Big Ten’s Traviolia weighs in on fan frustrations, attendance, league’s future plans

In its third season, Big Ten hockey hasn’t quieted some fan complaints (photo: Larry Radloff).

The Big Ten is in the midst of its third season sponsoring men’s hockey, and it has been an eventful couple of years.

Even before the conference officially came into existence during the 2013-14 season, it made waves in the college hockey community. Some of those waves haven’t crested and died off, either, and that’s not concerning to Brad Traviolia, the conference’s deputy commissioner, chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

“I don’t think anyone within the conference or on campus felt like we’d just open shop, turn on the lights and all of a sudden magic would happen where national championships would just roll in and attendance records would be broken,” Traviolia said after saying that everyone involved with hockey at the Big Ten offices is still learning about college hockey.

The main point is that the Big Ten doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Traviolia, who oversees hockey for the conference. “I think we’ve learned a lot in the first two years about what made our schools successful in their previous leagues.”

Traviolia said that the conference has a “two-fold goal.” One is to help and assist its six schools — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State — toward being successful. The other is to help college hockey as a whole grow.

When Penn State announced that it was elevating its hockey program to the Division I level and the Big Ten hockey conference was announced, there was grumbling around college hockey from fans of schools that were entering the new conference and those from the conferences that said teams were leaving.

Since the conference’s inception, some of its teams have gone through horrible stretches of bad play, and attendance — or lack thereof — has been a hot topic.

“In a perfect world, we’d have great national success in the early years of Big Ten hockey and it’d be perceived by the vast majority as the greatest move ever,” Traviolia said. “Those things didn’t coincide. I understand that there is some frustration from the various fan bases that see the alignment of Big Ten hockey with the lack of national success that some of our programs are used to having and equate the two.

“I don’t equate the two at all. I think it’s a little bit of a timing coincidence and I’m very confident that our programs that are used to having success, it’ll come back and it will be there. They won’t be down on this end of the cycle much longer.”

One theory for the lack of attendance is that fans simply aren’t intrigued enough with the new conference foes to make the effort to actually go to games. Traviolia, who recently took over the position that involves men’s ice hockey at the conference but has been with the Big Ten for more than 19 years, doesn’t necessarily buy that notion.

“Coming from a non-hockey background, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine a fan in the state of Minnesota who wouldn’t be excited to see a Michigan or a Michigan State come in to play,” he said. “I recognize and acknowledge that significant rivalries developed over the years in the previous leagues, and that’s fine.

“Many of our schools have scheduling opportunities to honor those rivalries and to continue them the best they can. So it’s a matter of getting familiar with your new league opponents and as those meaningful series come down the stretch and the winners are advancing and the losers are going home, I think the new rivalries within the conference will develop over time.”

The challenge for the schools, according to Traviolia, is to balance keeping the old rivalries alive while building new ones within the Big Ten.

Attendance has also been an issue at the Big Ten’s postseason tournament. The Big Ten had a five-session total of 42,610 fans (8,522 per session) show up to the 2014 tournament at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center and had a total attendance of just 16,144 over three sessions (5,381 per session) last year at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. By comparison, the 2013 WCHA Final Five had an announced five-session attendance of 87,295 (17,459 per session).

This year’s postseason tournament will head back to St. Paul. Next year it will return to Detroit and the years after that are up in the air. Traviolia said that it was “as much of a political decision as any” to hold the first four tournaments at the former sites of the WCHA and CCHA tournaments due to the fact that five of the conference’s six teams came from those leagues.

“It made a lot of sense and we wanted to give both sites an opportunity and we wanted to tap into the historic fan bases from each of those,” Traviolia said, adding that the low attendance numbers could be due to the fact that the Big Ten is not a bus league, like the WCHA and CCHA were, to some extent.

“While Minnesota is the home team in St. Paul and Michigan and Michigan State are in Detroit, for the other teams and for their fan bases the driving distance is not what it was in the old leagues where again you were able to park the event at one venue over a number of years consistently and it became the place to go to celebrate that conference’s hockey on an annual basis.”

Traviolia said he is careful not make too much of a judgment after two years, but added that nothing is off the table concerning the future of the tournament.

