Edmonton and Guelph in the final (Photo by Kenneth Andersen/Getty Images)
Sportsnet's president floats the idea of expanding the classic tourney (and therefore potential profits) to a "Sweet Sixteen" but the practical challenges outweigh Ryan Kennedy's initial enthusiasm.
Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of March Madness, but bringing college basketball's format to major junior hockey doesn't seem like a great fit.
In an article from La Presse, translated by Pro Hockey Talk, Sportsnet president Scott Moore floats the idea of turning the four-team round-robin tournament into a 16-team single-elimination bracket, reminiscent of college basketball's Sweet Sixteen (March Madness actually starts with 68 teams and don't get me started on the switch from 64). Moore acknowledges that he and the stewards of the Memorial Cup tournament would have to be careful not to spoil what the junior world already has and that's the right attitude because there are several major barriers to making this work in hockey.
First off, the Memorial Cup is already too long and it only involves four teams. Yeah, I get that all these squads are tired from a long post-season already – except for the hosts, who always seem to bomb out of their league playoffs early nowadays – but the one-game-a-day format is arduous for those not playing the games. Eight contests in 10 days? This isn't cricket.
Now we're talking about 15 games – how long would that take?
Unless you held the tournament in multiple locations, "regionals" if you will, but then the question becomes one of travel. Does Calgary fly to Halifax for, hypothetically one game, then Vancouver for another? Will Guelph go to Kelowna, then Quebec? Ask fans in London how much they cared about games not involving the Knights at the 2014 edition.
If the whole tournament was in one spot…well, I'm not sure what spot that would be. You would need a host city or cities with multiple rinks, not to mention enough hotel space for 12 more teams. Shawinigan barely had enough inns for a four-team tourney, don't forget.
It's cool if the Memorial Cup is seen as an event that is getting so big that this sort of infrastructure is required, but on the flip side, do we want to lose out on the small-town charm of the major junior game itself? What message does that send to the small market squads? Sure, you're a part of the league, just not a part we want to showcase to a national audience.
As Neate Sager from Buzzing the Net points out, ratings for the Memorial Cup will always be hindered by the fact the tournament takes place at the same time as the Stanley Cup playoffs. Would a single-elimination bracket be more thrilling and unpredictable? Sure. But would it be better, or even practical to pull off? Not necessarily.