Sunday, May 19, 2013

Commissioner For A Day: College Hockey

I did this a few years ago, back before I had labels on posts, but you can find the 2006 series by searching the site for "Commissioner For A Day."

I'm bringing it back, largely because I'm tired of not writing on the site, and also because I think there are ideas to improve many of the pro sports I enjoy watching.

Oh, and because UMD's offseason is entirely too long because the season ended prematurely.

I figured it was natural to start the series with college hockey, because it's the sport I dedicate a lot of my winter life to covering. It should be noted that the majority of these ideas are mine and none are being blatantly stolen from anyone.

Your input is welcome, as always.

No more regionals at random sites.

The NCAA regional system is completely broken. Not partially. Completely. Inadequate facilities -- bad ice, small locker room areas, poor press accommodations, problems with internet access -- are hosting events in front of small crowds, while fans who can't afford the expensive short-notice flights are stuck struggling to find someone they know who has ESPNU or ESPN3 so they can watch games on television.

The TV ship has sailed. It isn't going to get any better. I've said for years that you need access to ESPNU if you want to watch the NCAA regionals. More than that, a die-hard college hockey fan should prepare themselves to do what is necessary to get BTN, NBC Sports Network, and CBS Sports Network if they want to follow the sport during the regular season. If you get those three channels, you have ESPNU, too. They're usually on the same tier.

So let's work to fix the regional site issue.

A few years ago (not sure the exact moment, but it was between when the funding for Amsoil Arena was approved and when it opened), the decision was made to move regionals to truly neutral sites. Before, places like Mariucci Arena and Ralph Engelstad Arena could host regionals. But the NCAA pushed away from that, deciding that arenas that served as a team's designated home facility wouldn't be allowed to host, and neither would facilities with Olympic-sized ice surfaces.

That rule should go away. Yeah, it's somewhat irritating to watch host schools gain spots in the Frozen Four while playing on home ice (Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota have all had this luxury in the past). But it's even more irritating to watch a team earn that spot with practically no one in the stands.

Ticket prices are a problem, yes, but if a St. Cloud State fan could afford to fly from wherever to Toledo for that team's regional this year (during Easter weekend on short notice), the $80 pricetag for a three-game pass wasn't going to stop them. That's pretty simple math.

Lowering ticket prices might draw more local fans to the games, which wouldn't be a bad idea if the NCAA insists on keeping the system as is. But I think a better way about gaining a championship atmosphere is allowing home rinks of 5,000 or more seats to host regionals. Let places like Amsoil Arena, The Ralph, Mariucci, Yost, Compton Family Ice Arena (Notre Dame), Conte Forum (BC), and so many others host these tournaments. Put the games in places where college hockey already has a following, lower ticket prices a hair, and see what happens, even if the host doesn't qualify.

(There is a push for best of three first round series on the campus sites of the high seeds. I like the idea, but it adds an extra weekend to the tournament, and I'm not sure it's feasible. I still think the best way is to give the top four seeds the options of hosting regionals on their home ice, provided some easily-met standards are reached. But there doesn't seem to be a ton of support for this, so I'll compromise and propose what is said above.)

Goodbye, dumb rule where a team that scores on a delayed penalty still gets the power play.

I started calling it the "Double jeopardy rule," after the law that prevents a person from being charged twice for the same crime. I have always thought it ridiculous that the powers-that-be in the sport thought this was a good idea.

Basically, the rule says that if a team scores a goal while on a delayed penalty, the penalty is still called and the power play still happens.

You'll notice that no other level of hockey has thought this was a good idea.

So how did it happen? I was told at the time that the rule basically slipped through because so much attention was paid to an even dumber proposed rule, one that would have kept teams from icing the puck while short-handed.

It's all about increasing offense, which is a fine endeavor, but it goes about it the wrong way. It really has no effect outside of being a dumb rule, because it's so rare that a team would score on a delayed penalty. It's even more rare that said team would then turn around and score on the ensuing power play.

If offense is the goal, let's try actually calling the penalties that are in the rulebook, especially those relating to obstruction. What a concept!

Any body contact foul that drives a player into the boards is an automatic ten-minute misconduct, optional ejection.

It's been a few years now since college hockey instituted a rule that called for mandatory major penalties and ejections for checks from behind that took place along the boards.

Have you noticed yet how the officials handle those?

If they don't want to call it a check from behind, it becomes a boarding penalty, or elbowing, or whatever.

Time for that to go. In order to truly promote safety, that discretion has to be taken away from the officials. But not completely.

There are times where an illegal hit simply doesn't rise to the level of an ejection because of mitigating circumstances. Players are deliberately turning their backs to draw illegal contact, which is beyond stupid because of the risk involved, but whatever. Players will also throw themselves into the boards to "sell" these hits. Yes, really. I've seen it happen.

To give the officials some discretion, any illegal hit along the boards should carry with it an automatic ten-minute misconduct, with the officials having the ability to eject the offending player if the hit is deemed to be severe enough.

Find a way to curtail embellishment.

Calling a coincidental minor for unsportsmanlike conduct on a dive isn't working, stripes. It just isn't.

How about putting a team short-handed because one of its players took a blatant dive to sell a penalty? Do that a few times, and see how that works.

Yeah, coaches hate it when players do something to negate a power play. They hate going short-handed even more, though.

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