Debates rising over low neutral site attendance numbers in NCAA regionals

10,774 fans packed into the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ home arena in Minneapolis for the 2022 Big Ten Championship game against Michigan. 5,126 fans filled the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center, a sold-out crowd, in Mankato for the CCHA championship game featuring Minnesota State and Bemidji State. 

Despite this being true, No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Minnesota State would only see 6,705 total fans combined in their respective regional final games of the NCAA tournament the following weekend. 

This raises the question: Should regional matchups be played at the home arenas of the region’s respective No. 1 seed?

The NCAA used to entertain having regional games be at the site of the region’s No. 1 seed beginning in 1977, but left behind the idea in 1991 for neutral cites. There are benefits and takeaways on both sides of the spectrum, but why not at least meet in the middle?

Teams and communities should be all in on the concept of playing regional sites, but it is a better idea to at least have those regional sites, well, regional. An argument that deflated the eventual switch to neutral sites was the unfair truth that some arenas are bigger and better than others. 

Neutral sites are generally similar in size as one another, but fail to find capacities close to full or even half full. Fans are generally required to spend a hefty pocket while traveling to see their favorite team play in the first two rounds of the tournament. 

With neutral, but more regional to the No. 1 seed of the region, the issue could be diffused to a much smaller scale. 

The average allotted capacity of the four regional sites this year surpassed 10,000 in all occasions when the arenas were set up for hockey games. In relation to numerous sold-out crowds across the nation for conference championships, it would be easier to fill a close, neutral site for the top-seeded team. 

The benefits of a change surpass the takeaways effectively. The biggest one includes rewarding the top seed for their success during the season by giving them a close regional round tournament. 

It would take away travel costs for four teams across the 16-team tournament and promote bigger attendance numbers. In addition, the games would be more exciting to watch, not only for in-attendance fans but also for viewers at home.

It’s one thing to see a full arena in person, but even more exciting to see a full arena through the big screen. Not only does it promote that there are people who physically want to go watch these games to the rest of the world, but it also promotes to new and potential hockey fans that this is a community that loves what they participate in. 

The idea to keep regional games neutral is definitely a better option most of the time, but closer vicinities will help grow the sport of hockey.

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