With growing talk of moving NCAA Regional game to home sites, I decided to take a look at what this year's tournament might look like under a format that gave the high seed home ice in the NCAA playoffs.
The first step is deciding the bracket. The field wouldn't look exactly like it currently does, because we wouldn't need to switch teams around for "attendance purposes". We'll have something much closer to our straight bracket integrity bracket. The only change we would make is flipping around our #3 seeds to avoid an NCHC intra-conference match-up in the first round.
My ideal format would be best 2-of-3 at the home site of the higher seeded team. The first round, this year would take place March 27th-29th, followed by the quarterfinal round being played April 3rd-5th, with the Frozen Four still being played April 9th and 11th. I'm aware that the possible Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround before the Frozen Four isn't a great situation. At some point, it would be preferable to either start the season a week earlier or end it a week later to keep that bye weekend open, but for now, it's a small price to pay for a more entertaining tournament.
For the purposes of this hypothetical, we'll assume that the higher seed wins every first round series to give us an idea of what the quarterfinal round would look like.
Also, we'll compare our brackets to the current format. We'll look at the number of total flights involved(teams traveling 400+ miles), and give a rough comparison of attendance. For attendance numbers, I'll take each home teams' average home attendance for this season and multiply it by 80%, which seems a more than generous accounting of short-notice home games drawing fewer people.
So here's what my tournament would look like:
#4 Yale at #1 Miami Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio (Attendance: 2158)
#3 Boston College at #2 Denver Magness Arena, Denver, Colorado(Attendance: 3896)
#2 Denver at #1 Miami Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio (Attendance: 2158)
Total number of flights involved: 3. Total flight involved in current regional: 2
Attendance: The last time a regional was held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in New Hampshire they drew about 8000 each day, but that was with New Hampshire playing. If you factor in each series is two games, you end up with about 16,000 tickets sold either way, with the current system having an advantage in that their tickets are a little more expensive. Slight edge to the current format here, but we're being extremely generous in saying Boston University will travel as well as New Hampshire did.
#4 Providence at #1 North Dakota, Ralph Englestad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota(Attendance: 9212)
#3 St. Cloud State at #2 Michigan Tech MacInnes Ice Arena, Houghton Michigan(Attendance: 2724)
#2 Michigan Tech at #1 North Dakota, Ralph Englestad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota(Attendance: 9212)
Total flights: 2. Total flights in current regional: 2
Attendance: This one isn't even close. The Fargo regional will be full this weekend, but with only 6000 seats. You're looking at four gates 50% bigger than that just from North Dakota, plus whatever Michigan Tech brings in. And it's a little silly to think either of those places wouldn't easily sell out for an NCAA Tournament game. Huge, huge edge to my system in this one.
#4 RIT at #1 Minnesota State, Verizon Wireless Center, Mankato, MN(Attendance: 3184)
#3 Harvard at #2 Nebraska-Omaha, CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE(Attendance: 4992)
#2 Nebraska-Omaha at #1 Minnesota State Verizon Wireless Center, Mankato, MN(Attendance: 3184)
Total flights: 2. Total flights in current regional: 4
Attendance: Attendance would be decent in my format.The last attendance projection I heard for South Bend was that Bill and Debbie had RSVPed yes, Tom was still a maybe. To be fair, Notre Dame did sell a lot of tickets to people that are just going to eat them now that Notre Dame didn't qualify. Financially, it's probably about even between the two with a huge, huge edge for atmosphere.
#4 Quinnipiac at #1 Boston University Agannis Arena, Boston, MA(Attendance: 3829)
#3 Minnesota at #2 Minnesota Duluth Amsoil Arena, Duluth, MN (Attendance: 5128)
#2 Minnestoa Duluth at #1 Boston University Agganis Arena, Boston, MA (Attendance: 3829)
Total flights: 1. Total flights in current regional: 2
Attendance: We'll see what fourth seed and hometown team Providence brings to the table this weekend at the Dunkin Donuts Center, but I'm thinking my system has a big edge in numbers. A big edge in atmosphere too. That Minnesota-Minnesota Duluth series would be epic.
The final tally is eight flights under this system, against 10 flights under the current system. Obviously those numbers could fluctuate on any given year, but over the long run, they'd probably end up about equal, if not a little in favor of my system.
The attendance numbers seem to work out in my favor too. Again, they could fluctuate from year-to-year. North Dakota makes it extremely profitable this year, and maybe the numbers aren't as pretty if Providence upset North Dakota and had to go to Houghton in the next round, but that's the case with the current system too. As far as a good atmosphere, there's no comparison which is better.
Would ESPN pick up every single game? Probably not, but who cares? The numbers college hockey games draw on ESPNU or ESPN3 are minuscule anyway, and television is less of an issue when the majority of your fans can actually attend the games. There's also more opportunity for ESPN to sublet games they don't want to local television. ESPN used to do this with regional games, but in recent years have chosen to keep the entire tournament under their umbrella and push their online ESPN3 platform. If the whole tournament becomes unmanageable for them, maybe they would reconsider that policy, opening up the possibility for games to be on television locally.
Overall, my system looks easily doable and would create a much more exciting, much less random tournament that rewards regular season performance with better tournament atmosphere and likely more profitable. If people want to call that a "step backwards" from what we currently have, then I have no problem moving in that direction.