Big Ten hockey is in the process of approving a new format for its conference tournament that would move games to on-campus sites beginning in 2018, a source close to the Big Ten confirmed to the Star Tribune.
The tournament would be played over the course of three weekends and feature three best-of-three quarterfinal round series, two single-game semifinals, and one championship game. All games will be hosted on campus of the highest seed.
The regular-season champion, in what will be a seven-team conference by the time new format is in place, will receive a first-round bye. Notre Dame will join the Big Ten as an affiliate hockey member in 2017.
The official announcement is expected in late summer/early fall and is pending several layers of approval.
The Big Ten began exploring other options for its conference tournament after three years of playing at neutral sites in front of small crowds. The tournament was hosted twice at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and once at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The tournament will rotate back to Detroit in 2017 before the conference shifts to its new format.
Earlier this week, the WCHA men’s hockey league announced it would be the first college hockey conference to implement a new on-campus playoff format beginning next season.
The WCHA’s format will slightly differ from the Big Ten’s by including two best-of-three series. The “WCHA Playoffs” will feature four best-of-three quarterfinal round series, followed by two best-of-three semifinal round series, and a single game championship. All games will also be hosted by the highest seed.
The new format will end the WCHA’s 28-year tradition of hosting the conference tournament semifinals and championship game at a neutral site, most of which were in the Twin Cities.
The WCHA Final Five matured into the most-attended college hockey tournament in the country at Xcel Energy Center, but has struggled to fill seats after the sport’s 2014 major realignment. The birth of Big Ten hockey and the NCHC left the WCHA with a new look and without its traditional power programs Minnesota, North Dakota and others.
In 2013, the final year before the WCHA was broken up, the tournament drew 87,295 fans for an average attendance of 17,459 per game at Xcel Energy Center.
The Big Ten had the most-attended college hockey conference tournament in 2014 with 42,610 tickets sold for an average of 8,522 attending five sessions. However, those numbers were less than half of what the WCHA Final Five drew during its best years. Attendance at the Big Ten tournament fell to 16,144 in 2015 at Joe Louis Arena and dropped again in 2016 at Xcel to 15,866.
North Dakota beat the Gophers in the last WCHA on-campus tournament championship game played in Grand Forks, N.D., in 1987.