WCHA changes playoff format to eliminate automatic UAA-UAF matchup

dwoody@adn.comFebruary 8, 2013 

UAA and UAF are no longer virtually guaranteed to be first-round playoff opponents in the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

The league revised its future postseason format Friday, UAA athletic director Steve Cobb said. League athletic directors voted to install a traditional first-round playoff format beginning next season so that a team's playoff seeding is determined by its regular-season standing.

Under the original format put in place last June as a cost-saving move, UAA and UAF would have met annually in the first round, regardless of where either team finished in the standings. The only caveat that would have prevented that scenario was if either team won the league's regular-season title.

That format was rife with problems and almost inherently unfair. Depending on where UAA and UAF finished in the regular season, each could get a better or worse playoff draw than it earned. Also, other teams could get first-round match-ups that either didn't reward their regular-season finish or was more of a reward than their finish merited.

Cobb said he thinks the revised format is fair to all 10 of the conference's teams.

"The key thing is our students and UAF's students will get the seeding they earned,'' Cobb said. "Plain and simple. I don't want something we didn't earn. I think it's just as bad as not getting something you earned.''

Cobb said athletic directors voted 8-1 -- Bemidji State (Minn.) did not vote, he said -- in favor of revising the playoff format. The change must be approved by school presidents.

The revised format also excludes the ninth- and 10th-place regular-season finishers from the playoffs. Under the current system in the 12-team WCHA, everyone qualifies for the playoffs.

"There were a couple of reasons for that change,'' Cobb said. "The venues we're talking with for championship sites wanted four teams, not five, and a lot of us felt the ninth and 10th teams should be out recruiting.''

Beginning next season, Cobb said, the first-place team will host the eighth-place team in a first-round, best-of-3 series, the second-place team will entertain the seventh-place team, and so on.

The first-round winners in 2014 will advance to a tournament at a site to be determined. The 2015 tournament is set for the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the long-time site of the WCHA's Final Five.

The landscape of Division I college hockey shifted massively in the last two years. Two new leagues were created -- the Big Ten Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference -- and announced they would begin play in 2013-14.

As a result, after this season, the WCHA will lose eight of its members and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association will die. Exiting the WCHA are Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha.

Beginning next fall, the WCHA will consist of four current WCHA members, five teams from the CCHA and Alabama-Hunstville.

Current teams staying in the league are UAA, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji State (Minn.). Coming from the CCHA are UAF, Bowling Green (Ohio), defending national runner-up Ferris State (Mich.), Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State (Mich.)

WCHA teams will continue to play a 28-game league schedule.

UAA will bump its season series with UAF -- the Governor's Cup -- to four games from two and will continue to hold its season-opening Kendall Hockey Classic.


Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.



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