NCAA Hockey: Attendance Issues Plague NCAA Regional Tournaments

UND Head Coach Dave Hakstol (UND Athletics)

UND Head Coach Dave Hakstol (UND Athletics)

After qualifying for the NCAA tournament, the University of North Dakota hockey team is headed to the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati, Ohio. Based on previous years, there’s a very good chance that the U.S. Bank Arena will be three quarters empty when UND and Wisconsin take the ice on Friday night.

NCAA Regional Pinnacle of Hockey Season

Depending on the venue and who’s hosting the NCAA regional, there’s a very good chance that the tournament will be played in an empty arena, with no atmosphere. This is an issue that has garnered a fair amount of discussion the last couple of years. 

Last season, during the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Michigan, UND and Yale faced off in the region final in front of 1,918 fans. That’s not very good. Van Andel Arena seats 10,834 fans for hockey. Talking to people that went to the 2013 West Regional, Van Andel Arena was an empty, quiet, building.

After the West Regional, UND Head Coach Dave Hakstol offered his opinion about the attendance at the 2013 West Region Tournament.

“The pinnacle of our season should be played in a great atmosphere,” Hakstol said. “I think the players that are involved in the national tournament deserve that. I think it’s something that has garnered a fair amount of discussion over the last couple of years, but no action. We have to fix things. We’re not doing this the right way at the regional level.”

Hakstol continued, “I saw a stat within our program where we had 5,500 people on a live chat, and there was maybe, 1,500 people in a building watching a great hockey game between Yale and North Dakota on Saturday night. That’s not right. That’s the pinnacle and that’s the spotlight of our season. Yeah, we have to change things. Certainly, I would like to work towards doing that, sooner, rather than later.”

Dave Hakstol (UND Athletics)

Dave Hakstol (UND Athletics)

After the 2013 West Regional Coach Hakstol also hinted that maybe it’s time to put the regionals back on campus.

“The best regionals that I have been involved in, atmosphere wise, was here, in 2006, when we hosted,” Hakstol said. “The regional in Minnesota, last year at the Xcel Energy Center in front of 10,000 people, we came up one game short. Great atmosphere to play in, spotlight event, the way the national tournament game should feel. Third one would have been at the Kohl Center, where the University of Wisconsin hosted.”

“We had the good fortune of coming out of that regional. That was a tough game, there was about 15,000 people cheering against us and 1,000 of our fans with us, but that was atmosphere, and that’s the stage that our national tournament should be played on.  We need to get back to one shape or form.” 

Recently, the conversation surrounding the NCAA regional attendance issues has picked up steam. However, some of the small schools are still lukewarm to the idea. The coaches that are opposed to the idea feel that the bigger schools would have an unfair advantage.

UND prepared for empty building in Cincinnati

Coach Hakstol’s team is prepared to play in another empty, quiet, arena this weekend when they travel to Cincinnati.

“I think everyone has an understanding in our locker room what it will be like,” Hakstol said. “Every building is different. Every building has a different feel. Obviously, we’re going to play in a pretty big building, and it’s going to be a pretty quiet atmosphere. The biggest thing that you have to fall back on is just mentally, being ready for that. The experience from last year will help, a little bit. At the end of the day it’s the same for both teams.”

Hakstol continued, “That being said, it’s unfortunate… I think it will be a great game between Wisconsin and North Dakota. Two old rivals, is going to be played in front of very few people in person.”

UND head coach Dave Hakstol (UND Athletics)

UND head coach Dave Hakstol (UND Athletics)

Wisconsin earned right to host regional  in Madison 

One of the suggestions to deal with the attendance issues that plague the NCAA is to let the top-four seeds host the regional tournaments. This weekend’s opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers is one of the number one seeds. Coach Hakstol was asked if he would rather play in Madison, Wisconsin than Cincinnati.

“I have been a big supporter of the number one seed hosting the first round,” Hakstol said. “Absolutely, they earned it. They have a phenomenal record through the year. They had a great season. They’re a veteran team that’s playing very well.” 

