(SNH) — Same song, different dance.

The bracket was unveiled last week for the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. The No. 1 seeds are Boston College, Boston University, University of Denver and Michigan State University.

As the one overall seed, BC got to play close to home. The regional is in Providence, RI, and is less than an hour from the Eagles’ campus. They’ll face Michigan Tech in the first round at the Amica Mutual Pavilion, an 11,273-seat arena that also houses the Providence men’s basketball team.

The Springfield, Mass., region features No. 4 seed UMASS and will be played at the MassMutual Center. That 6,800-seat venue houses the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, an American International Yellow Jacket hockey team.

The Sioux Falls region features both No. 2 seed Minnesota and No. 3 seed Omaha. They’ll play in the 9-year-old Denny Sanford Premier Center, which houses the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede and the Summit League’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments every year.

The problem lies in the Maryland Heights region. The NCAA decided to place Michigan State in the same region as Michigan, North Dakota and Western Michigan. While the best team will advance, the seeding makes it impossible for more than one team from the state of Michigan to advance out of the region.

It’s the exact same issue the state of Minnesota had with the Fargo region in 2023. Last year the NCAA placed Minnesota, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato in that pod. The Gophers and Huskies won their first-round games, then No. 1 seed Minnesota beat 2-seed SCSU in the region final to advance to the Frozen Four before losing in the national championship.

The NCAA has routinely placed two teams from the same state in the same region, like in 2021 when Minnesota and MSU-Mankato shared the Loveland region. The issue is by placing three teams from a state in one site, it takes a lot of hype out of the event for fans. Also, it creates the chance for rematches. Should Michigan and Michigan State win their opening round games, the Spartans and Wolverines would play for the sixth time this season.

You know what else makes fans less than thrilled to attend the event? The fact that it’s being played in an NHL practice facility. The Maryland Heights region will be played at the Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights, MO. It’s a 2,500-seat venue that primarily serves as the St. Louis Blues’ practice rink. It’s also used for high school hockey and sled hockey events. While other NCAA regionals are being played in big-time rinks, UND and three Michigan schools get to play in a spot that feels like an afterthought.

The NCAA just set attendance records for the first two rounds of the women’s basketball tournament. A total of 292,456 fans attended the opening weekend’s games, an increase of 60,799 fans over 2023, setting an attendance record for a third consecutive season.

To add some perspective, in 2019 a TOTAL of 275,000 fans attended ALL NCAA women’s basketball tournament games. The women’s game has really blossomed, and the NCAA does a great job of marketing its women’s stars from Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark, to JuJu Watkins, Hannah Hidalgo and Elizabeth Kitley.

The first two rounds of the women’s hoops tournament are played on college campuses around the country, creating a natural atmosphere of excitement for the game.

College sports’ main governing body could do that with college hockey. The regionals could be played on college campuses in rinks that would be filled with diehard fans. Instead, it ships teams off to random cities and rinks and tries to manufacture excitement that would have otherwise been sky high. It’s sad to see them take what should be college hockey’s marquee event and hold it back.

The Frozen Four remains the ultimate goal for all college hockey programs. It’s memorable for fans and players alike and is always well-marketed. However, the road leading up to college hockey’s biggest event is bumpier than it needs to be.

This year’s Maryland Heights Regional is proof of that.

Jamal Spencer is a writer for Sports News Highlights.

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