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Thread: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

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    College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    First, a preface: I love college hockey. I tell my daughters stories about college hockey. I love the fans, the atmospheres, the road trips. I have watched a fair amount of Major Junior hockey in my time and I find it to be good but college hockey to be a superior product overall, and a far better focus of attention. I want college hockey to grow and I want Major Junior to recede a bit in importance, and whenever a college recruit jumps to the CHL I gnash my teeth.

    All that said, we are about to enter into our annual rite of spring, the Decidedly Underwhelming First Two Rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Millions of fans across the country will neglect to fill out brackets, forget to watch on tv (if they get it) or not bother to stream the games over the internet. Millions of fans will not hear Barry Melrose not know what he is talking about when he tries to analyze a college game, and will not watch games played in front of thousands of people who did not bother to travel to the regionals.

    College Hockey has a playoff problem.

    It's not a Frozen Four problem; the Frozen Four is a marvelous event that has a dedicated, rabid base of fans who will always attend, solid organization, stable finances, and a product that competes with and beats the CHL's crown jewel, the Memorial Cup.

    But College Hockey does not have a good playoff system.

    Conference playoffs

    It's hard to even know what the "playoffs" are. Are they one-weekend best-of-three conference series that rarely produce upsets and even more rarely produce important results? Among the most shocking playoff results ever happened this year as Bowling Green defeated Northern Michigan and top CCHA seed Ferris State on the road in games that were seen by zero people on television and perhaps 10-12,000 paid fans *total*. Congratulations, BG; your reward is to have hundreds of people watch you lose twice at the Joe.

    Conference playoffs produce nice events like the Final Five, but the early rounds are little more than academic exercises. They are not pivotal or decisive. Michigan has made it to the Joe 24 years in a row. This is not a symptom of a challenging, worthwhile playoff structure.

    The NCAA Hockey Tournament

    Or are the "playoffs" this weekend? Good seats are available in Green Bay to watch Michigan and Cornell fans, perhaps a couple thousand of them, trade witty chants that won't be loud enough to be heard on television. Denver and Ferris will also play and few will watch. Empty seats will be everywhere.

    The regional system is dreadful. Occasionally a regional lucks out and draws a lot of fans--and the rest of the fans scream in consternation as their higher-seeded team winds up "earning" a road game. Numerous top seeds have seen their seasons end in front of a rowdy audience of enemy fans. The alternative is a truly neutral site, which is so neutral that nobody can come to the game.

    The adversary has this right

    In our perpetual game of tug-of-war with the CHL, the Playoff Problem is a black eye on our sport. All but a small handful of Major Junior teams make the playoffs, which means virtually all players are guaranteed at least one, full, seven-game series a year. Some of them wind up being short, brutal affairs, but at least two of the losses were in front of the home fans. Good teams go on long, NHL-like playoff runs involving travel, running story lines, rivalries, and crackling action.

    Players grow up dreaming of playing in 7-game series in the NHL, and they get a nice facsimile of the experience before they even turn 20. I've been to OHL playoff games, and they are wonderful. Genuinely good hockey with genuinely good atmosphere. It's a major checkmark in the CHL box.

    This is the most important time of the year?

    On Friday Ferris State and Denver will play the most important game of their season, and they'll be lucky if 2000 people in the arena actually care about the result. The atmosphere will completely bely the gravity of the game they are playing, and will be dwarfed by even average home regular season games. What a let-down for Denver, which just played three intense games at the Final Five in front of over 10,000.

    Worse, the winner will turn around the very next day and play Michigan or Cornell. Suppose it's Michigan vs. Denver: A matchup with history. A matchup with exciting match ups and great players. In sum, a matchup that is worth talking about.

    But we won't talk about it, because we won't have time. The Regional schedule turnaround means that there is barely time to debrief from the previous game and begin to address the next one; great story lines are ignored, anticipation is killed, and the first-round win is devalued by preventing fan bases and players from appreciating it. Ferris State has one NCAA tournament win, and 24 hours after that win their season was over.

