Committee Discussing Regional, Pairwise Issues
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The NCAA men's ice hockey committee is holding key sessions this week, as part of its regular spring meetings at the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.
But, despite the big topics being discussed, no major changes are expected.
Going into the NCAA coach's convention in Naples, Fla., in April, the biggest topic was the arrangement of the NCAA Regionals. With attendance poor at some Regionals, particularly in the West, there has been some call for a re-shuffling of the system, perhaps even moving first- and second-round games back to campus sites.
Though there has been a vocal group in favor of doing that, the consensus in Naples remained overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the status quo. According to Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold, who is part of the Men's Ice Hockey Committee, there remains about 70 percent support for the current four-Regional system.
There are some coaches — Notre Dame's Jeff Jackson and North Dakota's Dave Hakstol are among the most prominent — who are in favor of changing the current system. They support playing in a "good atmosphere," even if that means playing road games.
Most coaches, however, prefer to stay at neutral sites and believe that going back to campus would amount to a "step backwards" for the sport. They acknowledges the issues with attendance, particularly out West, after the committee tried some out-of-the-way Regional locations like Fort Wayne and Toledo in recent years.
One proposal would see a place like St. Paul host the Regionals permanently. Another would establish a rotating three-year fixed location, to give a location time to build momentum for the event.
Most of all, coaches believe issues could be addressed by lowering ticket prices and setting more accessible game times.
This issue ties directly into scheduling, and how it affects the Pairwise. Here is where there is momentum for some change, though no one knows exactly, yet, what that change would be.
The concern of many coaches is that some schools have many more home games than others. This has always been an issue — for example, a "large" school like Michigan with a guaranteed big crowd (i.e. revenue) for home games, doesn't want to play non-league road games.
But the issue becomes more acute this year; with all of the conference shuffling, there will be many more non-league games. For example, in the old CCHA, each team played 28 conference games, but in the Big Ten, each team will play only 20.
Recently, the Big Ten teams all announced their schedules for the upcoming season. Among them, Wisconsin has 14 non-league games, 10 home and four away; Ohio State has 14 non-league games, 11 home and three away; and Minnesota has 16 non-league games, 12 at home (including a tournament at the Xcel Center) and four away.
With teams already getting that advantage, it's just another reason why most coaches don't want to go to campus sites for NCAA games. It would amount to a double advantage, one that might not have been "earned" if the home-road schedule wasn't so lopsided.
To alleviate this situation, the Committee is discussing changes to the Pairwise that would account for this. The changes would attempt to balance out the home/road disparities. This has been tried in the past using "bonus points," a solution few people liked, so a different method may be tried.
One radical plan would have teams that don't play at least 30 percent of their games on the road, be ineligible for postseason play. That is unlikely to pass or get through the NCAA.
At the coaches convention in Naples, the topic the gentlemen's recruiting agreement came up, but was not as hot an issue as originally expected.
At issue is the agreement among coaches that says, when a player verbally commits to a school, then all other coaches cannot actively recruit that player anymore. This was implement about 10 years ago to prevent poaching of recruits by other schools.
The problem as some coaches see it, is that some schools are using the agreement to their advantage, by hoarding verbal commits, knowing that there won't be room for all of those players. Consequently, a player gets locked in, later finds out he — conveniently — doesn't get into the school, and then has nowhere to play.
The situation is particularly noteworthy among Ivy League schools, who don't give scholarships, and don't use the Letter of Intent — the NCAA mechanism for actually locking a player in. Some Ivy League schools have been accused, in particular, of hoarding recruits because they don't have a scholarship limit, and could theoretically get more players on the team if they wanted to.
One thought out there is that the gentlemen's agreement would be changed, to only pertain to players that have entered their junior year of high school. Any verbal commits before that, would not be recognized.
There wasn't enough of an uproar in Naples, however, for the coaches, or the Committee to make any changes.
Selecting sites for future Frozen Four is on the agenda. The bid process has finally been opened for 2015-2018. The final decisions will not be made until November of this year, meaning that the 2015 host city will have just about 16 months to prepare. Given that, it's likely the committee will select a city that has experience with the event, such as Boston, which last hosted in 2004.
The delay in accepting new bids was caused by a change in the way the NCAA handles the process, which was finalized over the last few months.
It's unknown which cities will bid on the Frozen Four, but some likely possible candidates include Nashville, Denver, Washington D.C. and San Jose. Denver hosted in 2008, while Washington hosted in 2009.