The NCAA men's hockey tournament is a go.
The committee that operates it is not expecting major changes, either.
While several other NCAA tournaments have been dramatically altered and funneled into one centralized location -- men's basketball in Indianapolis, women's basketball in San Antonio, volleyball in Omaha and women's hockey in Erie, Pa. -- the men's hockey regionals will still be held in their four pre-determined sites and the NCAA Frozen Four will remain in Pittsburgh.
Omaha associate athletic director Mike Kemp, the chairman of the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Committee, confirmed that to USCHO's Jim Connelly and Ed Trefzger in a podcast this week.
"At this point in time, I think we know the tournament is going to be operated as it has in years past with four regional sites," Kemp said on the podcast. "We know the Frozen Four will be in Pittsburgh on the dates it's scheduled to be. So, from that standpoint, I think we understand we're in a position where things will be as normal as they possibly can going into the tournament."
Fargo's Scheels Arena will host one of the regionals on March 26-27. UND, a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament at this point, will automatically be placed there.
The Frozen Four is scheduled for April 8-10 in PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kemp addressed several other hot topics regarding the NCAA tournament with Connelly and Trefzger.
A fourth regional site
The four pre-determined regional sites were originally Fargo, Loveland, Colo., Bridgeport, Conn., and Manchester, N.H.
But Manchester recently pulled out as a host.
Kemp said the Committee explored multiple different ideas, including having a replacement out West. In a traditional setup, college hockey often has two regionals in the East and two in the West. However, in recent years, they've put three in the East. So, the Committee didn't think it would necessarily be problematic to put a third in the West.
It nixed that idea, though, because it would mean more teams traveling by air.
Kemp said the new fourth regional will be in the East.
"The NCAA went out -- not our committee -- canvassing a couple spots," Kemp said on the USCHO podcast. "They do have a couple spots that are strong possibilities. I'd expect an announcement in the next several days -- not weeks, but several days -- as to a location. But it will be in the East. We're not going to look at another regional position outside of the East Coast."
Kemp said the NCAA is open to allowing fans, but it will be dictated by the local health departments, counties and states.
The NCAA will not allow more than 25 percent of venue capacity for any winter or spring championships, according to Kemp.
Scheels Arena's capacity is roughly 5,000. So, maximum capacity for the regional would be 1,250.
"It appears we will have at least one site -- Fargo being a site that's already open -- with a regional where they'll be able to accommodate (fans), though the NCAA will dictate what will be the limit," Kemp told USCHO. "Fargo, of course, in North Dakota, is an open area. The other sites will be dictated and hopefully will be able to be opened up to some measure of attendance outside of family and friends between now and either the regional or the Frozen Four."
PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh has a hockey capacity of 18,387, which would put the maximum potential capacity for the Frozen Four at about 4,600.
How will the field be picked?
The hottest topic in college hockey right now is how the 16-team NCAA tournament field will be picked.
As in a normal season, each of the six conferences will receive one automatic bid. It can go to either the conference's regular-season champion or the postseason champion, though all leagues have been awarding it to the playoff champ in recent years.
But the process to select the at-large teams will be different.
The Pairwise Rankings are usually used to select the at-large teams, but that formula is obsolete without cross-conference play this season.
"You're going to look at win-loss record," Kemp told USCHO about the at-large selection process. "You're going to look at strength of schedule. You're going to look at head-to-head results. You're going to look at results versus common opponents. All of those factor in. But because of the fact we're not going to have cross-conference play -- throughout the country there's some but it's very limited -- it will have to be those comparisons within conference. And then we're going to have a bit of subjectivity in it. It's unavoidable this year, which makes it challenging."
For this season, the NCAA also is forming regional advisory committees, using one head coach from each conference. According to Connelly, St. Cloud State's Brett Larson is the NCHC's representative.
"It's going to be challenging," Kemp said on the podcast. "It's going to be interesting. It's going to be hard to do, but we have a format, which we've used in the past. We have the parts that go into the Pairwise that will help us formulate ideas and thoughts on who those 16 teams are. But there's going to be an eye-test factor. That's one of those things that can't be avoided."
Kemp discussed the NCAA's desire to place teams within driving distance of regional sites with the understanding that it largely won't be possible for Loveland. He also talked about changes to fan events at the Frozen Four, discussions about how to handle potential positive COVID-19 tests and ESPN's commitment to broadcast the tournament.