After the deal with St. Paul and Detroit runs out after the conclusion of the 2017 tournament, the Big Ten could go multiple ways, including continuing the rotation with those two cities, permanently placing it somewhere, having a preliminary round to the playoffs or holding the entire tournament at campus sites over multiple weekends.

There is also the option of partnering with another conference or multiple conferences to hold a super tournament, so to speak.

“I wouldn’t say that one option is favored over another at this time; we have a lot of ideas up on the board,” Traviolia said. “We’ll talk with our coaches this spring after the season and get their input and then we’ll try to figure out starting in 2018 what the best path is going forward.”

Traviolia said that one of the first things he did when he moved into his new position last summer was travel to all six schools and talk to the head coaches to pick their brains. Multiple coaches said that the conference having only six teams wasn’t ideal, but they also realized that there wasn’t another Big Ten team, like Penn State was, waiting in the wings.

With Arizona State elevating its club hockey team to the Division I level this season, there has been a lot of speculation surrounding which conference the Sun Devils will join. Historically, the Big Ten didn’t enter into affiliate membership agreements with other schools on a single-sport basis until Johns Hopkins recently joined its men’s lacrosse conference.

“We did somewhat break the seal a couple years ago with men’s lacrosse and Johns Hopkins, that was the first time ever that we had entered into an affiliate membership agreement with a single sport,” Traviolia said. “Affiliate membership for hockey is an option. I wouldn’t say it’s the only option or it’s the inevitable option, but it’s something that the conference is willing to consider since we’ve somewhat opened that door with lacrosse.”

Other notes from Traviolia

On the increased suspensions this season: “I don’t know that there’s a point of emphasis specifically for this year. The way that the NCAA rule regarding supplemental discipline plays out is that the conference, in this case it would be Steve Piotrowski, our coordinator of officials, along with myself, we have the ability to review any plays made during the game and issue supplemental discipline if warranted. I think the same mindset and the same goal this year have applied in year one and two of the Big Ten, there’s just been more of them. I don’t have a reason for why there are more of them, but I think that we’ve consistently applied the rule and have issued supplemental discipline no differently than we have the previous two years. It just seems to be more frequently this year.”

On hockey’s exposure on the Big Ten Network: “I think that the fact that there’s only six playing schools versus 14, I don’t know that that’s a huge impact in terms of time that’s dedicated to hockey on the network. In fact, it may benefit our schools because BTN is able to commit X number of hours to hockey and it’s just being divided by the six schools instead of 14, so I think on a per-school basis our schools might be better off.

“I would say that going into year one of Big Ten ice hockey, the network had high expectations, in terms of ratings. We had high expectations in terms of the tournament, in terms of television ratings and in terms of what BTN felt was successful programing. We fell a little short in year one and again we didn’t hit the attendance that we hoped at the tournament. We were really trying to figure out what we could do differently, whether it’s the schedule, whether it’s the format of the tournament, whether it’s a different way of packaging or presenting the game. We’re going to sit down with our partners at BTN and see what we can do to enhance the package of Big Ten hockey.”

On the age proposal submitted by the Big Ten: “We submitted a proposal in September. I think around November is when it became more public in the hockey community that the proposal was submitted. We have plenty of opportunity, the NCAA provides plenty of opportunity for comments. The vote isn’t until April. We went through our internal process last spring and summer and per the timeline outlined by the NCAA we submitted it and so, while it’s gotten a lot of media play, we still believe that it’s a good piece of legislation. We believe that once people are willing to dive into the details and look at what the actual impact is of such a change, it’s relatively modest.

“I think that a lot of the angst regarding the proposal is regarding how it came to be, the fact that the Big Ten entered it into the NCAA system directly instead of going through the traditional coaches’ convention system that has historically taken place. I think there’s a lot of adverse reaction to that, but I do think that just looking at the legislation, that’s kind of the focus of what our comments are and what we are encouraging people to do is to really look and see how it will impact various programs.

“We’re not trying to do away with delayed enrolment. We’re recognizing that junior hockey is still and should still play a role in the development of players. All we’re saying is that instead of delaying enrolment by three years and then coming back to play four years of college hockey, just delay it by two years and then have four years to play college hockey.”

Three stars of the week

Michigan’s Tyler Motte has 14 goals in a nine-game goal-scoring streak (photo: Michael Dubicki).