    Time for Change

    We need a new system. A system that provides excitement, anticipation, and real fan participation. A system that rewards teams for making the postseason. A system that does not punish high seeds for not having the luck to be hosting their own regional. A system that showcases our sport instead of embarrassing it.

    I am not advocating for a Major Junior-type system. I believe it is possible, within the traditions and framework of college sports, to produce a much better system for the tournament than the one that currently exists. This post is not dogmatic about what that option is, but if you were to ask, I would say this: Play the games at the home sites of the high seeds.

    Other options may be floated and may work. What is clear is that the system we now have does not work, not even close. It is hurting our sport. It needs to change. College Hockey has a playoff problem. Fix it. Change the Tournament.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Not insulting, please trust me.

    Travel, cost, and regionalism hurt the sport, along with the limited fanbase of the sport itself. I mean, that's all that really needs to be said. The regional games change every year, unlike something like the Final 5 for the WCHA (established city, you can plan). That hurts. Then you have the casual fans that don't get PWR, so they don't know when or where their teams play. Also hurts. Heck, we have some Bostonians travelling out west only because the St Paul regional is on a Sat/Sun, and no time off is needed.

    Lots of factors, and it's not the sport's fault. It's the lack of fans. It's a small cultish group, and I doubt that'll change. It's just the way it is (Parise I hate that phrase). You will have the diehards, and mayyyyyybe a couple casual fans. Welcome to a niche sport.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brenthoven View Post
    Not insulting, please trust me.

    Travel, cost, and regionalism hurt the sport, along with the limited fanbase of the sport itself. I mean, that's all that really needs to be said. The regional games change every year, unlike something like the Final 5 for the WCHA (established city, you can plan). That hurts. Then you have the casual fans that don't get PWR, so they don't know when or where their teams play. Also hurts. Heck, we have some Bostonians travelling out west only because the St Paul regional is on a Sat/Sun, and no time off is needed.

    Lots of factors, and it's not the sport's fault. It's the lack of fans. It's a small cultish group, and I doubt that'll change. It's just the way it is (Parise I hate that phrase). You will have the diehards, and mayyyyyybe a couple casual fans. Welcome to a niche sport.
    No insult taken. But what you've described is exactly why the first two rounds need to be changed to better suit a sport of this size and scope.

    How many Minnesota fans would be less likely to go if they just found out they were hosting a game at Mariucci, as opposed to a "neutral-site" game in St. Paul? What are the odds North Dakota sells out for their first-round game against Western in one week? Will Michigan draw more fans at home against Cornell than in Green Bay? Yes, they will.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Caustic Undertow View Post
    No insult taken. But what you've described is exactly why the first two rounds need to be changed to better suit a sport of this size and scope.

    How many Minnesota fans would be less likely to go if they just found out they were hosting a game at Mariucci, as opposed to a "neutral-site" game in St. Paul? What are the odds North Dakota sells out for their first-round game against Western in one week? Will Michigan draw more fans at home against Cornell than in Green Bay? Yes, they will.
    Do you require all teams to be able to host in the first round? Do all of the #1 seeds have to be able to host a 4 team tournament on one weeks notice? If the early rounds are not one-and-done, would you keep the F4 that way? Add in another round and have the first two rounds be best-of-three game series? Might as well just eliminate the conference tournaments completely and go direct to a 58 team tournament of best of 3 series every week for a month to whittle things down to 4 teams.

    No single professional or junior league has anywhere as many team as play at the D1 level.

    I'm not a fan of the regional system either, but given the logistical and economic constraints that come with being nominally tied to an educational institution I'm not sure a better system can be constructed.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Caustic Undertow View Post

    Time for Change

    We need a new system. A system that provides excitement, anticipation, and real fan participation. A system that rewards teams for making the postseason. A system that does not punish high seeds for not having the luck to be hosting their own regional. A system that showcases our sport instead of embarrassing it.

