By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
DULUTH — The “Alaska Plan” has been scrapped, the Final Five will be no more and two teams must sit home under the playoff format approved by the future Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s athletic directors on Friday.
Administrators from the 10 schools, including Minnesota State, decided that, starting next season, a straight, eight-team playoff format will be used in the first four years of the revamped league.
The recommendation still must be approved by the school presidents, MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman said.
Under the plan, teams that finish ninth and 10th in the regular-season standings will be eliminated from postseason contention, and the top four teams will host first-round series with the winners advancing to a single-elimination semifinal and championship weekend at a neutral site. There will be no play-in games, as there are under the current Final Five championship.
The format also eliminates a controversial playoff system unveiled last summer that had the two Alaska schools, Anchorage and Fairbanks, playing each other in the first round regardless of conference finish in order to curb travel expenses. While the cost-saving measure made some sense, the plan was was almost universally panned on its competitive merits.
Buisman said the two Alaska schools as well as the league’s newest member, Alabama Huntsville, offered financial incentives to scrap the so-called Alaska Plan.
“I think we all struggled with the equity and fairness of what we adopted last summer,” Buisman said. “The whole integrity of the bracket would have been impacted by financial and budgetary issues.”
It appears the league is close to finalizing contracts for its championship weekend. It’s been reported that it will rotate between Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (2014, 2016), and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul (2015, 2017).
“It’s close,” Buisman said. “Things seem to be moving in that direction.”
The new Big Ten hockey conference will have the Xcel Center next season and in 2016. The new National Collegiate Hockey Conference announced that it will hold its championship in Minneapolis’ Target Center.
The WCHA will be made up of the programs left behind by the formation of those two conferences — Minnesota State, Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green and Alaska (Fairbanks) — as well as Alabama Huntsville, which currently plays as an independent.
“I feel like we’ve got some momentum now,” Buisman said. “We added Huntsville (in January), we affirmed a 28-game schedule, our championship format is in a good place and we’re close to finalizing a contract with our championship venues. Every little bit feels like we’re moving in the right direction.”