The NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Committees met recently and agreed on several plans of action, some of which could have a dramatic effect upon the way fans have become accustomed to viewing the postseason tournaments.
SITES SELECTED FOR 2000 AND BEYOND
At its June 9-12 meeting in Hilton Head, S.C., the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee agreed to recommend four future sites for the 2000-2003 Division I championships. Previously, the NCAA had awarded the following championships (semifinals and final):
1997 Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI (host: Wisconsin)
1998 FleetCenter, Boston, MA (host: Boston University)
1999 Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, CA (host: Alaska-Anchorage)
The following sites and hosts were also recommended by the Committee:
2000 Civic Center, Providence, RI (host: Providence College)
2001 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY (host: Rensselaer)
2002 Civic Center, St Paul, MN (host: Minnesota)
2003 Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, NY (host: Canisius, Niagara, and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)
Buffalo is the only one of the new sites that has not yet hosted an NCAA tournament. All of the host schools are classified as Division I, although Canisius and Niagara are considered to be Division I Independents. Niagara begins varsity play in the 1996-97 season.
The 1997 championship will be the 50th anniversary of the NCAA tournament, and will be held on March 27 and 29, 1997.
In addition to the championship sites, the Committee recommended the following regional sites for 1998 and 1999:
1998 East Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY (host: Rensselaer)
1998 West Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI (host: Michigan)
1999 East Centrum, Worcester, MA (host: Boston University)
1999 West Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI (host: Wisconsin)
Previously, the NCAA had selected the following regional sites for the 1997 tournament:
1997 East Centrum, Worcester, MA (host: Boston University)
1997 West Grand Rapids Arena, Grand Rapids, MI (host: Western Michigan)
The NCAA still has to approve the recommended sites, but it is anticipated that all will be.
The Committee also agreed on several other plans of action, many of which will have a long-reaching effect upon the game.
END SOUGHT TO CONFLICT WITH BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
Recognizing that the Championships has long been overshadowed by the Men’s and Women’s Division I Basketball Championships, the Committee agreed to recommend a change in scheduling.
Under the new plan, the semifinals and finals would be played on the 14th Friday and Sunday of each year. This would result in the event being held one week later than usual and one week after the conclusion of the basketball championships. Currently, the semifinals and final are played on the fifth Thursday and Saturday of March, or the first weekend in April if March has only four weekends.
The regionals would continue to be held on the 12th weekend of the year, or the third weekend of March.
The implications for such a change are many. Primarily, the event would have a chance to stand on its own as one of the top collegiate sporting events of the season, possibly drawing more fan and media interest. By playing the championship game on Sunday, the door is opened to attracting network television on a weekend normally devoid of interest in college sports.
However, the plan would also result in a ten day break for competing teams between the regionals and the semifinals. In the past, teams that have had to endure such a break have tended to not fare well. Yet, under the plan, all four teams would have the same break period. That means the same period of time to both recover from injuries and to stay on top of their game for the ensuing championships.
The Committee cited several other reasons for the proposed change, including a decrease in missed class time within a short time period, more time for the local organizers to promote the event to fans and media, and reduced air fare and travel accommodations due to the ten days off between the regionals and semifinals.
In all, the proposed change appears to be one that has been a long time in coming and one that could go a long ways towards enabling Division I hockey to stand on its own as a viable and exciting sport.
TWO AUTOMATIC BIDS PER CONFERENCE
The Committee also recommended that the four Division I ice hockey conferences (CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East, WCHA) receive two automatic bids each for the 1997 tournament. Currently, each conference receives one automatic bid, and that bid is awarded to the team that wins the conference postseason tournament. Each conference also is guaranteed a total of at least two bids under the current process.
However, in recent years, the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament Selection Committee has voluntarily augmented the process by awarding an additional bid to the conference regular season champion in the event that the regular season and tournament are not won by the same team.
The policy was put into place following the 1993-94 season, in which Colorado College won the WCHA regular season title but was upset in the first round by Michigan Tech and did not receive an at-large bid.
The recommended change appears to be little more than a formality, as the current policy of ensuring that regular season and tournament champions receive bids likely would receive official recognition.
Yet, one big question remaining to be answered is how the second bid would be awarded in the event that the same team wins both titles. Several possibilities exist, including awarding the bid to either the regular season runner-up or the tournament runner-up.
REPLAY INSTITUTED FOR 1997
College hockey fans will notice several changes beginning with the 1997 championship. The Committee voted to use instant replay in the semifinals and final, which are all televised. It is unknown whether the use of instant replay could extend to the regionals, where some games have not been televised in recent years.
