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Big Ten Tourney to Neutral Site, Likely XCel Center

Andy Baggott is reporting that a majority of athletic directors from the future Big Ten hockey schools are in favor of moving their postseason tournament to a neutral location, rather than having home sites host tournament games. The tournament would take place over three days, with all six teams from the league involved, meaning the top two seeds would receive byes into the semifinal round. Baggott also reports that the league is close to finalizing a deal with the XCel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota to host the tournament.

The format is far from ideal. With every team making the tournament, all a team needs is one good weekend where they have to win three games in order to make the NCAA tournament. It cheapens the value of the regular season, and cheapens the value of a playoff championship. The big issue that seemed to make this option so desirable was the availability of buildings for the playoffs. Wisconsin and Ohio State host state high school championships in their buildings and didn't want to lose them for the possibility of hosting a playoff hockey series. Minnesota was likely strongly in favor as well, since this essentially gives them home ice advantage every year without having to win anything. That leaves just one more team in favor of the neutral site to gain the majority needed.

The XCel Center is also bound to be a controversial. There's no doubt that it's the finest hockey arena within the Big Ten's footprint, but it is also on the extreme western edge of the Big Ten's footprint. After Minnesota, the next closest team is Wisconsin, at a four-hour drive away. The Michigan schools stretch the limits of one days drive at 10+ hours, or require a flight that takes 7 hours, because after five hours of delays, Delta realizes they forgot to load the bags onto the plane. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience. Ohio State fans probably weren't going to travel to anywhere regardless, and Penn State's fanbase is an unknown at this point.

It should be interesting to see how this works out. The key here seems to be to get demand high enough to get people to purchase full ticket packages to ensure they can get tickets to the games that they want. Otherwise, there could be some embarrassingly empty Ohio State/Michigan State games in the tournaments future.