The Boston College men's hockey team earned a 1 seed in this year's NCAA men's ice hockey tournament but won't get to play close to home due to two quirky NCAA Tournament selection rules.
One rule -- let's call it the "regional host rule" -- states that a program that is hosting one of that year's four Regionals has to play in that regional should they make the 16-team Tournament field. As a result, Yale has to play in the East Regional in Bridgeport, while New Hampshire has to play in the Northeast Regional in Manchester.
But because both BC and Yale were awarded with one of the Tournament's top four seeds, the Eagles would up shut out of Bridgeport.
BC was also shut out of the Northeast Regional, where its first round opponent would have been fellow Hockey East rival New Hampshire. The second strange rule states that two teams from the same conference can't play one another in the first round, unless that conference has at least five teams in the 16-team field.
Hockey East only placed three teams in the Tournament, so as a result, BC is forced to travel to St. Louis while fellow #1 seed Miami has to travel to Manchester. On the other hand, New Hampshire -- one of the last four teams in the Tournament field -- gets home ice for the first two rounds of the Tournament.
Now I'm not all that upset about the fact that BC has to travel to St. Louis to play the first two rounds of the Tournament. Plenty of programs have to travel to the Regionals and the Eagles' have been fortunate to play their Regional rounds games in either Worcester or Manchester in each of their last six NCAA Tournament appearances. It is what it is.
But I am a little miffed over the fact that New Hampshire gets home ice as one of the last at-larges in the Tournament and displaces two #1 seeds -- Boston College and Miami. What did UNH accomplish this season that they should be rewarded with playing at home for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament?
Lucky for you, I've come up with a potential list of solutions for solving this NCAA men's ice hockey Tournament scheduling issue:
- Get rid of this regional hosting rule. I understand that this rule is in place to decrease travel costs and improve attendance, but teams should have to earn the right to host a Regional at home. All UNH did this year was apply to be a Regional host and now they have home ice for the first two rounds of the Tournament. If you are one of the last teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, you should not be rewarded with playing at home. Period.
- Modify the regional hosting rule to apply only to 1-2 seeds. Keep the regional hosting rule, but make it such that you can play in your Regional only if you earn either a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If you finish 3 or 4, you can count on packing your bags and playing wherever the Selection Committee sends you.
- Change the regional hosting rule to consider conferences, not individual programs. With this tweak, you keep the regional hosting rule, but it applies to conferences, not individual programs. Applying this rule to this year, you would have had regionals hosted by Hockey East (Manchester), ECAC (Bridgeport), CCHA (St. Louis) and the WCHA (Green Bay). That would have placed Boston College in Manchester, Yale in Bridgeport, Miami in St. Louis and North Dakota in Green Bay. UNH would have to travel to wherever they were selected to go, but BC would help boost attendance in Manchester as the Hockey East representative.
- Get rid of the same conference rule. You could also get rid of the "same conference" rule entirely, which would have placed BC in Manchester against UNH in the 1 vs. 4 matchup. I'm not a huge fan of this rule as I don't think it's fair to ask teams to face an opponent again in the first round of the Tournament after you've already faced them three, four, five or six times during the regular season. Especially in Hockey East, where programs play 27 Hockey East regular season games and up to 5 Hockey East Tournament games. And in the case of the 2011 Tournament, this would have placed BC at a serious disadvantage, with the #1 playing at the #4 team's home ice.
- Add flexibility in the Selection Process by enabling moving teams between lines. Under the current selection process, while the Committee has the ability to move teams of the same seed between regions to ease travel constraints and improve attendance, it won't move teams across seed lines. As an example, the committee would have considered moving a 3 seed to another Regional as a 3 seed if it would improve attendance, which could mean anywhere from one to three differences in seeding. But the Committee refuses to make that 3 seed a 4 seed, making a move as simple as making a 12 a 13, and vice versa. This is silly. The committee is willing to move a seed up to three spots to accommodate travel, matchups, etc., but refuses to move a team one spot to fix matchups. This year, if the Committee decided to flip Nebraska-Omaha (the 12th team selected and a no. 3 seed) with UNH (the 13th team and a #4), BC could have played UNO in the first round of the Northeast Regional and UNH would have played the #2 seed -- likely Michigan or Denver.
- Bring the games back to campus. In almost every other college hockey tournament, some advantage is afforded to teams that finish atop the standings, serving to reward regular season play. In the WCHA, they give byes to the top two teams in the Final Five. In Hockey East, it's reseeding the teams for the Hockey East quarterfinals, giving the higher seeds the chance to play the lowest remaining seed after the Quarterfinal Round. In the ECAC, it's first round byes for the top four teams.
Yet the NCAA Tournament completely levels the playing field. All teams -- regardless of whether you are seeded 1 or 16 -- have to win four games to capture the NCAA Championship, and you can be send to all parts of the country to play your Regional round games. This results in some ridiculous scheduling quirks, like sending Denver, a #1 seed in last year's Tournament, off to Albany to face #4 seeded RIT. Rochester-to-Albany is 225 miles. Denver-to-Albany is 1,600 miles. The Pioneers, of course, lost to RIT 2-1, and the #4 seed Tigers went onto its first-ever Frozen Four appearance.
Some would argue that giving the top seeds home ice for the Regional round provides too much of an edge to the #1 seed and would decrease the number of Cinderellas coming out of the Regionals and into the Frozen Four. This might be a trend that plays out should the NCAAs move the Regionals back to campus, but I'd argue that anything can happen in a two-game, single-elimination hockey tournament (i.e. there's a reason the Stanley Cup playoffs has seven-game series).
If you look at Regional attendance numbers over the last several years, it's clear to me that the NCAAs aren't going to solve its attendance issues by keeping the current neutral site locations and adopting these convoluted rules. It's probably time that the NCAA take a serious look at bringing the Regionals back to campus to help improve attendance. Not make it easier for #4 seeds to play close to home at the expense of #1s.