The decision comes just months after a controversial end to the Division I semifinal between Colorado College and Vermont, in which the Tigers posted a 4-3 win at 9:31 of double overtime on the strength of a goal by Chad Remackel. Replays appeared to show the goal being scored by Remackel on a hand pass from Jay McNeill, but replay was not available as a tool to the officials working the game.
The manner in which replay would be employed has yet to be determined. Several possibilities exist, including restricting the decision on whether to use replay to the on-ice officiating crew, having an off-ice official in the press box for the purpose of viewing replays, and disallowing replay in all circumstances except those concerning a goal.
Concerns include the ability of replay to adequately detail the actual circumstances of a play, the need to have enough camera angles to cover all possibilities, and the inevitable delay that would result when a replay is being evaluated. These concerns have been most evident in the use of replay in past years by the NFL and the NHL, and the NCAA will need to devise a plan that will address these and other stumbling blocks.
Hockey would be in the vanguard of collegiate sports in this area, as currently no other NCAA championship utilizes instant replay as an officiating aid.
OFFICIATING REDESIGNED; SLOGANS APLENTY
With the creation of the new three-man officiating system, the Committee voted to put the system into place for the 1997 championship.
Recently, the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Rules Committee voted to employ a new officiating system designed to replace the previous two referee, one linesman system. The new system provides for one head referee and two assistant referees, with the assistant referees having additional but limited power to call penalties.
The system is designed to alleviate concerns with having complete on-ice power resting in the hands of more than one official, as well as keeping the strength of allowing more than one official to call penalties.
In recent years, the refusal of the CCHA to abide by the NCAA sanctioned two referee, one linesman system has meant that CCHA officials were not allowed to work NCAA tournament games. The CCHA had returned to the one referee, two linesman system after one year despite having been informed that officials working under that system would not be allowed to work the NCAA tournament. The decision means that officials from all four major conferences will once again be able to officiate in tournament competition.
In addition, the committee agreed to request permission to develop a slogan for the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship in order to help the event create its own identity and promote it. This will also allow the NCAA to protect the “Final Four” trademark of the Men’s and Women’s Division I Basketball Championships. A contest will be held throughout the collegiate hockey community to come up with slogans. Fans will have input and be able to submit ideas for consideration.
DIVISION III CONSIDERS CHANGE IN CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT
In a move that could signal a drastic change in the way that the NCAA Ice Hockey Championships are conducted, the Divisions II and III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee recently agreed to investigate the possibility of combining the Division III Championship with that of Division I.
The Committee met from June 3-6 in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and voted to send a letter to the chair of the Division I committee to ask about the interest they would have in such an agreement and the feasibility of the same.
The proposal was based upon the noted success of the combined Division I and III Men’s Lacrosse Championships. For the past five years, the Division III Lacrosse Championship Game has been held on the day between the Division I semifinals and final at the same site. The average attendance at the Division III game during that time has been over 12,000, with over 18,000 attending this year’s final.
It is not known what the Division I committee’s response will be yet. Certainly, such an arrangement would provide additional exposure for Division III hockey and would draw well, especially if tickets were sold in conjunction with the Division I championships. The Division III championships have also tended to be held at out of the way locations and have suffered from low attendance.
However, the proposed scheduling change in the Division I championships could result in the Division III championship being played two or three weeks later than usual. Currently, Division III conducts its semifinals and final on the same weekend that Division I holds its regionals. With Division III typically having a shorter length of season than Division I, there could be concerns with Division III teams playing into April.
An ideal site to begin such a combined championship event would be Boston, the site of the 1998 Division I championships. Besides being home to several Division I teams, Boston is a short drive from many of the current Division III schools, most of which are in the East region.
The Committee agreed to keep the same formats for the 1997 Division II and III Men’s Ice Hockey Championships. The 1997 Division II finals, which have been a best-of-two affair between the top two teams chosen to compete, will be held on March 14-15, 1997, at the campus site of the higher seed. There is no semifinal in Division II, which consists of only about a dozen teams at this time.
The 1997 Division III semifinals and final will be held on March 21-22, 1997. In recent years, the Division III championships have been conducted at a campus site, and this is not expected to change for 1997.
In addition, the Committee discussed automatic qualification and its impact on the Division III tournament, agreeing to award automatic bids for 1997 to three conferences: the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA), and the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC). This is identical to last year.