Gophers host NCAA hockey, basketball tournaments

The University of Minnesota is hosting portions of this year’s NCAA women’s basketball and men’s hockey championship tournaments.

Michael Rietmulder

The University of Minnesota is hosting portions of this yearâÄôs NCAA womenâÄôs basketball and menâÄôs hockey championship tournaments, which can carry financial risks and rewards for the maroon and gold. The three games during the first two rounds of the NCAA womenâÄôs basketball championship will be played at Williams Arena, including two games Sunday and one more Tuesday. On Friday and Saturday, the University will host the West Regional of the 2010 MenâÄôs Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Ridder Arena also played host to the womenâÄôs hockey NCAA Frozen Four March 19-21. In order to serve as a host site for these tournaments, universities must make a bid guaranteeing the NCAA a set amount of money in ticket sales. Any additional revenue goes to the host school. The fact that neither the womenâÄôs basketball team nor the menâÄôs hockey team qualified for these tournaments makes it more difficult for the University to recoup all of its bid money. âÄúWhenever there are finances involved and obviously the more there is potential to make, sometimes thereâÄôs also a potential to lose,âÄù University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said. In last yearâÄôs womenâÄôs basketball tournament there were six sites that did not have host teams playing, five of which failed to make what they had guaranteed the NCAA and had to pay the difference out of their own coffers. The University may have been aided by the selection committee, who sent No. 1 seed University of Nebraska and No. 16 University of Northern Iowa to face off at The Barn on Sunday evening. âÄúI think the committee did a really good job of sending Minnesota teams that will travel to help their financial bottom line,âÄù University of Northern IowaâÄôs Senior Associate Athletics Director and former committee member Jean Berger said. âÄúBut I think anytime you host for an NCAA championship itâÄôs kind of a risk.âÄù Maturi also expressed optimism that having relatively nearby teams like Nebraska and Northern Iowa would increase attendance. âÄúThatâÄôs why we watch with curiosity as to who will also be in the tournament,âÄù Maturi said. Last week, Berger said she expected about 200 fans would make the 3.5-hour trip from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Minneapolis, despite averaging only about 500 fans per game during the season. âÄúThat just tells you the kind of excitement it can create in a community thatâÄôs within driving distance,âÄù Berger said. Nebraska, who averaged home crowds of more than 11,300 during conference play, will likely send even more fans to The Barn. The University also got a good draw in the Frozen Four when the NCAA announced Sunday that both St. Cloud State University and the University of Wisconsin will be playing in the West Regional next weekend. Maturi declined to speculate as to how the University would fare economically by hosting this yearâÄôs tournaments, but he said that in the past the school has done better when the Gophers fielded teams. When Berger was on the NCAA WomenâÄôs Basketball Committee, she said the committee tried going down from 16 host sites determined by seeding to eight predetermined sites for the tournamentâÄôs opening rounds, but when there was no participating host school, attendance and television ratings dropped. Under its current format, the tournament calls for 16 predetermined sites, balancing court neutrality and increasing odds that more host schools will be participating. Despite the fact that hosting a tournament can be âÄúa little bit of a gambleâÄù financially, Berger said she doesnâÄôt believe it deters universities from wanting to serve as hosts. Maturi said he sees the pros of hosting tournaments as extending beyond the University. âÄúI think it brings benefits to our community,âÄù Maturi said, adding that such events can serve as a boon to the Twin CitiesâÄô economy. âÄúWe get to show off the Twin Cities and our state, and I think thatâÄôs a healthy thing for Minnesotans.âÄù