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NCAA Hockey Tournament: How Big Of An Impact Does Travel Have On Teams?

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How much of an advantage is it to be able to ride the bus to your regional site rather than fly?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA hockey regional format is being hotly debated by movers and shakers in the college hockey world, as it has many problems—not the least of which being higher seeds having to travel to play lower seeds in their own backyards. This happens with frequency, and BC benefits this year. The Eagles will take the short trip down to Providence to await the higher seeded Denver Pioneers, who will fly in from Colorado; the #4 seed Providence College Friars could probably all walk to the arena if they wanted to as they await the incoming #1 Miami RedHawks.

BC has gotten the short end of the stick before; they were forced to fly halfway across the country as the #1 overall seed in 2011 thanks to tournament hosting rules. Yale was the automatic #1 seed in Bridgeport and UNH was the automatic #4 seed in Manchester, meaning BC had nowhere East to land. That team lost 8-4 in the first round.

Beyond the anecdotes, I wanted to get a sense of the advantage teams have by playing close to home. I looked at NCAA tournament results dating back to 2008 and broke them down into three categories: "In state," "bus (but not in state)," and "flight." A couple of notes here:

1) I used the NCAA's definition of a flight (a trip greater than 350 miles) and I based my mileage on Google Maps. 
2) Obviously, this methodology is incapable of distinguishing "practically in-state," like Manchester, NH or Providence, RI for MA teams, nor can it separate out really long cross-country flights vs. shorter, quicker flights. But it's a decent start.
3) All records are based on the regional rounds; I did not look at the Frozen Four.

To the data:

Overall since 2008:

Teams playing in-state are 25-15
Teams traveling out of state by bus are 23-15
Teams flying are 39-54

1 seeds are 9-1 in state, 15-3 by bus, 7-10 by flight
2 seeds are 9-9 in state, 0-3 by bus, 9-12 by flight
3 seeds are 4-3 in state, 8-8 by bus, 7-14 by flight
4 seeds are 3-2 in state, 0-1 by bus, 15-18 by flight

Some thoughts on this:

- The most obviously noticeable stat is the disadvantage to all seeds when flying. Even #1 seeds have losing records when getting on a plane to travel to their regionals. 

- On the flip side, the stark advantage from playing close to home is largely attributed to 1 seeds (usually either Hockey East teams, Minnesota or North Dakota) who are rewarded for their strong seasons with games in regionals close to home. The advantage is a lot less profound for non-1 seeds playing close to home, but it is there nonetheless.

- 2 seeds have kind of sucked in the tournament in general for whatever reason, going 18-24 since 2008. Meanwhile, 4 seeds are 18-21. Go figure.

- As you'll see in the year by year data, and as bcfan131 pointed out in the comments yesterday, pretty much every year sees a one seed that flies to its regional fall short of the Frozen Four.

Year by year data:

In 2014:

Teams playing in-state went 6-2
Teams traveling by bus out of state went 3-2
Teams flying went 5-9

1 Seeds: 4-0 in state, 2-0 bus, 0-1 flight, 6-1 overall
2 Seeds: 1-2 in state, 0-0 bus, 2-2 flight, 3-4 overall
3 Seeds: 1-0 in state, 1-1 bus, 0-3 flight, 2-4 overall
4 Seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-1 bus, 3-2 flight, 3-3 overall

In 2013:

Teams playing in-state went 2-2
Teams traveling out of state by bus went 5-3
Teams flying went 5-7

1 Seeds: 0-0 in state, 4-1 bus, 0-1 flight, 4-2 overall
2 Seeds: 2-2 in state, 0-1 bus, 1-1 flight, 3-4 overall
3 Seeds: 0-0 in state, 1-1 bus, 0-3 flight, 1-4 overall
4 Seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 4-2 flight, 4-2 overall

In 2012:

Teams playing in-state went 4-0
Teams traveling by bus went 4-4
Teams flying went 5-8

1 seeds: 2-0 in state, 3-1 bus, 0-1 flight, 5-2 overall
2 seeds: 2-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 3-2 flight, 5-2 overall ,
3 seeds: 0-0 in state, 1-3 bus, 1-1 flight, 2-4 overall..
4 seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 1-4 flight, 1-4 overall

In 2011:

Teams playing in state went 2-2
Teams traveling by bus went 0-2
Teams flying went 10-8

1 seeds: 1-1 in state, 0-0 bus, 2-2 flight, 3-3 overall
2 seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-2 bus, 3-1 flight, 3-3 overall
3 seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 4-2 flight, 4-2 overall
4 seeds: 1-1 in state, 0-0 bus, 1-3 flight, 2-4 overall

In 2010:

Teams playing in-state went 5-2
Teams traveling by bus went 7-3
Teams traveling by flight went 0-7

1 seeds: 2-0 in state, 4-0 bus, 0-1 flight, 6-1 overall
2 seeds: 1-2 in state, 0-0 bus, 0-2 flight, 1-4 overall
3 seeds: 0-0 in state, 3-3 bus, 0-1 flight, 3-4 overall
4 seeds: 2-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 0-3 flight, 2-3 overall

In 2009:

Teams playing in state went 2-3
Teams traveling by bus went 4-1
Teams traveling by flight went 6-8

1 seeds: 0-0 in state, 2-1 bus, 0-2 flight, 2-3 overall
2 seeds: 1-2 in state, 0-0 bus, 0-2 flight, 1-4 overall
3 seeds: 1-1 in state, 2-0 bus, 1-2 flight, 4-3 overall
4 seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 5-2 flight, 5-2 overall

In 2008:

Teams in state went 4-4
Teams traveling by bus went 0-0
Teams flying went 8-8

1 seeds: 0-0 in state, 0-0 bus, 5-2 flight, 5-2 overall
2 seeds: 2-1 in state, 0-0 bus, 0-2 flight, 2-3 overall
3 seeds: 2-2 in state, 0-0 bus, 1-2 flight, 3-4 overall
4 seeds: 0-1 in state, 0-0 bus, 2-2 flight, 2-3 overall