The Big Ten will officially move their conference playoffs back to home venues in 2017-2018 after approving a new playoff system this week, reported Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal.
The Big Ten still has one year remaining on a four-year deal that saw them alternate hosting a six-team conference tournament at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The first three years of the deal saw embarrassing attendance figures and crowds that looked much worse than the announced attendance.
The new format begins in 2017-2018 when Notre Dame will become the seventh member of the league. The regular season league champion will receive a bye in the first week of the three-week playoff format, while the other six teams will play a best-of-three playoff series at the higher-seed team’s home rink.
After the first weekend, the two highest remaining seeds will host a single-game playoff against one of the remaining teams in the semifinal round, and the winner of those semifinals will meet for a single game at the home rink of the highest remaining seed to determine the tournament champion.
The format is similar to the playoff strategy adopted by the WCHA earlier this summer, though the WCHA will play a best-of-three playoff series in their semifinal round. One reason the Big Ten opted for the single-game semifinal was the potential for arena conflicts at schools like Wisconsin and Ohio State that have multi-purpose arenas used to host other events—one reason why this playoff system was not adopted initially. The multi-week tournament also now means the semifinal round will be up against the Big Ten basketball tournament.
Overall, its a good move for the conference, but almost anything would have been better than the surreal empty arenas the conference has played in the past three years. And anything that makes playoff hockey more accessible to fans is a step in the right direction for college hockey.