Fixing The NCAA Tournament


The Frozen Four kicks off today in Tampa with Union and Ferris State squaring off in the afternoon game, and BC and Minnesota meeting in the nightcap. This year marks (I believe) the first time four regular season conference champions will meet in the Frozen Four. That got me thinking: why have their been so many Cinderella stories in college hockey lately? In recent memory we have seen Bemidji State and RIT make Frozen Four runs in back to back years and #1 seeds are just 12-8 against #4 seeds since 2008. The obvious answer is that more and more talent has come into college hockey in recent years, and that talent has filtered all the way down to every conference in the country. The Atlantic Hockey champ isn’t ever as good as the #1 seed they face, but they are good enough to hang with them every year and in a single elimination tournament, anything can happen.

The other answer is that very few advantages are afforded to the top seeds. Consider last year when Boston College won Hockey East, claimed a #1 seed, and its reward was traveling roughly 1,200 miles to St. Louis to take on Colorado College, who had to travel just over 800 miles. The result was a stunning upset that perhaps should not have been that stunning, as the Tigers knocked off BC. In truth, playing closer to home has a much bigger effect than you might think. Consider these numbers about the men’s basketball tournament and then consider that since 2009 in games with more than a 200 mile difference between the travel of the closer and father school, the closer school is 21-8 and 6 of those 21 wins were by a lower seed. I understand that the geography of college hockey means that some teams are going to have to travel, but no #1 seed should ever have to travel farther than a #4 seed. So then here are two ideas to fix the tournament:1. Campus sites

This one is simple. Rather than playing games in stale environments in Green Bay and Worcester, reward the four best teams. As I have already said, the gap between the best and “worst” teams in the tournament is shrinking rapidly, and without the rewards for being a dominant team in the regular season, we risk cheapening those accomplishments. The answer is to let the top teams, who undoubtedly benefited from a raucous atmosphere in the regular season, benefit for one more weekend. There are some logistical problems, such as having to get ready for that in a week as well as attendance issues (for example, 2012 #1 seed Union’s home rink seats just over 2,500). But the obvious counters for that are: 1. move the regionals to the current week off, and then don’t have a week off before the Frozen Four and 2. yes attendance might be low at some places, but it will be a full building. The 2012 Northeast regional had just 5,000 people and it both looked and sounded like a mausoleum. Put it in Achilles Rink, raise the prices a bit, and you will get to make money, have a great atmosphere, and reward a team for a great regular season.

Plan 2 – Champs Only

I have made it pretty well known I am both a North Dakota fan and alum. But that being said, there is no way that UND deserved a #1 seed this year while the MacNaughton Cup winners Minnesota received a #2 seed. Sure, UND played well in the playoffs and had a tough non conference schedule, but in my mind the best team in a conference is the conference champion. That being said, why not make the NCAA tournament a conference champions event only? Sadly it will never happen because the conference tournaments, most notably the WCHA Final Five, make too much money (although who knows how any of the conference tournaments will do once realignment happens) but imagine this scenario: once realignment happens and we have six conferences, the top two conference champs (based on either the Pairwise or hey maybe a committee plus the pairwise because the pairwise is stupid) get byes to the Frozen Four, and 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 for the right to the last two spots. Where and when these would be played is a bit up in the air, but it would ensure the best hockey teams in the country make it to the sport’s showcase event.

Obviously the second one will never happen, and I think the first is a longshot as well, but while parity can be great, that’s only to a certain extent. There are fewer and fewer incentives for winning a conference title, and thus those accomplishments are often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Not only are conference titles overlooked, but less and less often the best teams are making it to the Frozen Four. Expansion is great, but having the best teams make it to the season’s showcase event (like this year) is great for the sport, and we should ensure it happens more often.