A Big Ten Conference official confirmed Monday plans to adopt a neutral site format for its newly sanctioned men's hockey playoffs that will debut in 2013-14.
While that is a major step toward helping the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department alleviate future scheduling difficulties with three WIAA state high school tournaments at the Kohl Center, issues remain that jeopardize whether those events will continue to have a home in Madison after 2012.
Unresolved conflicts in 2013, possible ones in 2014 and '15 and concerns about the cost of parking, concessions and hotel space remain on the table, according to WIAA executive director Dave Anderson.
"Venue availability is certainly a very important part of it," he said. "But I have also said from the beginning that climate and environment of fan- and family-friendliness is important to this membership."
The change in the Big Ten playoff format for men's hockey should help in the discussion aimed at keeping the WIAA wrestling and boys and girls basketball tournaments in Madison instead of moving them to the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
The conference originally planned to utilize campus sites at Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and UW, but a lot has happened in the world of college hockey since that decision was made in spring 2011.
One of the major leagues will be gutted and rebuilt (the Western Collegiate Hockey Association), one will be disbanded completely (the Central Collegiate Hockey Association) and one will make its debut (the National Collegiate Hockey Conference) in 2013-14.
Jennifer Heppel, the Big Ten associate commissioner who oversees the sport, confirmed the new plan following a conference call with the six athletic directors, saying those alterations in the college hockey landscape prompted the new direction.
"You can make decisions seven months ago and you have conference realignments and other things that have gone on," Heppel said. "It changed the world the college hockey is living in.
"The priority has been to create the best hockey conference possible. That's always been our goal."
Heppel declined to identify the neutral sites to be targeted, but multiple sources with knowledge of the discussion Monday confirmed the Big Ten will initially look to secure a rotation of facilities between Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The neutral site plan is expected to be finalized later this month when the Big Ten advisory council meets to review it.
The campus site format forced UW to set aside a block of time in March for the first and second rounds, forcing the WIAA to weigh other venue options in the city and state. That led to a presentation by UW officials and community leaders from Madison and Green Bay at the WIAA headquarters in Stevens Point last month.
Among the issues still to be worked out between UW athletics and the WIAA are scheduling conflicts in 2013. A regular-season men's hockey series overlaps the state wrestling tournament, while the first round of the league playoffs would be up against the boys basketball tournament.
Meanwhile, UW officials plan to bid on the 2014 and '15 NCAA Frozen Four for women's hockey. If chosen for that event, UW would also likely host the WCHA playoff semifinals and finals.
"All of our previous contracts have contained a provision that if (UW athletics) have an opportunity to host (NCAA) women's basketball or men's and women's hockey, the facility has not been available to us," Anderson said.