Andy Baggot: Shifting Big Ten hockey to neutral site would eliminate WIAA conflict

2012-01-17T04:55:00Z 2012-05-23T17:55:46Z Andy Baggot: Shifting Big Ten hockey to neutral site would eliminate WIAA conflictANDY BAGGOT | Wisconsin State Journal | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those with problems and those with solutions.

This is one of those rare moments when I think I might be able to do something besides complain.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and University of Wisconsin Athletic Department have a dilemma on their hands. As tempting as it is to choose sides, neither party is at fault for the scheduling issue that's due to come up two years from now.

Officials at the WIAA and UW Athletics are conflicted over the use of the Kohl Center for three state tournaments because of a misguided plan handed down by the Big Ten Conference. It's one that begs to be reconsidered and revised.

When the Big Ten re-introduces men's hockey in 2013-14 - it previously existed from 1959 to '81 - it intends to use a playoff format that's unwieldy at best and, at worst, irresponsible.

It calls for the regular-season champion of the six-school league - it includes Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and UW - to host the semifinals and championship game at its home rink.

It could be Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State, whose facilities seat 6,000 to 7,000. It could be Minnesota, Ohio State or UW, whose arenas can accommodate 10,000 to 17,500.

Talk about your last-minute financial and promotional variables. You could have a sellout or a ton of empty seats. You could be the only attraction in town or you could be going head-to-head with a multitude of events.

Regardless of location, you're asking an awful lot of the six teams and their fans in terms of time and travel logistics. That's especially true of the four lowest seeds, which meet the week before the semifinals in a best-of-three series at the home of the higher seed. The survivors advance to the next round.

In a nutshell, the Big Ten is giving its members two weeks to ready an arena, sell tickets, secure hotel space, line up ground and/or air transportation and make sure its teams are ready to play.

Meanwhile, fans of those teams are being asked to be flexible and keep a credit card handy.

UW officials wisely voted against this format for two reasons: One, it would create the current scheduling problems with the WIAA state tournaments for wrestling and boys' and girls' basketball; and two, there's a more sensible option.

The Big Ten should revisit the idea of a neutral site tournament, which would bring all six teams to one location in a one-and-done format over three days. There are several possible venues and a future rotation could be devised, but the best for now is the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Not only is it a fantastic NHL facility, it's in the middle of a great hockey culture with a genuine appreciation for the college game. The building also has experience handling such an event given its work with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five.

Think of it: Fans and teams from all six Big Ten schools can plan to attend months in advance, which translates to savings on travel and lodging. Meanwhile, the burden of planning, promotion and preparation is shared by the members, which translates to a better quality event.

If there's a cost analysis between the campus site and neutral site, I'll bet the difference is significant and it favors the neutral site.

For now, the Big Ten is committed to the campus site format for two years, but there's time to make a change. After all, this is the same league that went from 11 members to 12 in six months.

It's a change that would address a lot of concerns, including a big one in our backyard.

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