    I am not advocating for a Major Junior-type system. I believe it is possible, within the traditions and framework of college sports, to produce a much better system for the tournament than the one that currently exists. This post is not dogmatic about what that option is, but if you were to ask, I would say this: Play the games at the home sites of the high seeds.

    Other options may be floated and may work. What is clear is that the system we now have does not work, not even close. It is hurting our sport. It needs to change. College Hockey has a playoff problem. Fix it. Change the Tournament.
    This is an interesting read. NCAA men's ice hockey committee chair Sean Frazier talks about the NCAA D1 Men's Hockey playoff system and the reasoning behind the 2012 regional team selections.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Caustic Undertow View Post
    No insult taken. But what you've described is exactly why the first two rounds need to be changed to better suit a sport of this size and scope.

    How many Minnesota fans would be less likely to go if they just found out they were hosting a game at Mariucci, as opposed to a "neutral-site" game in St. Paul? What are the odds North Dakota sells out for their first-round game against Western in one week? Will Michigan draw more fans at home against Cornell than in Green Bay? Yes, they will.

    Sure, Mariucci and Yost, etc. sell out when the home team is playing there in the NCAAs. The same could very likely be said about any D-1 venue in the land, if the NCAA would allow that smaller venue to host.

    With all due respect, I think you're looking at the situation as half-empty. IMO, the very fact that we have Regionals at (sometimes) neutral sites is a triumph, considering the relative obscurity of our sport. It appears that college hockey still has just enough going for it to put forth a pretense of objectivity at times, fannies in the seats be d*amned.

    I live within 1-5 hours by car of several Eastern sites, so my perspective would likely differ from a Westerner's, who is looking at a major haul to get to some games... But out here, it's a doable trip for just about anyone, and it's so much fun to see four strangers duking it out in one place for a weekend. Attendance is not an issue for me. The venues wouldn't keep bidding if they were taking a loss, is my guess.

    And as far as attendance goes, the NCAA sells single-day passes at around $45 apiece, which prices-out the casual fan and his/her family. That's probably the most important problem the Regionals face.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    I agree, this is well said.

    A few more Suggestions

    • End the season last weekend in April/1st weekend of May & season would NOT start in the beginning/middle of football season
    • Get rid of the "Best of Three" series in opening rounds of conference playoffs
    • Play the NCAA regionals at the campus sites of the #1 seeds

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Regarding TV, etc. People don't watch the sport because they don't care. The people who love to watch college hockey do. Everyone else does not. Quit trying to force others to love your sport. It's like someone trying to force americans to love soccer. It just isn't going to happen, no matter how much you personally care about it.

    Regarding the early rounds being boring and not a challenge. It's like that in nearly every sports playoff, especially ones that are more than single elimination. Michigan goes to the Joe every year because the bottom of the CCHA sucks, as does the bottom of most leagues everywhere. Playing 7 games won't fix that. Upsets do happen (i.e. BG), but they really shouldn't happen that often. There is a reason they are where they are in the standings.

    As far as the attendance issues for regionals. There isn't much to be done about that. You can't play a regional on home ice. So playing in large regional hockey cities (Boston, Twin Cities, Detroit, etc.) is really the best bet for now. Locations need to be easy to get to, reasonably cheap, and there should be things to do in town other than the games. No one wants to go to Green Bay.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Interesting discussion.

    The only thing i'd like to add at this point is the Frozen 4 being held in Florida of all places. Off the cuff thats a terrible idea (imo). Theres plenty of places it SHOULD be and even more where it should never be.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    I think teams hosting regionals is a terrible idea -should be conferences.

    Also the prices are simply absurd.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    To paraphrase Churchill, the system we have is the worst there is, except for all the alternatives.

    Can’t agree with campus sites. IMO that’s too big an advantage to give for such a flawed system for determining the seeds. As long as we have so few inter-conference games, however good the system is from a statistics standpoint, it’s going to be flawed. I agree with Fishman ’81. Neutral sites, even half-filled, is a good thing.

