Conference Tournaments' Attendance, Setup Not Worthy of Scorn
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
There was a whole lot of conversation about the Big Ten last weekend, with those inclined to hate on the conference, taking glee in its relatively low attendance figures.
That prompted a commentary from my colleague Tony Jovenitti, defending the league.
I'm also inclined to defend the league. After all, it's new, it's learning, and has done nothing overtly wrong, as far as I can tell.
But my take is a little different than Tony's.
I don't mind the Big Ten. In fact, as far back as 2007 I was writing about how it was going to happen one day, and that it should be embraced then so that no one was surprised later. There were, and are, positives to it, even for the smaller schools left behind.
Where I disagree is that everyone else should be thrilled just because lots of Big Ten games are on national TV. It's unlikely that trickle down economics is going to work any better in college hockey than in Washington. This really doesn't matter to the little guys, and in fact, is directly related to their concerns. From the get go, there's been a worry that the formation of the Big Ten would allow the rich to get richer, allow recruiting budgets to go even higher, increase the distance between the big guy and little guy.
But there are enough mitigating factors in the college hockey universe these days, where that has not been a concern — at least not yet. So the hand-wringing is unnecessary.
Still, no one should be bowing down at the altar of the Big Ten.
By the same token, I don't think it needs to be scorned either.
You can't blame Penn State for wanting to start a program. Take a look at the big picture, and don't be parochial for one minute. That Penn State is part of the college hockey family is a really cool thing. Its fan base is already among the most passionate in the sport, and the whole thing will only grow.
So, the creation of Penn State's program set in motion forces beyond a lot of people's control. But it doesn't have to be bad, and doesn't have to be scorned.
And, in particular, it doesn't need to be ridiculed for the low attendance at the Xcel Center.
Elsewhere, Hockey East tournament attendance was down, too. It often sells out, but there was only 11,000 announced for the semifinal. Of course, not having a Boston school in the tournament attributed to that.
NCHC tournament attendance was also limited in Minneapolis, and really would've been non-existent if not for the presence of North Dakota.
The point here is not to put down any singular conference. The point is to get people to understand that every conference is dependent upon a certain set of teams making the tournament in order for attendance to do well. This was always the case, even when the old WCHA was intact.
And now that the conferences are more splintered — or, in the case of Hockey East, a year where Boston schools don't make it — attendance is lower, and those dependencies are simply more visible.
The ECAC has been put down forever — and I've defended it forever — for relatively low attendance. But it's not the ECAC's fault that it's hard to draw large crowds to its postseason tournament. It's not right to knock or ridicule the league for it. These are small, mainly private schools with no natural city center.
I'll never understand fans who put down smaller schools and claim superiority just for having larger crowds. And I'll never understand people who ridicule the fans that actually do go, as if it's their fault the schools they like are smaller.
The CCHA without Michigan, Hockey East without Boston schools, a WCHA Final Five without Minnesota or North Dakota — all of these conferences would suffer without certain key programs in certain specific locations.
So, I don't look down upon the Big Ten at all. What I do say, however, is ... "See?"
If nothing else, maybe now at least some of these big schools will understand that, hey, it's not so easy. Maybe their fans will get off the high horse. When they see attendance at ECAC or Atlantic Hockey venues, perhaps there will be a little more sympathy.
Why can't we all just get along, eh?
Which leads back to the ECAC. The good news is, thankfully, the league finally decided to move back to Lake Placid, something I've advocated for over and over and over again through the years. Now that the tournament has come, those feelings are only more validated.
Even if attendance did not improve, the move to Lake Placid was a win. The charm was on display. Hockeytown? This is hockeytown — per capita. You've got a 1/2-mile patch of land with three lakeside frozen rinks, numerous youth teams coming through town, staying in hotels, wandering the streets, all while all of the college teams and related personnel are in town, too.
There was over 5,000 for the games there, and it was energetic because of the cozy confines of 1980 Arena. The same 5,000 anywhere else would've been relatively lifeless, if even that many came. And this was without nearby Clarkson and St. Lawrence in the tournament.
If you complain about Lake Placid, you have no soul, really. And yes, I get that the last 30 miles of that trek aren't fun if it's snowing. But no one complains in Ithaca when you have to take a 30-mile oft-snowy patch of Rte. 79 just to get out of town, not to mention another 5 hours to Boston in the "good old days."
Most of all, I just wish everyone would stop complaining and realize how good they have it. No matter what school or conference you're a fan of, if you're a hockey fan, this is the golden age. Parity, high skill, great coaching, lots of games on TV and/or the Internet. And we cover it all for you, to boot.