EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 15, 2011

Another outdoor college hockey game? Spare me

On College Hockey
Mike McMahon

It was announced Thursday that Ohio State and Michigan will play in an outdoor game this season at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland, home to the Cleveland Indians.

Those teams will join Maine, New Hampshire, UMass and Vermont, who will play a doubleheader at Fenway Park this winter, most likely on Jan. 7.

Does anyone else have a problem with this?

In 2001, the first outdoor game took place at Spartan Stadium at Michigan State, where the Spartans and Wolverines duked it out in front of 74,554 fans in a game titled "The Cold War."

Three years later there was another outdoor game — the Montreal Canadians and Edmonton Oilers played in the Heritage Classic in Edmonton.

Then there was a three-year break before the Frozen Tundra Classic between Wisconsin and Ohio State.

A Swiss team held a game in 2007 and then the NHL started its Winter Classic series of yearly games in 2008.

Since then, the trend has exploded.

Since 2008, including the games scheduled for this season, there will be a whopping 23 outdoor hockey games in a three-year span. That's compared to just three in the seven years previous to that.

That includes junior, collegiate and professional games only held in the United States or Canada.

Talk about overkill.

What was a nice cozy, heart-warming event every few years has turned into a nuisance to the point where I just don't care anymore. Four Hockey East teams are playing at Fenway Park this season ... big deal.

The same thing happened two years ago and will likely happen again. It feels like there are a million other games taking place in large stadiums every weekend.

It's no one's fault, but the idea has lost its luster.

In January of next year, the Flyers and Rangers will play in the NHL's Winter Classic in Philly at Citizen Bank Park. Ohio State and Michigan will play an outdoor game in Cleveland and there will be four Hockey East games played at Fenway Park all in a matter of about 10 days.

It's hard to get excited for these types of events when they're not special anymore.

If you're a Michigan fan, January will mark your third outdoor game in just under two years.

It's out of control.

I get that it draws a lot of attention to the sport, and I'm all for that. I get that it puts more eyes, especially on college hockey, than anyone could ever imagine.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 34,000 people watched BC and BU play at Fenway in 2009. If that game were held at Agganis or Conte, there would be maybe 7,000 fans (depending on the building).

You can't beat the publicity ... for now.

How long is it going to last before the bubble breaks? How many times can college and pro hockey go to this well before it dries up?

At some point, and I'm not sure when, some team or league is going to shell out big money to rent a place like Fenway Park — assuming the Fenway Sports Group isn't helping with rental fees — with hopes of another 30-something thousand fans cramming into a cold, snowy ballpark in the middle of January to watch a college hockey game.

And you know what will happen?

No one will show up. Maybe 10-or-so thousand people. Whoever is running the show is going to take a beating on it. Then, maybe the madness will stop.