Commentary: Keep the NCAAs the Same
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
There are not a lot of major issues out there for college hockey at the moment, though the composition of referees for each game received a lot of discussion at the recent coach's meetings in Florida.
But it seems that the format of the NCAA tournament got a lot of discussion as well. And if there is going to be a change, the idea that got the most traction included having the first round be best-of-3 series on the campus of the higher seed.
Under such a format, the quarterfinals would be single elimination, with two games taking place at each of two "super regionals."
I have mixed feelings on this, but ultimately would side with leaving things as is.
Going to a 16-team four-regional format in 2003 was a signature moment for the sport. It eliminated byes, and at the same time, portended the move away from on-campus regionals as much as possible, eliminating a sore spot and unfair advantage.
On the other hand, after an initial burst, it's true that the regionals have not gained any more traction in recent years. And the atmosphere at the regionals often leaves something to be desired.
And coming off a Frozen Four where the atmosphere was also called into question, thanks to playing in a huge football field, this issue is at the forefront of everyone's thinking.
The financial aspect is one thing — with up to 24 on-campus games, it likely means more revenue than the regionals get, without needing to put as much marketing muscle into it.
But there is a beauty in the one-and-done aspect of the NCAA, and a symmetry in the whole 16-team single-elimination format.
In Brad Schlossman's Grand Forks Herald report, he noted that from 1988-91, top seeds — which had a bye AND a best-of-3 quarterfinal home series — reached the Frozen Four 87.5 percent of the time. After the NCAA went away from best-of-3 series, starting in 1992, until the tournament expanded to 16 teams, the No. 1 seeds — which had a first-round bye only — reached the Frozen Four 65.9 percent of the time. Since then, needing to play two games, like everyone else, and not getting to play them at home as often, it's only 46.9 percent of the time.
But why is that bad? The whole point was to remove the unfair advantage of the top seed. This is what so many people clamored for. This would seem like a step backwards.
But, North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol — whose team just lost to Yale in the First Round of the NCAAs in a less-than-electric atmosphere in Worcester, Mass. — made an interesting comment.
"It's all about the experience for the players," Hakstol said to the Grand Forks Herald. "I'd much rather go to the Kohl Center and have to beat Wisconsin than play somewhere (with no atmosphere)."
I have a feeling people would continue to be unhappy either way — and, consequently, many people would also prefer it either way.
The NCAA has been holding off on awarding Regional bids beyond 2010-11, so it's feasible this could happen soon if everyone wants it to.
I'm generally OK with the NCAA committee shifting things around in order to make for the most exciting Regionals, and am on record saying so, even if it means deviating from a strict adherance to that 1-16 seeding process.
But for competitive balance and drama — which is also part of the players' positive experience — I say keep the format like it is.
Just don't play the Frozen Four in any more football stadiums.
Something else to ponder that hit me — and I can't believe I didn't think of it earlier. Having the top 8 overall seeds host best-of-3 series puts much more emphasis on the Pairwise to be accurate, and we all know that it is flawed. On the other hand, determining the top eight seeds subjectively would be even worse. So either way, it's bad.
In other words, you may think it's OK to give No. 1 seeds that big edge, but what about the huge edge the No. 8 overall seed would suddenly get over the No. 9 seed? Is that good? You're splitting hairs in the Pairwise, and suddenly that No. 8 seed gets three home games?
These are the kinds of things the current system were set up to prevent.