First star — Michigan junior forward Tyler Motte: Motte had three goals and one assist in Michigan’s split with Michigan State. The junior has netted a goal in nine consecutive games and leads the nation with 25 goals this season.

Second star — Michigan junior goaltender Steve Racine: Racine stopped 38 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss on Friday in Detroit and helped the Wolverines rebound by making 33 more saves during Saturday’s victory over the Spartans.

Third star — Michigan State junior forward Joe Cox: Cox scored two goals in the Spartans’ 3-2 overtime victory on Friday. He also scored the first goal of Saturday’s game on a penalty shot in the second period, which was the first penalty-shot goal for Michigan State since 2006.

B1G in the poll

No. 6 Michigan and No. 16 Penn State are still the two representatives for the Big Ten in this week’s Division I Men’s Poll. Minnesota is still clinging to a few votes.

My ballot

1. North Dakota
2. Quinnipiac
3. Boston College
4. St. Cloud State
5. Providence
6. Michigan
7. Harvard
8. Boston University
9. Notre Dame
10. Yale
11. Massachusetts-Lowell
12. Omaha
13. Denver
14. Michigan Tech
15. Penn State
16. Minnesota State
17. Bowling Green
18. Cornell
19. Robert Morris
20. Rensselaer

This week’s matchups

Penn State at Michigan State (Friday and Saturday, Munn Ice Arena)

Minnesota at Ohio State (Friday and Saturday, Value City Arena)

Michigan at Wisconsin (Friday and Saturday, Kohl Center)


  1. “The other is to help college hockey as a whole grow.”

    Complete BS. This conference, right from the start, was, and still is, all about the money. Where is the next dollar coming from, where can we get more money? Those are the only questions these inept morons who run the conference are asking.

    • Hockey rivalries are geographic. Hockey people intuitively know this. HIs claim that they are looking to “help college hockey …” in any sense is dishonest. They were looking to cash in on a bad idea, disrupted college hockey more than helped it, and got burned.

  2. Second: The big joke network excuse is just another excuse. They have plenty of alternative channels that games could be played on, but do they every use them? Absolutely not. The network would rather replay a football game from 30 years ago on a Friday or Saturday night.

    • Do you understand it costs money to air a game on the alternative channels?? No college hockey game would get the ratings to justify putting a game on the alternative networks. Think before you speak.

      • Wasnt that the catch for the big joke network? Look at all these hockey games we’ll show……except we wont start showing them till after thanksgiving……and then the games we dont show you can stream…..except when they do neither and you dont get the game. Big joke conference cares as much for hockey as anyone else cares for getting kicked in the nuts.

  3. The Sick Six Hockey Conference is irrelevant. Traviolia is talking about things he wishes he didn’t have to talk about; competitiveness, attendance, growth, perception. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Gopher hockey world is as frustrated as Charlie Sheen in a convent. Minnesota and Wisconsin couldn’t lift Penn and Ohio States in to the elite so they have joined them in the mediocre. It’s hard to rate the conference as 3rd best as they are probably 4th or 5th best in the nation. No end in sight.

  4. When you have UND vs MSU on the app which you need a cable subscription to have require a payment, then run Michigan vs OSU football from the 70s you had no intention of broadcasting a live hockey game.

  5. Thanks go to Mr. Traviolia for sitting down for this interview. Now, as for the commenters…you people are being so negative that one wonders if you even WANT to see Big Ten hockey go on to greater success. Seems more like spite than constructive criticism.

    • Mr. Traviolia was not providing credible comments. Nobody believes that change was made to benefit college hockey. Nobody in Minnesota is interested in developing a rivalry with an Ohio or Pennsylvania school. They already had that in Grand Forks and Duluth.

      • So basically some of the people in the northern hockey community don’t want hockey to grow beyond its traditional borders? That seems both silly and selfish.

        • So tell me how it is growing? The WCHA tournament set all sorts of records for attendance. There were long standing rivalries dating back to the 50’s and 60’s which drew fans from all age ranges. Look at the B1G tournament in St.Paul it was a damn embarrassment, in Michigan I think I saw 4 people in the stands. Have you checked the attendance at Ohio State? Nobody is at those games. Penn State is the only team that has benefitted and that is at the expense of many other teams. Past that, what other teams are going to want to join this conference? Mr. Triviola seems painfully out of touch or exhibiting one of the most extreme cases of denial in college hockey.

