College hockey media has the last few months of the season debating whether the NCAA tournament should switch its first two rounds to campus sites hosted by the higher seed, so I thought I would bring the discussion to THG. The overarching argument in favor of switching to home site regionals is that it is better for the fans and better for the players. If that is true, we’re talking about a no-brainer here: those two sets of stakeholders are the most important, at least in my eyes. But this entire debate centers around whether there is one system that can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for every fan and every player. 

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald provided a strong argument in favor of home site regionals, which you can read here.  I highly recommend reading that article, especially if you currently favor neutral sites, as he addresses some of the biggest myths with the current system and effectively dispatches some common counter arguments. Among Brad’s main points were 1) the attendance at regionals as they currently stand is unacceptable, 2) the NCAA across the board is moving towards home sites for early rounds, with men’s division I basketball as the notable exception, and 3) the current system is actually less fair than home site regionals would be. 

I think Brad’s argument that the current system is unacceptable is fairly obvious: we can’t be okay with the status quo of nearly empty regional games played a week following numerous sold-old home barns in conference championship games. The return to home ice for conference games has made the problems with regional attendance even more noticeable. We also cannot deny the reality that as other revenue sports are growing their postseason tournaments via marketing their fan-centric campus site format, including baseball and lacrosse (notable insofar as most of us have an annual ritual of watching the tail end of a lax game prior to the early NCAA hockey tournament game coming on ESPNU). Finally, Brad’s points on fairness are strong. I admit to being one who presumed coaches with fewer resources, like those in Atlantic Hockey, are correct that they are better off in an empty arena rather than the packed barn of the higher seed. As Brad notes, those teams haven’t had success in the current format either. Atlantic Hockey hasn’t made a Frozen Four since 2010, when RIT made it. And speaking of fairness that RIT team, as a 4-seed, faced 1-seed Denver in 2010 in a regional played in Albany, NY, a three hour drive from Rochester making it nearly a home site for the bottom-seeded Tigers.

Adam Wodon at College Hockey News has argued, in part, that home ice regionals have been attempted already and they failed, thus the need for neutral sites. I disagree: I view it as the opposite. Neither is perfect, no doubt, but I believe neutral site regionals are the failure and a return to home ice, albeit in a different way, is the correct path to revitalizing the NCAA tournament. Adam’s most recent entry into this debate (one in which he has been involved in for decades) can be read here.

I’m open to the counter arguments that have been presented by some online and at THG itself, where they prefer an overhaul of neutral site hosting mechanics rather than a return to the method of top seeds hosting. One specific idea tossed out there was the idea of having a conference, let’s say the NCHC, host a regional at their preferred site.  For example’s sake, we’ll say that is the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The NCHC, as the host, will send their top-seeded tournament representative to St. Paul as the “host team” no matter what, just as the current system would send the host university to their own arena. That could decrease the biggest fairness complaint of a low-seeded team gets to automatically host (or in the case of Providence College, get favorably placed in the Providence Regional multiple times even when not the official host school) since the top-ranked NCHC rep is extremely unlikely to be a 3 or 4 seed.

While I’m open to neutral site regional solutions, and certainly welcome them insofar as I find the current system untenable, I still prefer a switch back to home sites. There’s still some uncertainty on what the sport could handle. One options is four super regionals of four teams each, just like baseball does. Another option is a single game on the first weekend, then the quarterfinals the following weekend, eliminating the current bye week between regionals and the Frozen Four. Both have positives and negatives, especially with the idea that smaller schools, even including Michigan Tech, could struggle to be able to host four teams in a weekend. 

It’s worth noting to you, dear reader, that much of the staff at THG disagrees with me, instead preferring a continuation of neutral sites over a switch to home sites. In my eyes, I would presume home sites favor a school like Michigan Tech, a school that under the current system will fly to a regional 100% of the time whereas home sites gives Tech multiple chances at a regional hosting in the UP, including their home ice. I also factor in the benefit that Tech has some of the highest upside for home ice advance when considering in the rabid fan base, loud and compact arena, and non-conference opponents being forced to travel long distances. As a non-Tech alum, however, I admit this could simply be an incorrect assessment and would love to hear from you if you disagree.

In the end, where I land is pretty simple. The current system is bad for fans, both those watching on tv and in-person, because of the stale and sparsely attended atmosphere. The current system also grants the wrong teams the reward of their home fans being the majority at the game via luck of the tournament draw (like a 4-seed Providence being placed in a Providence, RI regional hosted by Brown) or by paying to host the regional and receiving automatic placement as the host (like North Dakota smartly does as often as possible). Nothing is perfect, but give me the system that is better for fans, better for the sport, and gives preference, since preference must be given, to the most deserving teams.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back here in a few weeks to talk about the on-ice stuff once conference play wraps up and we enter the postseason tournaments. 


  1. I love the idea of campus regionals. I would say that if a school does not have at least 4000 seats they should have to borrow an alternate schools barn that has that many seats and the other schools’ fans should get a chance at 1000 seats each. What they don’t buy can then be sold ad hoc.
    If the regionals need to stay at neutral sites I am adamant that they have get rid of this day off between games. That is horrible for traveling fans…extra hotel nights, days missed at work, meals on the road and plans are such a mess that way. If they MUST do the day off between games, at least only use 2 sites so fans can attend the games from 2 brackets. That would help them sell tickets.

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