It seems that any time a new round of NCAA regional site selections are announced, there is bound to be some controversy, and this week's announcement was no exception.
The biggest cause for complaint this time around was the NCAA tournament committee breaking from an unwritten, yet closely-followed rule of not allowing regionals at on-campus venues, by awarding the 2015 Midwest Regional to the Compton Family Ice Arena on Notre Dame's campus, while ignoring bids from home venues such as North Dakota's Ralph Englestad Arena and Minnesota-Duluth's AmSoil Arena(and likely others, as well).
To no one's surprise, the biggest outcry came out of North Dakota. North Dakota submitted bids for Englestad Arena, as well as for Scheel's Arena in Fargo. The NCAA chose the 5000-seat arena in Fargo over the 12,000-seat in Grand Forks. That decision would have been disappointing regardless, but at least understandable given the "no home venues" rule. But with Notre Dame being given a home regional in the same year, it felt to many like a slap in the face.
The tournament committee doesn't release information on every bid they receive, so we'll never know the choices they had at their disposal. I can't imagine there was much competition to host that Midwest regional, after regionals at Grand Rapids and Toledo were attendance disasters last year. Cincinnati wasn't going to host it three years in row--once is too many, in my opinion. Notre Dame may have been only the credible bid to choose from. Meanwhile, we know there was at least one non-home venue bid for the West regional in Fargo.
Brad Schlossman at the Grand Forks Herald confirmed that with a representative from the NCAA:
NCAA rep says that Fargo was the only non-home site in West/Midwest to bid on regionals for 2015, hence the South Bend selection.
— Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) December 12, 2013
But that doesn't change the inequity of the situation, right? If that rule about teams hosting regionals at a home venue isn't going to be strictly enforced, then North Dakota, or any other school that bid, also should have been able to host at their home arena.
Before we start to feel too sorry for North Dakota and the like, it's worth remembering two things. First, the entire regional bidding system is fundamentally built on an inequity. The entire reason hosting a regional is so coveted is because of the potential for a team with enough money, and the right circumstances in place, to buy an unearned home ice advantage. Would people in North Dakota have cared about getting a regional if there was no possibility of their team getting to play in front of a partisan crowd? They wouldn't have even made a bid in the first place. They're not complaining about the deck being stacked. They're complaining that the deck wasn't stacked(enough) in their favor.
And second, the system, broken as it is, exists by the choice of schools like North Dakota. If the decision on the format of the NCAA tournament was left up to tournament committee chair Tom Nevala, we almost certainly would be playing tournament games at home venues, rather than pre-determined regional sites. But the decision to keep the current system of NCAA tournament games at neutral-ish regionals was "overwhelmingly" approved by the coaches this past summer. For many of the coaches from bigger schools, there was little incentive to change. North Dakota just needs to finish in the top 16 of college hockey to get what is ostensibly a home game in Fargo, rather than needing to finish in the top four of college hockey to earn a home regional.(Smaller schools, for their part, love the increased variance of the current format. As an example, Minnesota-Duluth's Scott Sandelin probably has way less job security right now had the Bulldogs only held their seed in the 2011 NCAA tournament). Ultimately, the coaches are the ones who ordered this terrible meal. There shouldn't be any complaining now that they have to eat it.
As long we have this current system, there are going to be major problems with it. Thankfully, it sounds like if this year's regionals flop enough, even the protestations of the coaches won't be enough to continue holding the sport back, and we'll eventually see a move to home sites hosting regionals. There may be logistical issues with doing so, but it would be worlds better than the system we have now.