    Agree that the prices are too high. I am going to the FF, and would go to the Worcester Regionals if they were cheaper. But I’m not sure there’s much the NCAA can do about it. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the venues make bids and the venues set the prices. And since some venues continue to make bids and continue to set basically the same prices, they must think they know what they’re doing. If they thought they’d do better charging lower prices, they would, or they’d decide it’s not worth it and stop submitting bids.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    The season starts too soon. moving the end of the season back would allow the ncaa to eliminate the off week between the regionals and the FF. That is a big momentum killer.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaws View Post
    The season starts too soon. moving the end of the season back would allow the ncaa to eliminate the off week between the regionals and the FF. That is a big momentum killer.
    My parents who used to go to games back in the '70s always used to tell me the season really never kicked into gear until Thanksgiving (or at least November). I find October games to be a turnoff, to be honest. It's still fall, the weather can still be good, football is going on -- I'm not sure everyone, particularly the non die-hards, is into the hockey mindset. Certainly I find jumping right into conference games in mid Oct (or earlier) to be unappealing. The season has gotten longer and longer and I don't think the sport necessarily supports it -- at least not in every venue -- and that week off before the FF IS a momentum killer.

    Beyond that I agree with a lot of what's been written here:

    -The conference playoffs are consistently poorly attended it seems (generally speaking of course). The 2 of 3 system is (and has always been) a turnoff for a lot of fans, but then again, there aren't a lot of alternatives and often the round falls when kids are going on spring break (or are already there). It is interesting to me though that you often see so many empty seats during the conference QF round, even in hockey "hotbeds" so to speak.

    -The NCAA regionals are too expensive, and I don't think there's enough interest to make 4 different venues a consistently appealing venture. I'm sure we'll see one well attended (at least), but most years there's always a couple where there's nobody there. Going back to 2 venues is something we argue about every year, but it makes it more of an "event" that way and to me would make it more appealing to attend. As it is, I stopped going when they branched out to 4 venues. Before you saw half of the field advancing to the Frozen Four. Now you only see 1 team and somehow taking away that one game -- while charging as much money (actually more) to attend -- made me less interested. I'm more content to watch it at home.

    -Holding the FF in "non traditional sites" is something I complain about constantly. Doesn't make sense to me to "grow the game" in a place where it doesn't, and will never, exist in the first place. This is a regional sport and always will be -- thumbing your nose at that core group of people who travel most years by going to Tampa, Anaheim, etc. doesn't make sense. I can see the argument on the other side, but I don't agree with it
    Last edited by HockeyMan2000; 03-19-2012 at 09:50 AM.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by HockeyMan2000 View Post
    -Holding the FF in "non traditional sites" is something I complain about constantly. Doesn't make sense to me to "grow the game" in a place where it doesn't, and will never, exist in the first place. This is a regional sport and always will be -- thumbing your nose at that core group of people who travel most years by going to Tampa, Anaheim, etc. doesn't make sense. I can see the argument on the other side, but I don't agree with it
    Thumbing your nose? I'd think Tampa and Anaheim would be enticing locations from a weather standpoint, especially for hockey fans who are generally in cold weather cities. A mini-vacation and a hockey tournament sounds like a good deal, not thumbing their nose.

    Trust me, no one wants to go to Detroit. No matter how central it is to the core hockey fan.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by JF_Gophers View Post
    Thumbing your nose? I'd think Tampa and Anaheim would be enticing locations from a weather standpoint, especially for hockey fans who are generally in cold weather cities. A mini-vacation and a hockey tournament sounds like a good deal, not thumbing their nose.
    But it's also more expensive and harder to get there (Anaheim certainly was for someone on the east coast). I look at weather as being less a consideration when you get into early April. The other day it was warmer in the Northeast and Midwest than it was in Florida. If it's the middle of winter that's one thing, but going to a "warm weather city" by the time you get into spring isn't that big of an enticement to me. I think the NCAAs ought to stick to traditional northeast/midwest cities and leave it at that personally; give one fanbase a break most years by having it within driving distance for a fair amount of fans.
    Last edited by HockeyMan2000; 03-19-2012 at 09:56 AM.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by claver2010 View Post

    Also the prices are simply absurd.
    The Bridgeport regional is $70 for 3 high level hockey games, for a New York City area entertainment value, I think it is a bargain.