          • I’ll agree with that. The old final five was more fun than the current clump 6 tourney and even the NCHC tourney. The target center sucks, but at least its in the same place each year.

          • Well that’s not good that Ohio State and the B1G Tournament have had weak attendance. Hopefully people like Mr. Traviolia can do something about that. I just think we should be a bit more patient.

          • I would only agree with you if Nebraska and Northwestern were ready to add hockey, and they aren’t. The B1G has, on balance, weakened CH. All change, as we have found out, is not for the better. The best that could come of the league would be expansion to eight teams. There is so much apathy toward the league tournament that it should just rotate around to campus venues like any other sport that few care about. See golf, tennis, swimming, etc.

        • Growing outside traditional borders? The Big Ten conference is growing hockey in Michigan? In Ohio? In Pennsylvania? Pretty sure hockey already existed there.

        • Huh? Nobody has argued anything relating to that. And, how has the little 6 grown the sport beyond traditional borders? My point was that they upset the apple cart expecting glory and money, and have gained neither. The NCHC is now a dominant league, and the new WCHA (made of up the weak players in the former WCHA and CCHA) is arguably a better league with a better fan base to boot.

          • Whoa, wait a second. The WCHA isn’t neccesarily a ‘better” league. They have the same problems this season as the B1G- their collective PWR stinks and if it wasn’t for the autobid neither Minn State or BGSU would get into the tournament this season at this point. IIRC Minn State would be the 16th team in, too. You can argue fanbase all you want, that’s pretty subjective, but don’t come off like the league matches up better than the B1G because the numbers don’t lie. They both stink and outside of Michigan, there isn’t one other team in either league that would qualify in the NCAA tourney as an at large.

          • I agree. The WCHA isn’t any better. It probably was last season with the success Mankato and Tech had, but its not this year.

          • Well, I said “arguably”. The point is that the Premier League thoughts that the little 10 had in their heads have not come close to materializing. The WCHA is not a strong league. Therefore, the comparison.

          • Where are the quotes and thoughts that you have about the B1G being superior? Not from fans, players and coaches. Keep fabricating . As a matter of fact, you probably are part of the arrogant elite from that other “strong” dominant western conference that was formed at the same time as the B1G and the new WCHA. The same conference that has won as many NC’s as the previously mentioned leagues since their formation. If you want to poke at the B1G, limit it to the conference administration that forced this on their fans and their schools because many of them agree with your original premise. Otherwise, you are just being cheeky.

    • Please explain what he said that made any sense as well as what positives actually exist in the move to Big 10 hockey over the previous conferences. If you can paint even a reasonable picture I will concede to your comment that this is simply vitriol. It’s a very admirable thing to be positive, but when you are simply TRYING TO FORCE positivity into an area where none really exists you are being delusional.

    • “Coming from a non-hockey background, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine a fan in the state of Minnesota who wouldn’t be excited to see a Michigan or a Michigan State come in to play,” he said.


    • I obviously want it to do well for the sake of the fans of the teams but the BIG10 doesn’t care about hockey, it wants football and bball and anything else doesn’t matter. The fact the the old WCHA was generally more localized was a good thing it helped grow the rivalries and made the matchups more frequent and meaningful.

    • Of course they don’t, Nate. Most of these “commentators” are fans outside of the B1G Ten rolling in their NCHC butter. But, give them due credit- their comments are correct for the most part. No one asked the fans if they wanted to see the WCHA and CCHA go away.

  6. The Small Six is doing a great job of recognizing its own interests and not those of the other organizations, and no bigger example is the age restrictions gaffe.

    In fact, what makes hockey so different from the other NCAA sports is that it has a large international (read: Canadian) presence. The QJHML (and other junior Canadian leagues) already dominate as the primary league for skaters trying for the AHL and NHL, and the NCAAs serve as a way for many of these players to earn an education AND continue skating. By adding in an age barrier, they just close the door to that much extra talent and certify the NCAA as a B-League alternative to Juniors.

