Should the NCAA Hockey Tournament expand? That's the question Tom Caron asks and answers in a recent post at NESN.com. Tom is of the opinion that the tournament should definitely be expanded and he didn't waste any time getting to his core thesis:
It's time to expand.
You are probably now wondering, what kind of expansion is Tom in favor of?
I don’t want to wait until Friday for the games to begin. And I don’t think we should.
This was the fifth year of the NCAA basketball tournament’s "First Four," a set of four play-in games that expanded the field to 68 teams in 2011. Scoffed at originally, the NCAA goes as far as now calling it the first round — which means 60 teams got a bye through that first round. Regardless, it is now part of the hoops landscape and no one complains about it.
So why not add a set of play-in games for hockey? How great would it be to have a pair of play-in games Tuesday night at the home site of a higher seed?
It's an interesting thought. Would expanding the tournament be a good idea? When I started to consider my answer I ran into what I'd argue is a more important (or at least, more relevant) question...would the NCAA have reason to support expansion?
Show Me The Money
There is a yearly debate come NCAA Hockey tournament time about how much of a priority the NCAA selection committee will place on bracket integrity versus travel distance/maximizing attendance at the Regional sites. The men's tournament doesn't have the completely onerous "minimize the number of flights" rules that the women do, but you still see plenty of instances where bracket integrity falls prey to cost concerns in the form of minimized travel or attempts at maximized attendance. In fact, my default is to assume the NCAA will minimize cost at all costs. While March Madness (and the tidal wave of TV cash that comes with it every year) makes every other NCAA tournament possible, the folks from Indy do try their best to make money on the NCAA Hockey tournament and this often leads to decisions that don't seem based on fairness or what's best for the teams/sport.
Ultimately that's the question I have. Would the NCAA make enough money on expanding the NCAA hockey tournament to make it "worth it" to the organization? You would hope so, but it's not an easy answer. Format of the play in games could make a big difference. If you held the play in games on the campus of the higher seed you could minimize costs (one team wouldn't travel) and maximize revenue (putting it on campus would essentially guarantee a sellout compared to a neutral venue). Expansion would mean two to four more games for ESPN to cover and make money on. But at the same time, ESPN already relegates men's hockey to ESPNU and ESPN3 for the majority of the tournament. Would they even bother with putting play-in games on ESPNU? If they did, would the resulting TV deal make a big enough difference to the NCAA? Honestly, I don't know.
You Didn't Answer The Original Question
Fair enough. I really didn't. I'll admit that on the question of expanding the NCAA Hockey tournament I'm ultimately pretty ambivalent. I searched for an emotional response either way but I don't have one. Maybe I'm just a spoiled Minnesota fan. Maybe I'm just not passionate enough about hockey (as much as I love it, football and basketball are still my bigger passions). Maybe I'm just in a "meh" sort of mood today.
I want to see the college hockey grow in prominence and if expanding the tournament would do that then consider me on board. I have my doubts if it would really accomplish that however. As a result, I return to my default response...
You won't see me writing "THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA #HOTTAKES" style screeds if it ever happened though. So maybe that's the true answer...I'm a tepid supporter of expanding the tournament.
What Do You Think?
Thanks to my ambivalence, I'm WAY more interested in knowing what YOU think about the idea of expanding the tournament.
Do you like the idea?
Do you think it will ever happen?
Do you think the NCAA would support it?
Please share your thoughts in the poll (and more importantly) in the comments!