    Another thing not mentioned in this thread is that alot of the reason for teams staying home in March is mid term exams. Remember they are in college, not living on a bus traveling Canada eating per-diem meals.
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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by LTsatch View Post
    The Bridgeport regional is $70 for 3 high level hockey games, for a New York City area entertainment value, I think it is a bargain.

    Another thing not mentioned in this thread is that alot of the reason for teams staying home in March is mid term exams. Remember they are in college, not living on a bus traveling Canada eating per-diem meals.
    I grew up 15 minutes from BPT, it's not NYC area. That's like saying Springfield, MA is Boston area.

    Also could someone explain to me having the NE regional final at 8:00 EST while the Western is at 5:00? It would seem so easy to switch the 2 and have them both start at 5 locally.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by claver2010 View Post
    Also could someone explain to me having the NE regional final at 8:00 EST while the Western is at 5:00? It would seem so easy to switch the 2 and have them both start at 5 locally.
    it's a mind blowing decision. I would love to know the reasoning behind it.....

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Caustic Undertow View Post
    First, a preface: I love college hockey. I tell my daughters stories about college hockey. I love the fans, the atmospheres, the road trips. I have watched a fair amount of Major Junior hockey in my time and I find it to be good but college hockey to be a superior product overall, and a far better focus of attention. I want college hockey to grow and I want Major Junior to recede a bit in importance, and whenever a college recruit jumps to the CHL I gnash my teeth.

    All that said, we are about to enter into our annual rite of spring, the Decidedly Underwhelming First Two Rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Millions of fans across the country will neglect to fill out brackets, forget to watch on tv (if they get it) or not bother to stream the games over the internet. Millions of fans will not hear Barry Melrose not know what he is talking about when he tries to analyze a college game, and will not watch games played in front of thousands of people who did not bother to travel to the regionals.

    College Hockey has a playoff problem.

    It's not a Frozen Four problem; the Frozen Four is a marvelous event that has a dedicated, rabid base of fans who will always attend, solid organization, stable finances, and a product that competes with and beats the CHL's crown jewel, the Memorial Cup.

    But College Hockey does not have a good playoff system.

    Conference playoffs

    It's hard to even know what the "playoffs" are. Are they one-weekend best-of-three conference series that rarely produce upsets and even more rarely produce important results? Among the most shocking playoff results ever happened this year as Bowling Green defeated Northern Michigan and top CCHA seed Ferris State on the road in games that were seen by zero people on television and perhaps 10-12,000 paid fans *total*. Congratulations, BG; your reward is to have hundreds of people watch you lose twice at the Joe.

    Conference playoffs produce nice events like the Final Five, but the early rounds are little more than academic exercises. They are not pivotal or decisive. Michigan has made it to the Joe 24 years in a row. This is not a symptom of a challenging, worthwhile playoff structure.

    The NCAA Hockey Tournament

    Or are the "playoffs" this weekend? Good seats are available in Green Bay to watch Michigan and Cornell fans, perhaps a couple thousand of them, trade witty chants that won't be loud enough to be heard on television. Denver and Ferris will also play and few will watch. Empty seats will be everywhere.

    The regional system is dreadful. Occasionally a regional lucks out and draws a lot of fans--and the rest of the fans scream in consternation as their higher-seeded team winds up "earning" a road game. Numerous top seeds have seen their seasons end in front of a rowdy audience of enemy fans. The alternative is a truly neutral site, which is so neutral that nobody can come to the game.

