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2012 NCAA Hockey Tournament: A Plan To Get More Games On Live TV

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The best weekend of college hockey starts today at 3:00 PM, as Union and Michigan State open up the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Tournament over in Bridgeport. It's the best weekend in college hockey that ESPN doesn't want you to know about. One-third of the NCAA hockey tournament's games are shopped to regional sports networks and relegated to live coverage on ESPN3 and broadcast on tape-delay on ESPNU.

Since the NCAA and ESPN have a blanket TV deal to broadcast all their championships, fans are treated to just eight of 12 live broadcasts over the weekend. One-third of the NCAA hockey tournament's games are shopped to regional syndicates like Fox Sports North+ and NESN, with the only live broadcast available on ESPN3. These games are broadcast on tape delay on ESPNU, but at that point, what's the point?

Today, Puck The Media contrasted college hockey's TV deal with ESPN to men's lacrosse, where the 15 men's lacrosse NCAA Tournament games are all broadcast live on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. The men's hockey tournament and the men's lacrosse tournament are set up a little differently, with the men's tournament's first round hosted by the higher seeds (a novel idea). Contrast that with hockey, who hosts four regionals at neutral site arenas and needs to keep the two semifinal games close together to keep folks in the building (I mean, have you spent time in either Bridgeport or Worcester?).

We can lament the fact that ESPN hates hockey (they do) or that they don't want to promote a sport where the professional equivalent is broadcast on a rival network (NBCUniversal), but the other part of this is that the current regional format is not optimized for getting all of the 12 NCAA tournament games on live television.

Lepore has two plans to space out the games a bit more. Both require adding an extra day to the regional round and spacing games out so that they can air on TV.

Puck The Media NCAA Tournament Plan 1

Friday (4 games, four regional semifinals) -- 1, 3:30, 6:00, 8:30
Saturday (5 games, four regional semifinals, 1 regional final) -- Noon, 2:30, 5, 7:30, 10
Sunday (3 games, three regional finals) -- 2, 5, 8

This plan has the regional round ending with the West Regional final, which makes infinitely more sense than having the final game be the Northeast Regional Final with an 8 PM start in Worcester given the time zones.

Puck The Media NCAA Tournament Plan 2

Saturday (4 games, four regional semifinals) -- 1, 3:30, 6, 8:30
Sunday (5 games, four regional semifinals, 1 regional final) -- Noon, 2:30, 5, 7:30, 10
Monday (3 games, three regional finals) -- 4, 6:30, 9

Again, here we end with the West Regional at 9 PM on a Monday. I like the idea of extending the Regional round through to Monday night so as to not compete with the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, typically the later rounds of the tournament.

Though if we are sticking with ESPN and the tournament's current 16-team, single-elimination tournament format (though admittedly both could be improved), I'd be in favor of spreading out the Regional round even more to maximize TV exposure and get all 12 games broadcast live.

BC Interruption NCAA Tournament Plan 1

Thursday (2 games, two semifinals) -- 4, 7
Friday (3 games, two semifinals, 1 regional final) -- 1, 4, 7
Saturday (5 games, four regional semifinals, 1 regional final) -- Noon, 2:30, 5, 7:30, 10
Sunday (2 games, two regional finals) -- 1, 4

With this plan, you would give the regional with the number 1 overall seed the Thursday games, giving that bracket the maximum rest in between the regional round and the Frozen Four. And while we're at it, let's move the Frozen Four up a week. The extra week off is extremely unnecessary as programs seem to lose a lot of momentum not getting an opportunity to play every weekend.

I'd propose pushing back the Frozen Four from the current Thursday-Saturday setup to a Saturday-Monday one:

Saturday (2 games, Frozen Four) -- 4, 7
Monday (National Championship Game) -- 7:30

You'd simply push the season back a week so as to not have the Frozen Four coincide with basketball's Final Four. So the conference tournaments would end the same weekend as basketball's Elite Eight round, the Regional round would coincide with the Final Four weekend (hockey Thursday-Sunday and hoops Saturday and Monday) and the Frozen Four the following weekend on Saturday and Monday.

This set up would allow ESPN to avoid having to relegate playoff college hockey to the internet and better spread the word about the awesomeness of college hockey.