Thursday, April 28, 2011

NCAA Tourney Format Change?

Entering Phase I of "Operation: EoDS Posting More Often":

We've yet to really hear any news from the AHCA meetings in Naples, Fla. this week, but North Dakota beat writer Brad Schlossman made a post yesterday (well... technically still today) proposing what he thinks they should be discussing. It's actually an idea that was proposed last year, and was used in the 1980s:

Changing the first round of the NCAA tournament to be a best-of-three series hosted by the higher seed. The NCAA tournament format is still up in the air (there's a reason that the regional sites have only been announced through the next tournament), and this is an idea that was brought up last year.

The rationale?
  1. It offers an advantage to higher seeds in an era where parity has made almost every first round NCAA game a toss-up.
  2. It offers a way around the low attendance issues we've seen in the regionals recently, by allowing passionate local fans see their teams in action.
  3. In theory, higher attendance means more money for the NCAA and the schools.
I have to admit, this sounds great on the surface. An extra bonus goes for the notion that UND would get screwed as long as they keep their nickname issues with the NCAA alive. ("Now hosting the NCAA First Round: The University of North Dakota Fannings")

I do have a few reservations, mostly with the cost issue. Yes, there will undoubtedly be more tickets sold for the first round games. No more half-empty arenas if the host team isn't playing in the tourney. (Or half-empty arenas when the host is playing...)

But let's consider something here: There are quite a few arenas in the college hockey world. A lot of them are small and perhaps not used for a lot of other functions, but there are quite a few arenas (UW's Kohl Center among them) that are multi-purpose, have other tenants and are looking for things besides college hockey for revenue.

A place like the Kohl Center can get quite busy, there are often other functions that the Kohl Center can be used for by the time we get to mid-March. How does the NCAA intend on keeping these arenas available when they won't know for sure that they're hosting NCAA playoff games until (at most) a few weeks ahead of time? Is that a cheap proposition? How much more money can the NCAA make off of those games?

Plus, although this would open up the possibility of NCAA games in some of college hockey's largest and best arenas (Kohl Center, Mariucci, Conte Forum, Yost, etc.), but there aren't a lot of arenas in D-I hockey that seat more than 7,000 people. Quite a few of them have a max capacity of less than 5,000- so it's hard to guarantee huge attendance increases.

And lets not forget that the "super regionals" proposed would still require the NCAA to reserve the arenas for a whole weekend. Granted, they don't have to reserve four arenas for regionals, just two, but its a cost that is still there and carries all of the risks that currently exist for regional sites.

As I see it, the biggest problem with the current format of the NCAA is simply timing. As it is now, the field is announced on a Sunday morning, and the first round begins the following Friday. That's hardly enough time for people with regular jobs and a limited amount of vacation time (like me) with only a week to try to plan for a way to plan out a weekend's worth of travel to go to a regional. It's hardly impossible, but it sure is short notice. An extra week between the selection of the field and the first round would go a long way towards giving traveling fans a chance to organize themselves and make a trip.

Another benefit of an extra week? Making sure that the first round of the tourney doesn't coincide with the opening rounds of the basketball tourney. There's no sense in trying to compete with that behemoth.

All in all, it's not a bad idea. But the positives aren't nearly as open and shut as Mr. Schlossman paints them out to be. As a fan of the team with one of the best (if not THE best) atmospheres in college hockey, I will admit that I love the notion of having more playoff hockey there... so let's see if the NCAA Tournament Committee ends up wanting to try this out.

It's a much better idea than shootouts. Let's just put it that way.