There's probably no other fan base that cares more about where the NCAA championship is held every year than college hockey fans.
For some strange reason, you don't see the same sort of outpouring of emotions when the NCAA announces the location for the men's basketball Final Four. So forgive the disappointment when earlier this week, word spread that the NCAA had selected venues for the 2013 and 2014 Frozen Fours, and Boston, a city that was bidding to host either year's Frozen Four event, was left out in the cold.
The NCAA announced that the 2013 Frozen Four was awarded to the city of Pittsburgh, while the 2014 Frozen Four was awarded to Philadelphia. Both cities will be first time hosts, and it will be the first time that the Frozen Four will be in the same state in consecutive years since 1973 and 1974, when Boston played host to the tournament.
Don't get me wrong. I'm happy that the Frozen Four will be held on the East coast, making it easier for Hub-area college hockey fans to make the road trip. I'm also happy that the NCAA continues to find new hosts for the event. Still, I'm disappointed that Boston's bid to host the event fell short.
The Frozen Four was last held in Boston in 2004, a tournament that saw two local teams paticipate -- Maine and Boston College. The Eagles lost a heart breaker to the Black Bears, 2-1, in the first semifinal, while Maine would go on to lose a close one of their own in the National Championship, falling to Denver, 1-0.
After the 2014 Frozen Four, it will be 10 years since the NCAA hockey finals was last held in Boston. In that time, the Frozen Four will have been hosted in such college hockey hot beds as Washington D.C., Tampa (2012), Pittsburgh (2013) and Philadelphia (2014).
There have been various reports as to why the latest Boston Frozen Four bid fell short. According to an article last month in the Boston Herald, the 2013 Frozen Four may have been foiled due to the event's date being too close to the date of the Boston Marathon.
The Boston bid, co-submitted by TD Garden and Hockey East, is for either year, but 2013 would be a problem since the city would not have sufficient available hotel space due to conflicting dates with the Boston Marathon.
Others point to the fact that Boston's TD Garden's seating capacity is on the low end of the NHL arena spectrum. With room for just 17,565, the Bruins play in the seventh smallest arena in the league. Even though TD Garden is on the smaller side, other recent Frozen Four arenas aren't much bigger. This year's Frozen Four will be played at the Minnesota Wild's Xcel Energy Center, with a capacity of 18,064. Pittsburgh's new Consol Energy Center, which will play host in 2013, is just a tad bit larger, at 18,087. It is more than curious that the NCAA would be concerned about a difference of approximately 500 seats.
Still others may claim that boosts to local hotel and restaurant business may be soft if one or more local teams make the Frozen Four in Boston. However, that hasn't stopped the NCAA from awarding the event to cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul, cities with powerhouse college hockey programs that make annual appearances in the Frozen Four.
Now I get that moving the Frozen Four around to other cities is good for the sport, and good for tourism in the host city, but how much impact is it really going to have on the host institutions? Is the Robert Morris program supposed to get a boost from hosting the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh? Is a light bulb going to go off in the head of the University of Pittsburgh's Athletic Director when he realizes what the Panthers are really missing is a Division I college ice hockey program? My guess is probably not.
In this day of Title IX and equality in college sports, the number of Division I college hockey programs is decreasing, not increasing. College hockey is also a very costly sport for Athletics Departments across the country. Unless a school has some history playing ice hockey, chances are colleges aren't going to start up a new Division I program. Hosting the Frozen Four in cities like Tampa and Washington might get a few more high school kids to come out and play in college, but it certainly won’t expand the footprint in terms of number of programs or the popularity of the sport.
The worst part of all this is that with the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Frozen Fours all being played on the East Coast -- Tampa, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively -- this all but guarantees that the event will move back West in 2015, and probably stay there in 2016.
So at the earliest, the Frozen Four might ... might come back to Boston in 2017. That's a shame considering Boston is arguably the best college hockey city in the country. Boston-area schools, specifically Boston College, Boston University and Harvard, have played in the Division I National Championship game slightly more than one out of every three years. The city is home to the last three National Champions. Not only that, but with Hockey East, the ECAC and most of Atlantic Hockey playing in either New York or New England, over half of the Division I men's college hockey programs are within a short drive of Boston.
Whether the NCAA realizes this or not, college hockey is still very much a niche sport. I would compare it to college lacrosse. Now you don’t see the NCAA Men’s College Lacrosse Championship being played outside of the geographic footprint in which the sport is popular. Instead, you'll find the men's Lacrosse Championship rotated between Maryland, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, areas of the country where you don't have to explain to the casual observer which colleges compete in the sport or how the programs participating in the Finals got there.
The NCAA needs to realize that hosting the Frozen Four in places like Anaheim, Tampa and Washington does little to further the sport. They would get much more bang for their buck if they hosted to Frozen Four in college hockey-rabid cities like Boston, Albany/Buffalo, Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for Hub-area college hockey fans, it looks like the event won't be coming to their backyards for another seven years or more. And that's a real shame.