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USCHO: Don't Expect NCAA Hockey Tournament Format To Change

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In recap of annual coaches meetings, overwhelming support cited for current regional format

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

If you had high hopes that 2015-16 would be the last year of the current NCAA hockey regional format, and were beginning to have visions dance in your head of a tournament game at Conte Forum, or a weekend full of best-of-3 playoff hockey action, it's best you forget about it. According to an article on USCHO, there is "overwhelming support" among D1 coaches for the current regional format, meaning it's unlikely to be changed much when the NCAA's D1 hockey committee meets next month.

While the NCAA D1 hockey committee doesn't have to follow the coaches' wishes, it's unlikely that they would radically change something that seems to have strong support. To me, this would represent a missed opportunity to improve upon a system that requires luck and bracket-fudging to yield good attendance and good atmospheres.

It's understandable why many coaches would support the current system, beyond just status quo bias. The tournament is a great product right now, even if it's not packing houses or drawing huge numbers of TV eyeballs at the regionals stage. The games are exciting and the drama of single-elimination hockey is likely more gripping to the general public than a series would be.

From a coaches standpoint, too, it's probably particularly appealing that the current format has allowed teams like Yale and Providence, who barely snuck in to the tournament in 2013 and 2015, to put together a strong run and win a national title. It's easy to envision a scenario whereby campus site regionals or playoff series tilt the playing field in favor of traditional powers and prevent tournament upsets.

While this may seem self-serving as a fan of a "traditional power," I think those fears are overstated. Even with a single-elimination format, up until around 2011 you were pretty much only seeing traditional powers win national titles. The parity in the tournament in recent years is a reflection of the parity of the sport as a whole, and the rise of nontraditional powers who are now fielding very strong teams. While single-elimination hockey at neutral sites is obviously more prone to upsets, it's almost skewed too far in that direction, because the teams are so close to one another in quality from top to bottom.

That said, for better or for worse, fairness and competitive balance aren't usually the reason for decisions like this being made - it's usually all about revenue and attracting an audience. There's no guarantee that a changed format would be a revenue driver, but without a doubt, some tweaks will have to be made to the current system if it is to remain in place. The first sign of that was allowing Notre Dame to bid to host a regional at its campus facility; this could perhaps signal the NCAA's willingness to allow that to happen more often, to create more situations like Fargo and Providence this year where big crowds came out to root on the home team.

I've already stated my mild objection to this, as I'm not a fan of pre-determining before the season who will get to have home ice advantage in the spring. But it is something that's benefited BC many times playing in its adopted backyard of Worcester, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

What do you think - are mild tweaks good enough to make the current NCAA tournament format worth preserving?