Mo' Money, Mo' Regionalization ... Now What?
Pairwise Could See Adjustments
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
In the aftermath of the committee's decision to maximize attendance to its fullest, it's worth thinking further about what this means for the future.
The biggest question left is whether this is a long-term strategy, or subject to the short-term whims of the committee's makeup at any given time. There's no doubt that changes were made to help attendance in previous years, but not to this extreme.
One recent committee member said, "I was shocked at how they did it. (They're) supposed to protect the No. 1 seed with No. 16 (for the first round) and No. 8 for second round. They didn't do it."
In 2008 and 2009, the NCAA's Championships Cabinet was contemplating forcing sports to "Regionalize" their tournaments. This came during the country's worst financial crisis in years. This was fought against by the hockey committee, and the issue ultimately went away.
Or did it?
(I highly encourage everyone to read this entire article from 2008 to understand the full scope of this issue. The discussion then, directly pertains to now.)
There has been no specific mandate this time, but is it being encouraged? And/or is the committee feeling more pressure in that regard?
Over the past year, the people that oversee ice hockey within the NCAA, has changed. Last April, Mark Lewis was named "executive vice president for championships and alliances." In that role, Lewis now oversees all 89 NCAA championships, as well as its business initiatives, including the corporate and media partner programs.
Lewis, among other things, set out to address issues with declining attendance across all NCAA events. Obviously, attendance is relative, but even in men's basketball, there have been more empty seats than there have been in decades.
Essentially, under Lewis, the message coming through is of an emphasis on maximizing attendance at the events. And it's under that atmosphere — whether directly or indirectly — that the men's ice hockey committee operated this year.
There are people within conferences who believe that this influenced the hockey committee.
This was clearly the case in men's basketball, too. Games were moved closer to home of the higher seeds, moreso than any time in recent memory. And there were other flourishes, like making the media sit in hockey press boxes, in order to open the floor up to more premium seats being available for fans.
The reasons for declining basketball attendance could be mulled over forever, but most people attribute it to the secondary market de-valuing tickets, and the easy affordability of 60-inch HDTVs with the ability to watch every game from your living room.
Even in hockey, this phenomenon can be seen. Although HDTV is relatively new, the ability to see games on TV has been growing for a while. In the 1960s and 1970s, going to see the ECAC tournament at Boston Garden was an event that packed the arena to the gills. Was interest higher then, or was it because that's the only way you could ever see those games?
These days, the NCAA staggers the start times of all hockey tournament games. As a result, there are games Friday afternoon, and unusually late and early start times on Saturday and Sunday. This is obviously to give people the opportunity to watch all of the games. That's great for people watching at home. But it might also suppress attendance, not just because you can see it at home, but because the start times are inconvenient.
In a way, this is the NCAA trying to balance many opposing forces. It's great that there's more interest, which compels the NCAA to schedule more games on TV that people can see. But it comes at a cost of affecting attendance.
Somewhere, there's a balance. Maybe we're currently at that balance. Depends on your perspective.
We're also back to the question I raised in my last column — whether we should be going back to campus sites for the first two rounds of the NCAAs. If you want to maximize attendance and decrease costs, that is one way to go, but doing so has other pitfalls.
The upshot is that you may see the NCAA address the ticket price issue. People have complained that the prices have gotten too high, and in some cases, you are forced to buy all-session passes instead of single games.
Future of the Pairwise
As part of the change, Lewis is trying to standardize a number of processes across all sports.
One thing this includes is how bids for NCAA championships are handled. The procedure could see venues that are willing to bundle many different sports championships together, get preferred treatment over those that don't.
There was also talk of it affecting the Pairwise itself. In other words, eliminating it so that hockey would more closely conform with other sports. That's off the table for now.
One thing the committee is trying to do is pro-actively address a potential future problem with home/road disparities. With Hockey East lowering the amount of league games it will play, and with Big Ten schools scheduled for only 20 per season, that will be a lot of leftover non-league games to schedule. And, it's likely the big schools will schedule most of those games at home.
The committee is investigating different ways it can handle large disparities so it's more fair. The current Pairwise/RPI system does not take into account home/road in any way. In the past, there was a "bonus points" system, but it was considered arbitrary and unnecessary, and wasn't very well received.
There are, of course, more sophisticated mathematical models, like KRACH, which have also been tailored for home/road factors. CHN has previously published that method, called KASA, created by John Whelan. But such models haven't gained much traction in NCAA circles.