    They might as well forget about Minnesota, UND, and half the ECAC ever winning another championship if they go forward with the new age requirements; all their Canadian talent will just play in the better leagues in Canada and never make their way into the NCAAs. But maybe that’s the goal; if your teams are struggling to be competitive, might as well bar the competition from entry…

    • I would argue the opposite. The traditional powerhouse schools (UND, Minnesota, etc.) would be hurt the least by this rule. Usually these schools get the pick of the litter when it comes to talent, with guys that aren’t as developed go play junior hockey in hopes of developing their skills more. By the time these players are ready for the college game the powerhouse schools already have their rosters filled (with kids that often times are just as good or better). In come the smaller schools, who generally struggle to get the top talent because they don’t consistently compete for championships. They have room on their rosters for guys that developed later, and they are thrilled to have a chance at them, as some of these kids have developed into some good talent. And that is the problem for Minnesota. How many of the National Champions in recent years are first time champions, or at least haven’t won it all in recent years? College hockey has in incredible amount of parity now, and it is in large part due to these smaller programs having access to guys that the bigger programs passed up. Taking that away will (in theory) make it easier for Minnesota and some of the Little 6 schools either return to what they once were or develop their programs.

  7. I said this several years ago…..and I still think it holds true today. Destroying the WCHA at the cost of the new B10 hockey conference would (and did) hurt CH on the whole. Well, there is no question this has happened. That, and calling penalties on any hit that “looks” just a little too harsh. CH has turned into a Bandy-like affair. The lack of hitting has hurt the game far more than most ppl realize. I know, a little OT, but just felt it necessary to mention….again.

  8. In regard to B1G Hockey tournament attendance – there is no way that is going to go anywhere when it continues to be held on the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. That wasn’t a league-wide issue with the WCHA, where most of the schools didn’t have a fan base dividing their attention (or as it seems, devoting ALL of their attention) to basketball. Now you have a conference with all six teams having D1 hoops, and other than die-hard hockey fans or people who love to sit in a 90% empty arena, they’re paying attention to that, not the sub-par hockey we have all been graced with for the past 3 years.

      • So how do you plan on fixing this problem then? I thought having the conference tournament in Detroit would actually improve attendance compared to St Paul, but its obvious it got a lot worse. Do people in Michigan just not care about hockey or what?

        • As I’ve heard, MSU vs MI game at the Joe Louis Arena last Friday was a sell out. Fact is, while hockey at MSU isn’t particularly popular this year for obvious reasons, there are 4 other in-state D1 programs besides these two where hockey is vastly popular and they do not reside in this tiny conference.

        • There are .. hmm .. 7 D-I hockey programs in Michigan. Six of these schools were formerly in the same league. That fostered significant interest especially when a small, otherwise D-2 school could compete against UM, MSU, etc. As it stands, fans here are interested only in MSU vs UM. The rest of it has little meaning, and half of their seasons are now non-conference with UM it seems spending most of their time on the east coast. Football rivalries don’t translate into hockey. I’m sure that people in Minnesota will say the same thing. A Gopher – OSU or PSU game carries no mojo, but the North Star cup gets nice attention.

  9. Thank You B1G for the NCHC you can have your Penn State, Ohio State, and now you can add Michigan State and Wisconsin. They should be known now as the Big 2 and Little 4

  10. “Coming from a non-hockey background, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine a fan in the state of Minnesota who wouldn’t be excited to see a Michigan or a Michigan State come in to play,” he said

    Said perfectly by someone who has no clue what they are talking about. Why wouldn’t you want to see MI State come in? Because who cares about MI State hockey, that’s why. This guy thinks that just because they play each other in b-ball and football that the fans are going to care. Hockey has been and always will be an outlier compared to those other sports and unless a bunch of the schools in the conference get a lot better, pretty quickly this is going to keep spiraling downward.

    • Yeah he doesn’t get the longstanding rivalries. I (as a Michigan fan) am bored to see Minnesota and Wisconsin in town and I’m sure some of them are bored to see us. I miss Northern and Ferris and Miami and I’m sure those guys miss North Dakota and Duluth and others

  11. Which programs has the B1G money grab helped become more successful? UW, OSU, and MSU are completely irrelevant; Minnesota is suffering playing down to their competition and has become a mediocre program; Michigan is currently doing well but their success is limited to one stacked line of goal scorers with no defense or tending and they will likely hit a brick wall in the post season.

