Understanding the process: A look at the selection of the 2020, 2021 NCAA men’s hockey regional sites

29 Mar 19: The St. Cloud State Huskies play against the American International Yellow Jackets in a 2019 West Regional semifinal matchup at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND. (Jim Rosvold)
St. Cloud State and American International line up prior to their 2019 West Regional semifinal matchup March 29 at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. (photo: Jim Rosvold).

The announcement of host sites for the 2020 and 2021 NCAA men’s D-I hockey regionals earlier this month sparked questions and no small amount of social media controversy.

Fans of teams in western leagues expressed disappointment that three of the four regionals would be located in the east for the third season, with Allentown, Pennsylvania, again hosting the Midwest regional.

USCHO.com spoke recently with NCAA D-I men’s hockey committee chairman Steve Metcalf, deputy director of athletics at the University of New Hampshire, to find out more about the sites selected and the overall selection process.

“We really spend some time evaluating this and talking through all the options that we have to us,” said Metcalf. “It’s not a decision that we take lightly. We’re trying to make sure we get it right — a good site, and good buildings, and good folks, and good host institutions or conferences that we know can do a really good job.”

Only NCAA member institutions or conferences may submit a bid to host an NCAA regional. Those awarded bids to host must meet an extensive list of requirements to be considered, including financial.

Detailed requirements

In August 2018, the NCAA requested bids for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 regionals. A 21-page specifications document included minimum requirements for the arena, event marketing, lodging, volunteer needs and financial terms.

The facility specifications are extensive — spanning six pages of the document — but there are other requirements that may also serve to narrow the number of bids.

According to the specifications, the facility and the area surrounding it — such as parking lots and adjoining property — must be turned over completely for the use of the NCAA one day prior to the event. The arena must be “modern, clean and accessible” with a minimum capacity of 5,000 seats.

But that’s just the beginning of the requirements.

The NCAA also must be provided the use of all meeting rooms, private clubs and restaurants in the facility at no cost. Video and public address equipment, scoreboards and overhead goal cameras must be provided by the host facility. Even the arena lighting must be approved by the NCAA and its broadcast partner ESPN.

The arena must also supply two suites as close to center ice as possible for the use of the NCAA during practices and games.

The NCAA also requires that all team and sponsor logos that usually would be in the arena be covered up or removed from the boards, ice and other fixtures. New board coverings and ice markings are provided by the NCAA, but the host arena is responsible for the labor to install them.

Host arenas must provide four comparable locker rooms with 22 lockers and room for 31 people, as well as a referees’ locker room with capacity for six officials. The host must also provide water, soft drinks, sports drinks, pregame fruit and postgame lunches, as well as towels and other supplies for teams and referees.

Media requirements include 75 press box seats and work space for 75 elsewhere in the arena, with power, internet, television monitors and light refreshments, as well as a press conference area. Room for a 75-person television crew is also required.

A large block of hotel rooms, which are paid for by the NCAA, must be reserved by the host, with teams lodging in four separate hotels, all within walking distance of the arena. Rooms are also required for the NCAA and for on-ice officials. Accommodations for 226 people are required.

The host must also provide all public relations coordination, first aid and medical services, food and beverage concessions, support personnel, computers, fax machines, printers, athletic training staff, and “other items as later requested by the NCAA.” To accomplish this, each site requires about 100 volunteers.

While it’s not part of the bid document, NHL-sized ice is a priority for a regional site (and a requirement for the Frozen Four).

After sites are chosen, the host must also submit a detailed marketing plan with a minimum budget of $5,000.

Finally, the specifications require a financial guarantee to the NCAA of $150,000. After all receipts from the regional have been determined and the NCAA has received its guarantee, the host receives the lesser amount of budgeted or actual expenses. Any remaining receipts above that amount are split 80% to the NCAA and 20% to the host institutions or conferences.

There are a lot of requirements to host and potential hosts must be ready to meet them to be considered.

(A copy of the bid specifications may be downloaded here.)

Choosing the 2020 and 2021 host sites

Bid proposals submitted by potential host sites were first vetted by NCAA staff, and those meeting the requirements were then forwarded to the men’s D-I ice hockey committee.

Over the course of a couple of conference calls, the committee narrowed down the selections for 2020 and 2021.

North Dakota and Wisconsin were both reported to have submitted bids for on-campus sites. Without specifying which institutions did submit proposals to use their home arenas, Metcalf said that on-campus proposals were reviewed.

“We’ve prioritized the neutrality of the sites because that’s what the majority of the body has expressed to us,” said Metcalf. “But that’s always an ongoing discussion with coaches and administrators about what everyone thinks is the best way to do this.”

While bids were also received for 2022, the committee is still evaluating proposals for that year — which coincides with the latest Frozen Four bid awarded — but wanted to get the 2020 bids announced as quickly as possible.

“We felt really good about the first two years and we didn’t want to delay the announcement of those two while we sorted out what we wanted to do in ’22,” Metcalf explained.

Future sites and other playoff formats

The NCAA would like new sites to submit bids in the future.

“We’re always trying to cultivate a new site that we think would be good, whether it be in a good part of the country — think pro hockey — or it’s got collegiate teams that would hopefully go on and support a regional if it was there,” Metcalf said.

Loveland, Colorado, is a new location in this two-year round of regional sites. The committee is confident in Denver as that site’s host.

“They (Denver) feel good about the site and it certainly gives us more confidence that that’s going to be a good regional site for us,” Metcalf said.

While the NCAA has been pleased with Allentown as a host, the lack of neutral site bids in midwestern locations is why there have been three regional sites in the eastern part of the U.S. for three years.

The committee is still studying the reasons for the small attendance at the Frozen Four in Buffalo, but is not concerned with regional attendance this season. Metcalf noted that overall attendance in 2019 was at about the average for the past several years.

Although the committee and NCAA membership clearly prefer regionals at neutral sites, different formats, including a discussion of on-campus sites as part of the mix, is expected to be a topic of conversation at the committee’s June meeting in Indianapolis.

“It’s not like something special we’re doing this year; it’s kind of a constant evaluation of how we do things,” Metcalf explained. “We’ll explore all the pros and cons of different formats this summer.”