Commentary: Which Cities Should Get Frozen Four Bids?
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
College hockey fans seem to care more about the placement of the NCAA championship than fans of other sports. It's a tighter knit community, and so many of the same people attend the event every year. They treat it like a reunion, so the aesthetics are important, and they want to ensure fun when they are there.
The NCAA's priorities are understandably different, most notably, making money. But these days, they are going to sell out pretty much anywhere they go, so they have the ability to be more selective about the location. It's a great luxury to have these days, knowing that the event will sell out no matter what, so long as it's not held at an NFL football field.
The fact that the event has outgrown the small, and even medium-sized cities, is generally seen as a good thing. The NCAA can choose NHL arenas with good atmospheres and nice surrounding areas, and everyone seems pleased.
Of course, there are always political concerns, and behind-the-scenes intrigue, though it seems relatively minimal.
The list of 10 cities chosen as finalists to host the 2015-18 Frozen Fours was announced last week, and it's the kind of list you would expect, with recent successful hosts sprinkled in with long-time traditional locations, and some newcomers.
One place not on the list is Orlando, which bid with Quinnipiac. Personally, I'm not a fan of Florida bids, and Orlando isn't even an NHL city, so this didn't bother me. Other people loved this idea, though, like they love Tampa. Good for them. It's not for me.
There are two NHL cities that I was dying to see get Frozen Fours, but neither put in a bid — San Jose and Nashville. While both NHL franchises are barely 20 years old (less in Nashville's case), they have already established great, young, fresh hockey fan bases. And both are dynamite up-and-coming cities. Nashville has shown interest (the arena has hosted some college games), but didn't bid because the NHL's Predators will already be displaced for the SEC basketball tournament the arena signed up for. San Jose, I have no idea why it didn't put in a bid — probably no particular reason — but it's too bad.
So we have the final 10. Deciding from the among them is like splitting hairs, and there is no offense to those at the end of the list, but here is my order of preference, and the reasoning behind it:
1. Boston — Picking Boston is purely a matter of practicality. The 2015 Frozen Four will be only 16 months from the time the site is selected, so it should probably be in a place that's hosted the event relatively frequently. Boston and St. Paul are the two most qualified in that regard. St. Paul last hosted the event in 2011. Boston last hosted in 2004. That time difference is the only thing distinguishing Boston from St. Paul.
2. Washington D.C. — DC just hosted in 2009, so that may be an issue, but it was a fantastic event from start to finish, and a great location, so it should get another chance somewhere in this group of four years. I remember when DC first bid on the event, in the early 2000s. It was a time when Frozen Fours were still being held in places like Providence and Albany, and St. Paul and Boston, and the idea of a "non-traditional" NHL city wasn't as highly regarded. I supported that bid thoroughly at the time, and was thrilled how well it did. DC is a home run and should get another bid.
3. Columbus — The 2005 FF in Columbus was not that exciting, unless you're a Denver fan. But that was held in Ohio State's on-campus arena. And, while that arena is nice, it's far from pretty much everything. This time around, it's Nationwide Arena that's in the mix, and that's a much better spot. The home of the Columbus Blue Jackets is right downtown, in a burgeoning location filled with nice bars and restaurants.
4. Brooklyn — Despite these picks being just my opinion, I try to come up with solid reasons behind them and hopefully make sense of the list. That said, choosing Brooklyn is completely my bias, admittedly. I'm a native Long Islander, and my favorite NBA and NHL teams will both be playing in that arena by 2015. The area around there was revitalized before the arena was even built, but it's growing by leaps and bounds now. Brooklyn is the "cool" place to be now, much moreso than midtown Manhattan. That said, the arena only holds 14,500 for hockey, and there are some seats where you can't see the whole ice. It was built for basketball. Tweaks are being discussed that will help by the time the Islanders reside there in 2015, and maybe the NCAA has inside information about this which would inform its decision. But for now, that is a drawback. Another downside is the expense of staying in New York City. It's one reason why I've never been a fan of the Madison Square Garden idea. So, like I said, there's many negatives to the Brooklyn idea. But it would be really cool.
5. Buffalo — Buffalo wasn't the greatest place to have a Frozen Four when it hosted in 2003, but the city has come a long way since then, and the new Harborside Center in the works — funded by the Terry Pegula Sabres and the future home of Canisius hockey — should be fantastic.
6. Chicago — Chicago has the cool factor. It has never hosted a Frozen Four, but it's a great hockey town, the Blackhawks are hot, and it's one of the America's largest cities. The only negative to Chicago is that the arena is nowhere near the city's action — at least not good action. A study from a few years ago determined that the area around the United Center was the most unsafe of any North American major sports venue. Of course, that is probably overblown, but the point is, it's not in the greatest spot on a variety of levels.
7. St. Paul — No brainer pick for the Frozen Four, but it just had one in 2011, so it's time to give others a shot. Next time around, St. Paul will be at the top of the list, and Boston will be down here. That's the way the cycle goes.
8. Tampa — Let's just get this out of the way: I do not like Florida. However, I'm in a small minority. So many other people loved going to Tampa, and the people there did put on a great event. So I don't have any particular complaint other than I don't want to go back to Florida, and don't believe the Frozen Four should be that far from a college hockey center (unless it's San Jose).
9. Pittsburgh — Nice place. Just had the event. Forget it.
10. Philadelphia — See above. Additionally, I never wanted the Frozen Four here in the first place, and wrote so at the time, even though I live less than 30 minutes from the arena. The head honchos at the CoreStates First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo Center can get mad at me all they want, but the fact remains, it's in a poor location for an event like this. It's at least three miles from anything to do downtown. There's one train line that can take you back and forth, with nothing in between, unless you want to try to re-trace Rocky's jogging path. And there is only one hotel within walking distance, which will assuredly be filled up with the teams and/or NCAA personnel.
They tout "Xfinity Live" as "Philly's dining and entertainment district" — it's an entertainment center built on the grounds of the old Spectrum — across the parking lot from the WFC. There's some bars and I'm sure there will be outdoor entertainment. But it's really nothing more than one big sports bar, is not big enough, and will not hold people's attention for the weekend.
The WFC is a great place to watch a hockey game — when the Flyers are good — because their fans are loud and passionate. That place is electric for a Flyers playoff game. I have many great hockey memories from that building. And I have full faith and trust in the local personnel to stage a high quality Frozen Four. The location is not their fault. But it's just not the place for a week-long college hockey EVENT, and that will not change no matter how they spin it.
Of course, don't rule out the possibility that the NCAA powers-that-be want to continue making nice-nice with the corporate behemoth Comcast — owners of the NBC Sports Network — that runs Philadelphia. Philly should have no shot. If it gets one again so soon, we know there's hanky-panky going on.
It should be noted, too, that since a change in NCAA management structure last year, greater emphasis is being placed on venues that bid on multiple NCAA events at once. How this plays out, remains to be seen.