Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking Ahead to Furture Conference Tournaments

Bowling Green: What About the Cellar-Dwellers?

It is old news now that UMD will be in Saint Paul for the WCHA Final Five. The Bulldogs will play the winner of the Michigan Tech – Denver game Friday at 2:07 pm CDT.

The UMD series win was dramatic and expected over the purple Mavericks of Minnesota State – Mankato. With that first round out of the way, fans and athletes can look forward to the conference tournament.

I took some needed rest with my family after the weekend in preparation for nights away from home watching the next couple weekends of games. It was on that vacation that I had some time to think about things other than hockey. It is the times when you are not thinking of a subject that you get some of your clearest ideas. The idea, or opinion, that came to mind was the formats and drama of postseason college hockey tournaments.

Bowling Green really started this idea when the #11, and lowest, seed in the CCHA Tournament is, 1. In the CCHA tournament, and 2. Wins two rounds of games.

If Bowling Green were in Hockey East, they likely would not have even been invited to participate in the tournament. HEA is the only league that excludes a team, in their case the #9 finisher which is Vermont this season.

It would have been easy to eliminate #11 in the CCHA to get the pairings to an even ten, but the conference has worked a system where byes are assigned to higher seeds. Lower seeds then need to play two weekend of best-of-three series to make it to the final round. Not difficult and make for the potential for high dramatics as witnessed by Northern Michigan and Ferris State the last two weekends, BGSU’s “victims.”

Some may argue that the lower seeds had the chance to get in during the season and blew their chance. Likewise some may liken my opinion to give-everyone-a-trophy syndrome (GEAT). The fact is that these tournaments are there to see who really is the best team in the conference and award that team with an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. Remember, regular season champs no longer get an auto-bid too, but they are likely in based on their PWR except for the Atlantic Hockey Association.

My reply is simple, don’t you want the best? And how better to get the best than using best-of-three series to winnow down the participants before the final conference showcase tournaments? 

As much as I am partial to the Final Five, the CCHA model is pretty darn good even though it takes an extra weekend to play out. So future forward…

In 2013-14 we will have two new conferences, the Bi6 Ten and NCHC. Different proposals have been discussed for each and from those I have been privy to, most need some work.

The Bi6 Ten started with top two teams getting byes to the semi-finals and the remaining four duking it out in the best-of-three series. The winners of those series would face the top two seeds. Yes, every team gets in, but it is a six team league. This is a set-up for an anticlimactic finish.

So the league tried to spice up a six layer salad by putting every team together and having one big single elimination tournament. This, as I understand, is the current plan. Again, what are you going to do with six teams, but having single elimination from top to bottom will leave you in a CHA situation. Side-note: the CHA is a now extinct conference where the four members got together and played a simple single elimination tournament for their auto-bid. It often lead to Cinderella skating away with two wins on a weekend into the NCAA field.

Final word to the Bi6 Ten: Find more teams, six just doesn’t cut it for a big-time league tournament.

Move on now to the NCHC and their eight members. Eight is easy, just follow the old WCHA formula. Round one is site best-of-three for every team and the four left get together for the final round. The kicker here is talk has been to have a traveling final round, say maybe in Denver, Grand Forks and Saint Paul. And to be fair, I have not seen where the Denver tournament would be, Magness Arena or the Pepsi Center. One has to ask about money, which a big reason for these tournaments.

Let’s borrow trouble and say that the tournament final round is in Denver and the Pioneers aren’t playing. How will the league make enough money because people of Denver will not fill the arena to watch? Oh, yeah, there’s always Colorado College, just down the street, who might make the tournament. Will that be enough to justify the Pepsi Center if that is the thought?

But let’s borrow trouble the other way. What if the tournament is in Denver and both DU and CC make the tournament? The league then has the problem of too much demand and not enough supply if Magness is the destination.

OK, so the NCHC still has time to work those situations out. Let’s take on last look into the future and examine what is left of the WCHA.

The new WCHA will have nine members. Debate is still open to what will happen for the postseason, but current league commissioner Bruce McLeod did talk about dropping the #9 team just like in the HEA… That is called full circle and all thanks to #11 Bowling Green.

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