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NCAA hockey bracketology: Raking in the dough just as important as bracket integrity

February 16, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor (mwellens@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

I'm a big fan of bracket integrity when it comes to organizing the NCAA tournament bracket each week, but I'm also a realist.

Money is a huge factor when it comes to NCAA events.

The national governing body of collegiate athletics - which loves to tout amateurism, yet flaunts its corporate sponsors - doesn't always admit the role money plays in its moves, except when it talks about saving schools some money by putting them in a regional they can bus to rather than fly.

When it comes to making moves for attendance, well, 'that's just to improve the atmosphere, not to sell more tickets,' the committee insists.

If the committee really cared about atmosphere, it would be playing regionals at the 6,600-seat Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor and the 9,700-seat Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

Those venues are no longer in the picture as host sites because they're considered to be a home ice advantage.

Fact Box

For a complete look at the most up-to-date

version of the PairWise rankings, visit www.uscho.com

The reality is, they're too small for the NCAA's pocketbook because as recent history has shown, a half-empty NHL rink is better than a packed college rink.

These days, the NCAA is going after the most tickets possible by awarding regionals to 18,000-seat venues like the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh that will sit half-empty if the right mix of teams aren't playing.

These venues should be reserved for Frozen Four competition, not regionals.

This year, the Xcel Energy Center - home to the WCHA's Final Five - hosts the West Regional one year after hosting the Frozen Four and two years after watching St. Cloud State, Northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Vermont play in front of sparse crowds.

Unlike 2010, Minnesota will make the NCAA tourney field and as the host, is guaranteed a spot at the Xcel. That should fill the so-called neutral building as long as the Gophers are playing both nights.

While the NCAA is happy to see the Gophers in the NCAA field, many others are not too happy these days - specifically Ferris State and Minnesota-Duluth.

Here's why with these week's projected brackets, based on this latest USCHO.com PairWise rankings: (ties have been broken via team's ranking in ratings percentage index)

PairWise Top 16:1. Ferris State; 2. Boston College; 3. Boston University; 4. Minnesota-Duluth; 5. Michigan; 6. UMass-Lowell; 7. Denver; 8. Maine; 9. Northern Michigan; 10. Union; 11. Merrimack; 12. Michigan State; 13. Miami; 14. Minnesota; 15. Ohio State; 16. North Dakota.

The CCHA still has six teams in the field, while Hockey East is up to five teams. Atlantic Hockey is the lone league without a team, to its current leader, Air Force, will take the No. 16 spot, bumping out North Dakota. That leaves the WCHA with only three. Like the AHA, the ECAC has only one representative in Union.

With Minnesota automatically being placed in the West Regional in St. Paul and the top four seeds being placed closest to home, here's how the initial bracket shakes out.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay) - 1. Ferris State vs. 16. Air Force; 8. Maine vs. 9. Northern Michigan.

West Regional (St. Paul) - 4. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 14. Minnesota; 5. Michigan vs. 12. Michigan State.

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.) - 2. Boston College vs. 15. Ohio State; 7. Denver vs. 10. Union.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.) - 3. Boston University vs. 13. Miami; 6. UMass-Lowell vs. 11. Merrimack.

There are three intraconference matchups that currently exist, but only one needs to be broken up. which involves the WCHA's Bulldogs and Gophers.

I'm warning you, it will not end well for the Bulldogs of Duluth or the Bulldogs of Big Rapids.

Minnesota is hosting the West Regional, so UMD must be moved, even though it's the higher seed.

To keep attendance in Worcester and Bridgeport at a peak, BC and BU are not being moved, so UMD will head to Green Bay to play Air Force and Ferris State gets screwed and sent to St. Paul.

The move decimates bracket integrity, but it increases ticket sales.

Two other intraconference matchups exist between the CCHA's Michigan and Michigan State, as well as Hockey East's Lowell and Merrimack.

Both leagues do have more than five teams in the field, so the committee could leave it as is. Historically, however, the committee has broken up intraconference matchups when a league has five teams, but not six.

In the spirit of raking in the cash, I'm going to keep Michigan and Michigan State together in St. Paul, but flip Union and Merrimack to break the Hockey East matchup. This move maximizes ticket sales and keeps teams closer to home.

So here is my final bracket that lacks integrity, but is the most profitable for the NCAA:

Midwest Regional (Green Bay) - 4. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 16. Air Force; 8. Maine vs. 9. Northern Michigan.

West Regional (St. Paul) - 1. Ferris State vs. 14. Minnesota; 5. Michigan vs. 12. Michigan State.

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.) - 2. Boston College vs. 15. Ohio State; 7. Denver vs. 11. Merrimack.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.) - 3. Boston University vs. 13. Miami; 6. UMass-Lowell vs. 10. Union.

As for NMU, the sweep of Bowling Green State last weekend proved to be huge. Last week, Northern was the No. 14 overall seed heading to Connecticut. This week, the 'Cats are up to No. 9 and in Green Bay.

Mining Journal Sports Editor Matt Wellens will have another bracketology analysis on Thursday of next week and keep it up until the field is announced on Sunday, March 18. Matt can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.

 
 

 

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