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September 29, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Gambles On Its Future

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The interior of Boardwalk Hall, with its majestic ceiling and ornate back wall.

The interior of Boardwalk Hall, with its majestic ceiling and ornate back wall.

So the ECAC has moved its tournament to Atlantic City, starting in 2011. A bold move in one sense, since moving any NCAA-sanctioned event to a gambling capital is not typical. But an inevitable move in another sense, since the financial guarantee a hockey-hungry building in AC can generate, is unmatched, and the ECAC needs the money.

I was a major proponent of Lake Placid, and wrote numerous articles in favor of staying there, before the ECAC decided to move to Albany starting with the 2003 tournament.

So the concept of needing to be "centrally located" doesn't much matter to me.

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That said, moving the tournament to Atlantic City, N.J., obliterates the ECAC geographic boundaries altogether.

There will be an outcry from fans in upstate New York, in particular, upset at the longer drive to see the tournament.

Problem is, not enough of those people are coming out anyway. And for every local or student that was going, there will — theoretically — be alumni of all ECAC schools in the New York City area who now have it much easier to attend.

"That was thrown on the table almost immediately (the geographic issue), and with the other sites, we went through the pros and cons on all of them," ECAC commissioner Steve Hagwell said. "Ultimately we came to the conclusion — we talked at great length about the geography factor — but at the end of the day, with their package, we felt Atlantic City was the best choice."

I see this as more a perception issue than anything else. Any thing some people can use to ridicule the ECAC, they will do. Hockey East, CCHA and WCHA all hold their tournament in the geographic and spiritual center of those conferences, and now the ECAC is going to Atlantic City?

But fact is, Albany just isn't working for the ECAC. After reaching a peak of 16,000 in attendance for 2005, last year's championship game had only just over 8,000.

Perhaps nothing will work. Perhaps the ECAC is just what it is — a group of smaller, more academic minded institutions, who are relatively competitive hockey-wise, but do not have as rabid a fan base overall. And that's OK. I've always felt that was OK.

But what is wrong with the ECAC taking this shot? At least, the tournament becomes a "happening" again, albeit one with a much different flavor than it was in Lake Placid, but a happening nonetheless.

Thankfully for the ECAC, it's not the first NCAA conference to hold a tournament in Atlantic City; the Atlantic-10 has had its basketball tournament there the last few years, and just renewed the contract.

Clearly, the ECAC got a large financial guarantee from Atlantic City, a place that was eager to host something like this.

"We are disappointed," TU Center general manager Bob Belber told Ken Schott of the Schenectady (N.Y.) Gazette. "We've enjoyed hosting ECAC Hockey in Albany. We would love to continue to host it here. But the guarantee that the league received from Atlantic City was something we just couldn't compete with. The casinos and the venues associated with the casinos are able to throw big money at tournament events like this."

This will be different, for sure. Different isn't necessarily going to mean better. But the ECAC had to try something.

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