    Furthering frustration, a quick glance at the schedule this weekend shows that half the games won’t be televised nor available for streaming on BTN (without additional subscriptions). Saturday night, BTN has elected to broadcast women’s basketball instead during the timeslot.

    • I wanted to punch someone when I looked for the Gohper game and saw WOMENS BASKETBALL on instead. Wow, thanks BTN. But then it hit me… playing OSU didn’t really hold my interest after all, and I apathetically moved on. Nothing against OSU, it’s just..not there in this dumb new league. Pretty sad. I’ve went from planning my schedule around Gophs hockey on weekends to not caring.

  12. If the conference does end up adding affiliate, hockey-only members like Arizona State and UConn, you have to wonder what blowing up all the conferences was all for.

  13. This article makes my blood boil.
    College hockey is unique in so many ways – many of which have been destroyed by the conference realignment. Interest is lower due to lack of interesting opponents/rivalries (No, we in MN don’t give a care about playing MI or MI State…that’s like asking a Big10 football team to get geared up to play Mississippi State or Toledo – give me a break!), a dreadful post-season tourney, and inconsistent schedule, lack of TV time (wasn’t TV time supposed to be BETTER under the Big10??!!) and utter apathy towards teams such as Penn State or Ohio State. Clearly someone sitting in their ivory tower had nothing better to do than “shake things up” in the worst way possible. It’s sad. And we, as diehard fans, ALL knew this was coming. And, quite frankly, there’s no fixing it. This conference is a joke. #BigMistake

  14. We do not need affiliate members…What is needed is a concentrated effort by the conference to induce non participating B1G institutions into the sport. Can not the “hockey mad” Chicagoans show some love for the game and push Northwestern and/or Illinois into DI hockey??? Growth is the answer.

  15. Well, thanks for asking about future tournament locations. Didn’t get an answer I was hoping for, but thanks for asking anyways.

    (Speaking of which, should I just be resigned to B10 tournament 2018 at Madison Square Garden?)

  16. The only thing that he said that I liked was having a super tournament against another conference but still that doesn’t compensate for the lack of a good regular season and the attendance issues.

  17. Growing up a Gopher fan, I remember seeing them play Michigan and Michigan State when they were on TV and both were still in the WCHA, back before even FSN had their broadcasts. The games were fun enough, but they lacked the real passion that came with the UND and UW games involved. Why is that? Hockey is a regional game, and the closer the proximity of the two teams, the more heated the rivalries because you knew people who had attachments to the other schools and it would spark debates, jokes, and all that goes with them.

    When it came time to attend college, I ended up at SCSU, and Gopher weekends were huge up there. My freshman year was 95-96, when I got my first real taste of being in the mix for a college rivalry. Growing up a Gopher fan, and now my loyalty changing was a hard, quick thing. Playing the Gophers four games or more each year (the teams met that year in the Final Five at the old St. Paul Civic Center, the last year it was hosted there) really caused those emotions to percolate. Oh, was it ever fun! Then came a WCHA restructuring, and the Gophers became less of a rival. Seeing them only twice a season cooled off that rivalry quite a bit, but strengthened, from what I saw, how we viewed the games against UND and even UMD and Mankato State, to a lesser degree.

    All of this is to say that familiarity breeds rivalries. Seeing a team many times each year, and knowing people on both sides of the rivalries really get those juices flowing. No, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State cannot compete at generating the same buzz. Sure, on a national scene they are the big deals within the conference for other sports, but they just can’t hold a candle to the old hockey rivalries because hockey is regional and often familial. The B1G Mistake’s leadership won’t ever be able to wrap their football- and basketball-centric minds around that.

  18. Holding the B1G tournament on campus sites makes way too much sense to ever happen. Much like putting the NCAA regionals back on homesites. It makes sense so naturally we’ll play in front of empty arenas in Fort Wayne, Indiana until the end of time

  19. People are just butt hurt that the big ten is fully showing how irrelevant the sport of college hockey is. I know we all like to think college hockey is a big deal but it’s not, accept it.


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