The Big Ten tournament is dead. Long live the Big Ten tournament.
A conference official has confirmed to the Wisconsin State Journal that the original league playoff format, selected last June, will be scrapped. In its place: an entirely single-elimination bracket which follows the same general pattern as the previous plan, with the top two teams earning a bye to the semifinals, where they'll face the winners of a first round involving the other four.
That's two Big Ten tournament formats, zero Big Ten tournaments actually played if you're keeping score.
The biggest change, though, isn't the "what," it's the "where": a to-be-determined neutral site.
[Associate Big Ten Commissioner Jennifer] 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.Those two arenas are currently home to the late rounds of the CCHA and WCHA tournaments but partially because of the Big Ten, that's changing. The CCHA will cease to exist after the 2012-2013 season, its members parceled off to the Big Ten, NCHC, Hockey East, and a new-look WCHA. The WCHA will still be around, but without heavy hitters Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin (among others) beginning in 2013-2014, it's unlikely to have the ability to command a major venue for its championship.
In fact, the conference shakeup was cited by Heppel as the reason for the switch.
"You can make decisions seven months ago and you have conference realignments and other things that have gone on. It changed the world the college hockey is living in."Fair enough, but it's also likely that bluster from Barry Alvarez and his gang in Madison had something to do with it. Specifically, Wisconsin was worried about scheduling conflicts involved with the campus-site tournament that may have caused them to lose their status as hosts for some state high school tournaments (Ohio State also jumped in after the fact with similar concerns). It's probably worth noting that the Badgers were the only vote against the original plan when it was adopted.
The changes aren't official until approval by the Big Ten advisory council later this month, but that's considered to be a formality.
While an ideal answer for Penn Staters probably would have involved Pittsburgh as part of a broader rotation, it's a relief to know (depending on how much faith you place in "multiple sources with knowledge of the discussion," I suppose) that St. Paul will not be the sole site of the tournament. While I've never been to the Twin Cities, I've heard nothing but positives about the area, the hockey atmosphere there and the Xcel Energy Center itself. That's not really the point. The reality is that St. Paul is convenient to precisely two of the six teams in the conference, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The third-closest school, Michigan State, faces a 10+ hour drive. For Penn State, it's close to prohibitive unless you have the money to jet-set it (I don't, congratulations on your life if you do). Atlanta, Jacksonville, FL and Memphis, TN are all closer to State College than St. Paul. Or, if you prefer Canada, Saint John, New Brunswick and Rimouski, Quebec (home of Sidney Crosby's junior team) are also more convenient.
The Gopher loyalists are already in full-on propaganda mode, insisting that the rotation will melt away once the conference observes that there's more money to be made in St. Paul than Detroit.
|...however unlike Detroit (above), Minnesota does not have any Stanley Cup banners. Well, to be fair, the Cup was awarded on Minnesota's home ice once...oh right, the Penguins were the ones winning it.|
I won't make a prediction as to how that all turns out other than to say that the difference, if any, won't be significant enough to abandon common sense to chase a few bucks (especially when we're talking about some of the richest athletic programs in college sports, not schools that depend on a likely tournament gate cut of a couple hundred thousand dollars for survival). Let's hope not, anyway.