“In my opinion, they’ve earned that right to host. As a number four seed, if we wanted to advance, we would have to overcome those odds. Obviously, that has nothing to do with this year. If I had a vote on it, if this scenario came up next year, yeah I would vote for this game to be held in Madison.”  

There you have it. The UND head coach would rather play in the opponent’s arena than an empty neutral site with no environment.

Eric Burton
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey for Inside Hockey and is the editor of Goon’s World. Eric started writing for the Hockey Writers Combine in September of 2012 and is the lead writer for College Hockey.
Eric Burton

5 Comments

  1. steve kostelec says:

    As a relatively new college hockey fan who travels up to several hundred miles to watch Penn State’s new division 1 team (when you start to run with the big dogs you have to be willing to risk losing a lot of games, and we did–haha), I agree with the sentiment of having 1st round games on-campus, not just for league tournaments but for the 1st round of NCAA’s also.
    Watching Penn State play Robert Morris at Excel Energy Center (NHL Penguins) in downtown Pittsburgh over the Christmas holiday was a dull dud, with maybe 3500 people in a 19,000 seat arena. Though it was a good game (PSU won), the atmosphere was like a funeral, dark and depressing, an empty cavern. When the Nittany Lions play at home in State College, there are sold-out crowds of 6000+ and the atmosphere is crazy, loud, brash, exciting. I bet your home arena crowds are great, too.
    Doesn’t the NCAA watch the regional and league tournament games on tv, too ? Don’t they see that the empty arenas look bad ? Don’t they want to make a little bit of money off of live attendance , instead of losing their shirt ? Even at smaller schools that qualify for #1 seeds, what is the problem with those smaller schools hosting a 1st round game in their home arenas ? They earned it.
    So what if they seat only 2000 or so ? ESPN can figure out the camera angles, for God’s sake.
    I’d take a packed house in a small arena any day over a tiny crowd in a big arena for any game any time of year, including tournaments.
    The NCAA needs to adjust where they hold their regional tournaments and start MARKETING these games. It’s difficult to even buy tickets for them if you aren’t used to it. Their website is LOUSY. High Schools do a better job of marketing their state championships than the NCAA does with all of their championships except for basketball. let’s face it: the NCAA doesn’t give a damn about hockey.
    A suggestion for a regional finals site ? How about the Giant Center in Hershey, PA ?
    10,000 seats in a beautiful building. Yes, it’s a little large, but the AHL Hershey Bears average 10,000 a night, the area is very hockey friendly, it’s just 1.5 hours from Philadelphia and within driving distance of most of the New England, Ohio and northeastern teams. Penn State drew 7000 there in 2013 for a game against Ohio University’s CLUB team (ACHA). Worcester, Massachusetts and Cincnnati draw a LOT less than that for most of their regional tournament games. The Hershey folks are professionals at marketing major events and are very good at filling their venue.
    Move the regionals !!!!

  2. It is ridiculous to play in an empty arena. Absolutely should be played on campus sites.I went to the West Regional in 2006 [first one ever] it was amazing. Best hockey games i have ever seen, crowd was crazy loud.The atmosphere was unbelievable. REGIONALS NEED TO BE ON CAMPUS PERIOD.

  3. Because of attendance issues the women’s basketball committee has placed their regionals on campus. The need to put people in the seats, thus more dollars in the bank, trumps any un-fair home court advantage that may occur. The hockey committee needs to understand this concept and that hockey doesn’t come off very well when their national regionals are played before an empty house/

  4. It is interesting to note that the NCAA women’s and both men’s and women’s NIT regionals are held at on campus sites. Why does the NCAA hockey committee continue to make the mistake of holding their regionals at off campus sites? Perhaps the committee is more sensitive to the complaints of the smaller schools concerning home ice advantage to the bigger schools where the on campus regionals have been held. They have no such problem with the women’s bb regionals.

    • That’s a very good question… I have read and heard that the smaller schools don’t think they will get a fair shake if they have to play on campus meaning, they have a better chance of winning at neutral sites. That’s what I have heard.

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