    The adversary has this right

    In our perpetual game of tug-of-war with the CHL, the Playoff Problem is a black eye on our sport. All but a small handful of Major Junior teams make the playoffs, which means virtually all players are guaranteed at least one, full, seven-game series a year. Some of them wind up being short, brutal affairs, but at least two of the losses were in front of the home fans. Good teams go on long, NHL-like playoff runs involving travel, running story lines, rivalries, and crackling action.

    Players grow up dreaming of playing in 7-game series in the NHL, and they get a nice facsimile of the experience before they even turn 20. I've been to OHL playoff games, and they are wonderful. Genuinely good hockey with genuinely good atmosphere. It's a major checkmark in the CHL box.

    This is the most important time of the year?

    On Friday Ferris State and Denver will play the most important game of their season, and they'll be lucky if 2000 people in the arena actually care about the result. The atmosphere will completely bely the gravity of the game they are playing, and will be dwarfed by even average home regular season games. What a let-down for Denver, which just played three intense games at the Final Five in front of over 10,000.

    Worse, the winner will turn around the very next day and play Michigan or Cornell. Suppose it's Michigan vs. Denver: A matchup with history. A matchup with exciting match ups and great players. In sum, a matchup that is worth talking about.

    But we won't talk about it, because we won't have time. The Regional schedule turnaround means that there is barely time to debrief from the previous game and begin to address the next one; great story lines are ignored, anticipation is killed, and the first-round win is devalued by preventing fan bases and players from appreciating it. Ferris State has one NCAA tournament win, and 24 hours after that win their season was over.

    Time for Change

    We need a new system. A system that provides excitement, anticipation, and real fan participation. A system that rewards teams for making the postseason. A system that does not punish high seeds for not having the luck to be hosting their own regional. A system that showcases our sport instead of embarrassing it.

    I am not advocating for a Major Junior-type system. I believe it is possible, within the traditions and framework of college sports, to produce a much better system for the tournament than the one that currently exists. This post is not dogmatic about what that option is, but if you were to ask, I would say this: Play the games at the home sites of the high seeds.

    Other options may be floated and may work. What is clear is that the system we now have does not work, not even close. It is hurting our sport. It needs to change. College Hockey has a playoff problem. Fix it. Change the Tournament.
    The Lehigh vs. Duke playoff B-Ball game last week had no "history" whatsoever but it sure didn't harm the popularity of the NCAA basketball playoffs. The future success of the NCAA DI college hockey championships probably lies in the expansion of T.V. coverage rather than enticing a few thousand more fans to buy tickets. Like it or not this is increasingly the electronic age.
    Last edited by Osorojo; 03-19-2012 at 10:12 AM.

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    Re: College Hockey's Playoff Problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by HockeyMan2000 View Post
    But it's also more expensive and harder to get there (Anaheim certainly was for someone on the east coast). I look at weather as being less a consideration when you get into early April. The other day it was warmer in the Northeast and Midwest than it was in Florida. If it's the middle of winter that's one thing, but going to a "warm weather city" by the time you get into spring isn't that big of an enticement to me. I think the NCAAs ought to stick to traditional northeast/midwest cities and leave it at that personally; give one fanbase a break most years by having it within driving distance for a fair amount of fans.
    Going to a "warm weather city" once a decade doesn't seem like that big of deal to me. Given that the F4 requireds an NHL sized (18k+) you are down to maybe 30 or 35 arenas where it can be held (unless you want to go with the football stadium again). Cut out anything that isn't in the US hockey footprint and you have maybe 15 locations that will work: Boston, NYC area, Philly, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Denver, St. Paul, Chicago would be the best. Also have Buffalo, Columbus, St. Louis, Washington DC, Nashville, Milwaukee which would work but either push the geographic bound or are not the most exciting locations for non-hockey activities on a regular basis.
    I might have chosen to be a BADGER but I will NEVER be a Wisconsinite; I will ALWAYS and FOREVER be a MINNESOTAN and proud of it.

    Support Hockey. Any Location, Any Time, Any Level, Any Gender. For some it's a game, for others a sport - for me, it's something more.

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