Commentary: Keeping Providence Home Was Right Call
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The NCAA tournament starts Friday.
In case you haven't heard, Providence, a No. 4 seed, gets to play its NCAA tournament opener in its hometown. If the Friars defeat No. 1 seed Harvard, they get to play in Providence for the right to advance to a second Frozen Four in three years.
Last time around? You guessed it.
The Friars advanced to the 2015 Frozen Four and won the whole damn thing after getting placed in Providence as a 4 seed and defeating top-seeded Miami and second-seeded Denver. People were — are still — very mad.
Just ask Denver coach Jim Montgomery about the hit that led to the power play that led to the goal that led to the loss. Two years later. He still brings it up.
In a lot of ways, the frustration with a 4 seed — the tournament's No. 14 overall seed — getting to play at home when they aren't actually the host of the regional is understandable.
Brown University, PC's crosstown (ahem) rival, is the host for the third time in six years. According to a source within Brown's athletic department, the school has bid to host additional regionals, too. So this likely isn't going to change.
This wasn't a problem when Providence was terrible. It isn't terrible anymore. The Friars have made the last four NCAA tournaments and have one of the best coaches in the country. Unless Nate Leaman gets poached by someone bigger with more money — an NHL team for example — the Friars are going to be back here. Playing at the Dunkin Donuts Center. In Regionals. Hosted by Brown.
"We," Leaman said at Thursday's media session, "want to thank Brown University for hosting this regional."
I bet you do, Nate.
Ultimately, though, the selection committee opted to put the Friars here for one reason — money.
The NCAA is a business. It's a point people only like to concede when they aren't the ones getting dinged by it. Moreover, ensuring a positive student-athlete experience is one of the main responsibilities of the Committee and its host institution. When the Friars were here two years ago, the building was electric throughout and the Dunk boiled right over when the Friars took a late lead and advanced to the Frozen Four. With the exception of the whole "one team experiencing a heart-breaking defeat" thing, the student-athlete experience was unmatched.
Whenever an arena is empty for a Regional, fans complain. More importantly, players and coaches suffer. The attraction of college hockey for many is the promise to play in meaningful games while developing as a player and getting an education. Playing in front of large crowds is part of the deal. Keeping Providence home, in this instance, was just as good for college hockey as it was for Providence. And Leaman is ready to pay it back to the game just well.
"A lot of people might be unhappy that we're here, but ... this was the right move," he said. "We need this site to go. We need Providence to go. We need the Dunkin Donuts Center and Brown to keep bidding on the NCAA Regional because this is a great site. ... For our sport to go, I think it's a great thing.
"We agreed to go down to Sacred Heart (for a non-league game) in two years. Their coach called, and I have no problem going on the road. I think we need to make sure we're taking care of the 60 teams that are in college hockey right now."
Leaman is benefitting directly from the NCAA's desire to generate a bit more revenue from this tournament. His willingness to schedule a road game against Sacred Heart is a clear demonstration that he is just as willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the sport. Scheduling SHU offers little to no benefit for the Friars. A win doesn't help them much. A loss would likely be devastating for their NCAA tournament that season. Still, he did it.
It's never going to be easy for the NCAA and the selection committee to fill its regional sites. Very few schools seem willing to host them and even fewer fanbases actually travel as well as they think they do.
Keeping Providence home does provide an advantage to the Friars. There's no doubt about it. It's not quite the advantage some think.
The last time PC played here? The 2015 regional. Before that? The 2004-05 season when the Friars hosted an ill-fated holiday tournament. The Dunkin Donuts Center is hardly PC's home. It's a professional rink with a smaller neutral zone, active boards and much larger end zones — a far cry from Schneider Arena.
On Thursday, the remaining coaches in the regional had a chance to address the issue.
"I think it was a good decision," Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. "I don't know why you wouldn't want a local team involved in a regional your city. To me, it just makes sense. I think it's great. ... I think it's the way it should be. We are exicted."
How about the Friars' opponent?
"At this point, our focus is truly on playing our best hockey against a very good Providence team," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "No matter where you go, you're going to play a very good team. Is there a benefit in being so close to their campus? Absolutely. It's a good challenge for us. We're close to home as well. The less travel for us is helpful. At this time of year, every team poses a challenge. Regardless of where we play them, Providence will be a very good team. We're looking forward to that challenge."
Donato isn't thrilled with the idea, but he's treating it like less of an issue than most seem to want him to.
As the 14th overall seed in the tournament, Providence probably doesn't deserve to be the de facto host of a regional. When the Friars fell into the secont-to-last at-large bid following last Saturday's result, their placement was the primary talking point for everyone trying to figure out where to put them.
The NCAA made the right decision. They kept the Friars in Providence. PC may well win the regional and advance to the Frozen Four for the second time in three years. If they do, it won't be because they got to play some home games.