Friday, July 14, 2006

Commissioner for a Day: College hockey

In my final installment of the Stealing Ideas for Good Material from Sports Illustrated series Commissioner for a Day series, I look at a sport I've become quite close to over the years: college hockey.

There was a time where college hockey was nearly a complete afterthought, even among hockey fans. Nowadays, though, the college game has seen great growth in the level of play, and more and more college players are jumping early to the professional ranks. The impact of college hockey on the NHL has never been greater, and it's getting better every year.

However, like everything else, including this blog, college hockey has its flaws. I'm going to use this post to try to identify what I think are the biggest flaws in the game, and how they can be fixed to make college hockey even better.

1. End this ridiculous emphasis on "hits from behind".

We saw the evidence begin to mount late last year. Instead of sending guys to the showers for questionable hits from behind, officials started calling boarding/charging/cross-checking/roughing/whatever to avoid having to throw guys out.

Well, unless those guys were named "Nick Kemp". Then they were perfectly happy to toss the kid for a perfectly innocuous hit.

(Sorry. I'm babbling and ranting again. I'll try to keep focus here.)

Anyway, I think I've made the point. Instead of calling "checking from behind", officials are going to call, well, anything else they can get away with, unless they deem it a dangerous hit.

In other words, they've found a way around the NCAA mandate on hitting from behind, and things are going to return to the way they were. Some officials will decide to be stringent and call anything along the boards that looks like a hit from behind, and they will not be afraid to throw players out of games.

Other officials will find something else to call on those hits, and they'll eventually miss a flagrant hit from behind.

(And if you remember, it was Don Adam missing an awful hit from behind by Denver's Geoff Paukovich on North Dakota's Robbie Bina that started all of this.)

The solution? Better education on what a flagrant hit from behind actually looks like. Better education on the standard that must be followed by all officials.

Hell, I'd rather see stop signs on the backs of college jerseys (as in youth hockey) than this mandate in place for another year. I'll credit the NCAA with trying to be proactive on an important issue, but they chose the wrong path.

2. Adopt the shootout to decide conference games that end in ties.

I'm adamant about something I posted in an earlier college hockey blog roundtable. If we are going to use the shootout in college hockey, its results can't be used as part of the RPI/PWR because the sample size of a college hockey season is just too small. The influence the shootout results could have on the selections for the NCAAs is too great, and it's not right.

That said, the more I think about the shootout, the more I like it, given what we all saw this past NHL season. Fans embraced it, and it was even great theater on TV. So I'll flip flop a little bit from my post earlier in the spring and say that it would be great to see the shootout in college hockey, but only during in-season tournaments and conference games, where the results would have only a small effect.

(My idea would mean that no conference game would end in a tie. The shootout winner would get two points, the shootout loser would get one point, and the game would "count" as a tie for RPI/PWR purposes. It minimizes the effect that the shootout has on the standings, while still giving the fans a chance to see someone win the game, and it gives the shootout at least some meaning.)

3. Use all available camera angles in instant replay.

If the only available angles are above the net and along the boards, then that's what you use. If there are other camera angles being used for TV coverage, then they need to be available for replay officials to use.

What good is technology if you're not going to use it right?

4. Adopt the rule that keeps a team that ices the puck from changing lines.

It's an experimental rule this season, meaning that conferences can use it, and it can be used in exhibition games.

It should be put in the books.

Teams will still ice the puck when they are heavily pressured, but they're going to think twice about doing it, because they know they will eventually have to get the puck cleared to the red line before they can get it all the way down the rink to get their line change. I think it had a hand in increasing the flow in NHL games last season, and it could have the same impact in the college game.

1 comment:

redwing77 said...

Bruce-

Some nice suggestions. I like everything but there are a few I'd like to comment on:

Ending the emphasis: You've been around, Bruce, and you know that the WCHA has the most consistent problem with both checking from behind and this chickenfooting around the mandate. The WCHA has already shown that they're willing to give the NCAA mandates "the finger" in the past (obstruction crackdown). Ending the emphasis may solve this problem, but what it is doing, in affect, is acknowledging and rewarding the officials for finding flaws in the ruling and circumventing the problem, not necessarily solving the problem whence the rule was made. The problem isn't with the NCAA with this crackdown. It is with the officials. No, I'm not saying we should fire all of the WCHA officials (it would be a good start though), I'm again advocating for a renewal of leadership of the officials. Someone who is going to take the NCAA very seriously and the quality of the game (including player safety and officials accountability and quality) even more seriously. That means firing Greg Shepherd. Yeah, I know he's got a record of being a quality official when he was an official, but he's not doing the job he needs to do as head of officiating.

Although I like shootouts, expect that one not to happen. Far too many opponents.

I like the instant replay one. Very well put.