State, not college hockey, in my opinion.

I agree. Contrariety for the sake of . . . well . . . contrariety. And pointless contrariety at that. Is the author miffed that the game isn’t being played in South Beach, thus expanding the sport? Or is he angry at the WSJ’s suggestion that the Big Ten, not Hockey East, is the center of the college hockey world, even in the absence of a Big Ten hockey conference?

Like so much of what passes for sports journalism these days, here is an example of a cynical writer performing intellectual gymnastics to find fault.

Let’s start here. I’m as much of a CCHA guy if not more so than a Hockey East guy. I’ve spent the better part of the last four seasons knee deep in the CCHA and love the conference. I met my wife through the CCHA. To say the teams that represent Big Ten schools are the center of the college hockey universe when Hockey East has the past three national titles and has been in the title game 11 of the past 12 years is just not true. Michigan is very relevant — 20 national tourney appearances in a row. Know who has the next longest streak? New Hampshire from Hockey East. Look at the last 15 years and you can make a case that Maine and Boston College might be the two most consistent programs in terms of the national tourney.

That is not a knock against any conference, just simply facts. The WCHA also has been very good and a major presence the past few years at the national level. The all-WCHA Frozen Four, highlighted by Denver winning a second straight national title (beating North Dakota, another team that lived in the Frozen Four most of the last decade) was a remarkable accomplishment.

We don’t need a game in South Beach, my friend, but one at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto might be a great idea for recruiting. You don’t need to win over the Michigan kids, but getting the Ontario kids south of the border would be a great accomplishment.

I also believe you missed the point. Honestly, I can’t say that these games are trying to boost the popularity of college hockey. I think it’s just suppose to be a fun experience for the players, as well as the fans. Of course you’re not going to grow interest in college hockey with one game. It’s the same reason why the winter classic has become a tradition every year now. It’s special to see a sporting spectacle in which large amounts of fans are drawn to a game. The “Cold War” was something completely new for college hockey and started a trend among other schools. You asked what will be gained from this experience? Probably nothing, and I don’t think that there really was something to ever be gained. It’s a one in a lifetime event for those kids that get to partake in the largest hockey game in North America. I suppose if they played at Yost it would have done a lot more for the game though (sarcasm)…the truth is, not a whole lot of people enjoy/understand/like hockey. And as you pointed out in your article, the South has been a tough market to break into. But I’m sure that ESPN will have a 10 second clip on the game, which is probably more hockey than they ever show throughout an entire show. In conclusion, I would like to suggest to just stop analyzing this game, and just take it for what it is. Not an attempt to boost college hockey’s popularity, but a game in which two bitter rivals will play in front of one of the largest crowds to ever assemble for a hockey game. Perhaps you should think about the game from the player’s perspective.

This is a unique take and I liked the response. We’re agreed that this was special for the players and those involved. That was never in contention or dispute. The Cold War was unique also and in my living room is a huge framed photo of it because my wife was part of the broadcast crew. It is something she was fortunate and proud to be a part of, especially as a Michigan State alum.

The Winter Classic by the NHL is a little different animal because it showcases the league more than two teams. Yes Sidney Crosby is with the Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin is with the Capitals, but they transcend their teams as stars of the National Hockey League. That game markets hockey and the NHL.

I liked your post, thanks for writing.

I think maybe you missed the point of the WSJ article. I believe they were not referring to the strength of college hockey as you have, but to acquiring new fans to the sport. Look at the NHL. It’s not nearly as popular as basketball or football, but everyone knows that on New Year’s Day there will be an outdoor game played, and many people who never watch hockey will be glued to the TV to watch.

Additionally, how many people around the country care at all about UNH playing Maine? It’s boring to them because they’re not big name schools in the sports they know about. Now tell those same people Michigan is playing Ohio State in hockey. They would think that’s the hugest game of the season when in reality it’s a nothing match up. Getting larger schools involved in college hockey is critical to expanding the fan base outside of it’s current boundaries and those schools come with a built in audience. I don’t agree with every point made in the WSJ article, but I think that while they may have missed the bulls eye, you’re interpretation of their article has completely missed the target.

Love your point in your first paragraph. Destination television is a huge part of marketing your sport. Just look at “Monday Night Football” as a case in point. The Winter Classic is a brilliant idea because it is always Jan. 1 and not on against any major football bowl game that a national audience will look at as must-watch TV. Then again, Urban Meyer’s last game at Florida and what could be Joe Paterno’s last game at Penn State is a decent watch that day also. The game means nothing but there is a story line.

The UNH-Maine reference is interesting because if you think New England cared about the Big Chill I’d have to say you were mistaken, much like the Midwest probably didn’t tune in very much to BU-BC at Fenway. This proves my point that these games don’t showcase college hockey; they showcase two teams. I can’t say Orono, Maine, was abuzz with Big Chill fever. Boston the week before seemed to not know the game was even being played.

Having done a few Michigan-Ohio State games at Michigan for CBS College Sports, the buzz in the place is more about Michigan than playing OSU. Swap OSU with Miami or MSU and you have a great point. Michigan at OSU gets a few thousand in the building but having done those games also it falls short of what I’d say is a big game atmosphere. I’d like to say otherwise but that is the reality.

