Big Ten Alters Hockey Playoff Plans

Last spring when the Big Ten Hockey conference was formed, representatives from the six member schools that will make up the future conference set to start in 2013-14 (Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State) voted on potential playoff options.

They eventually settled upon a two-weekend format with the #3 seed hosting the #6 seed and the #4 seed hosting the #5 seed in a best of three series the first weekend and the top two seeds receiving byes.The winners would advance to the next weekend which would be hosted by the top overall seed.

Wisconsin was the only school to originally oppose the format. It creates major conflicts with the Kohl Center since UW would have to reserve the building for both possible weekends. Unfortunately, those are weekends that the WIAA has traditionally held state basketball and wrestling tournaments.

However since the original structure was voted on, the college hockey landscape has changed tenfold. Schools like North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, St. Cloud and Colorado College branched off from the WCHA to join with Miami and Western Michigan of the CCHA to form the NCHC, which they feel will be a rival conference to the Big Ten.

Additionally, Wisconsin isn't the only school with building problems. Ohio State also rents out their building for state tournaments and has since changed their opinions on the future conference tournament.

Recently, the six schools from the Big Ten convened and decided to alter their future playoff plans. The Wisconsin State Journal reported late Monday night that the Big Ten will instead adopt a neutral site one weekend playoff format.

The format would be single elimination at one site with the #6 seed playing the #3 seed and the #4 seed playing the #5 seed on Thursday with the winners advancing to semi-finals vs the top two seeds on Friday. A championship game would be played Saturday night.

No official venues have been selected but it's believed that the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit are two of the options being considered. It's conceivable that the league's member schools would choose to utilize both sites on a rotating basis.

One of the major advantages to a neutral site tournament is the ability to plan for the event. Knowing a full year in advance where the tournament will be held will allow fans from all schools in the conference to to acquire lodging and set up travel plans.

As a fan who has attended the WCHA Final Five tournament for over the past ten seasons, this is a very important point. The end of the year conference tournament carries more importance than simply the games. It's an opportunity for fans from schools all over the conference to join up and celebrate the league.

If games are held at campus sites, no one will know where their team will be playing until a week or two before the tournament. It creates huge logistic problems and probably eliminates traveling fans from attending the tournament on an every year basis like Wisconsin and Minnesota fans have become accustomed to in St. Paul.

It's also likely that the conference can pretty much bank on specific dollar amounts at a neutral site where if the potential money made in by holding it at campus locations could vary significantly.

The WCHA Final Five, a tournament that will be similar to what the Big Ten is trying to accomplish has an attendance record over the tournament close to 90,000.

It's expected that a Big Ten tournament could fall somewhere between 70,000 and that 90,000. With Wisconsin and Minnesota knowing it's a guarantee their teams will be playing in St. Paul, attendance will be strong enough for those two schools alone to carry the event.

It starts to get sticky if the tournament was with the old format even though it meant they could potentially play more games. The neutral site would be 5 games, where as the two-weekend option could potentially be as many as nine if there are 3 game series in the first weekend.

Figuring attendance figures is a bit tricky, but heres what my best guess would be. (Penn State-6,000; Ohio State-6,000; Michigan State-6,500; Michigan-6,500; Wisconsin-13,000; Minnesota-10,000) And that's figuring the building will sell out (which probably won't happen) at every building but Wisconsin and Ohio State.

BEST case would be Wisconsin, and Minnesota hosting 3 game series in the first round with the second round at either Michigan or Michigan State. That has the highest ceiling.

However, if series aren't held by Wisconsin or Minnesota the league is kind of screwed. For example, if Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State were to host, you would be a looking at a tournament that maxes out at 57,000 ONLY if they max out the total number of games and sell out every single time. Neither is likely to happen.

So here's what we have. A neutral site with a potential to have attendance of 70,000-90,000.

Or home sites where it could be anywhere from 40,000 to 90,000.

Add in knowing where the tournament will be held at least a year in advance, the camaraderie of passionate fan bases from the entire league joining together for the event, as well as playing in beautiful NHL arena's in college hockey friendly cities like St. Paul and Detroit and it's pretty much a no-brainer in this humble blogger's opinion.

Good move Big Ten.

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For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Chuck on Twitter (@UWChuckSchwartz)

Chuck can also be reached via e-mail at chuckschwartz@live.com

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