I do agree the that there are some schools with built-in audiences. Then again, I asked a ton of Wisconsin and Michigan alums in the New York area I know about their interest in the Camp Randall Classic last year before it was played and they said they didn’t even know there was a game and probably wouldn’t watch it.

You have some fair arguments here and I thank you for sharing them.

Maybe the fact that UofM has just as many national championships than BC and BU combined, and the state of Michigan has 9 more national champions (in addition to UofM’s 9, MSU, MTU, LSSU have 3 each, NMU has 1) than the next closest state, and the fact that the 2010 USA Olympic roster had more Michiganders on it than any other state, and the fact that the winningest US based NHL franchise and the best team of the last two decades is in Detroit, maybe those are reasons the NCAA is showcasing hockey in Michigan, and college hockey in Michigan. The two schools playing comprise 12 national championships, two more than any other state has. So while there may be wild arenas locally, this is going to be a big deal nationally.

Outside of campaigning for the title of Mr. State of Michigan No. 1 Hockey Fan, I’m not sure you really addressed the issue. However, you cannot deny what a great hockey state Michigan is. There was an opening recently in the Red Wings’ PR department. If it hasn’t been filled you should apply. One point I would counter is that I’m not sure the NCAA was doing any showcasing here. The vibe I have had on all of these outdoor games is the teams in the game were doing the showcasing; that it was not an “NCAA” event like the Winter Classic is an NHL event. Could be wrong here but don’t think so.

First, most of the people in the stands won’t be able to see much of the action from so far away (let alone the puck), and I’ll bet the vast majority will be yucking it up texting, face timing, and eating. If they serve beer, well, even fewer will be actually watching.

Rolled at this one. Between media colleagues, friends and family at the game I got plenty of texts during the game as I was driving to Kalamazoo to see the game between Western Michigan and Lake Superior State. This might be the most accurate response sent. Hey, I’m all for a party atmosphere in the lot pregame and having fun inside. There was never a question it would be fun. When the CCHA puts on an event it usually is top notch and Michigan State and Michigan are the same in their presentations.

Outdoor hockey is a spectacle and people may tune just to see how the players deal with the “elements.” Well, if you want to see elements come to Duluth where it is the last bastion of youth hockey in the US (possibly Canada too) where all kids prior to PeeWee’s still skate entirely outside and where each area of town is defined and known by the neighborhood hockey association and rinks.

I’ll watch a Pee Wee game on an outdoor rink any time. My 9-year-old son played an outdoor inline game Monday night here on Long Island and despite the cold, the kids and the parents had a blast. I played outdoor roller hockey as a kid for a while, and ice hockey also and I loved it. I think we are talking about two very different situations here, but I’m with you.

Dave is just a bitter columnist that is mad that his Hockey East is not in the spot light. Who would seriously turn a great event like this into a negative?

I’m not bitter and I’m not a Hockey East guy. I love the conference but represent a national network that is partners with the NCAA and we broadcast all five conferences. We get very CCHA heavy starting in January. Our CCHA schedule is two games lighter than our Hockey East this year. The past two years were almost exclusively CCHA so your point is somewhat disingenuous. I feel as at home in the CCHA as anywhere.

The highlights of this game made SportsCenter – as part of actual highlights and not just Top 10 lists. THAT shows how big a deal this was, because no other regular season game – not even the Beanpot – gets any air time. Every bit of positive publicity helps college hockey.

Rodeo and people doing flips and dunking a basketball off a trampoline also made the Top Ten on SportsCenter. Were they a big deal also? The Beanpot actually does get a SportsCenter mention, it is always Monday nights and Monday nights are usually slow nights in sports so even if it is to fill air time the Beanpot will make SportsCenter usually. NESN happens to do a great job televising the Beanpot. My opinion is there is no tourney as unique as the Beanpot. Four D-I teams all within a few miles of each other at the TD Bank Garden is quite an event.

Maybe next time we can have a game on the Moon! Please, let’s stop with the gimmicks. Football stadiums are for football. Stop the insanity.

I needed at least one on my side.

Just wondering if Starman watched last night.

Nope. Got off the plane at Metro, drove to Kalamazoo, took a nap and went to the Western-Lake State game. Haven’t seen a minute of it. Though I heard if the game went four periods instead of three MSU would have had an advantage going with the wind in the fourth.

I stopped going to NHL games twenty years ago when I realized the proximity to the ice in the college game made up for the skill differential. Tha extra passion was just a bonus. These gimmick games are all passion, since nobody there is going to be able to see anything. But you can get college students passionate about anything, so I’m unimpressed. Give me 3,000 seat sellouts anyday and you can keep the rest.

The NHL has some great players as does the AHL; it is pretty elite level stuff. On the other hand the passion of college hockey, their fans, the buildings, the bands, the intimacy even in the bigger buildings is unmatched. To sit that close to the action for a decent price is, well, priceless. There are not many bad seats at college games.

That’s all the space for this week. Thanks for reading and responding. Even if our opinions are not the same, the more debate on what college hockey needs, the better.