This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful North Country, taking in a game at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. If you’ve never made the trip, it’s highly recommended, especially in the fall where the temperatures aren’t too cold and the scenery is second to none.
Not to mention you get to take in two awesome college hockey buildings. There’s not another building in the country like Appleton Arena.
But this weekend got me thinking … is the ECAC travel partner concept outdated? Do coaches even like it?
There are parts of the structure as currently constituted that gives teams like Clarkson and St. Lawrence either a competitive disadvantage, or at the very least, a big nuisance that other teams just don’t have when they travel to the North Country.
When teams visit the North Country, they can stay in the same hotel. Clarkson and St. Lawrence are travel partners, and they’re 17 minutes apart. Teams mush salivate for this road trip. It’s easy.
It’s a similar situation when teams go to the Capital District to play Union and RPI, which are only about 30 minutes from each other.
Every other trip requires teams to travel a long way between games. Here are the current travel partners, along with what Google gives us for driving time:
Clarkson – St. Lawrence (17 minutes)
RPI – Union (32 minutes)
Colgate – Cornell (1 hour, 30 minutes)
Yale – Brown (1 hour, 37 minutes)
Harvard – Dartmouth (2 hours, 6 minutes)
Quinnipiac – Princeton (2 hours, 30 minutes)
When Clarkson or St. Lawrence play a Friday-Saturday series at Quinnipiac and Princeton, they have to drive 2-1/2 hours between games while their Saturday opponent gets to rest up. When those teams travel to Clarkson and St. Lawrence, they might get back to their hotel faster than their Saturday opponent gets back to their dorms.
Competitively, I can understand why Clarkson, St. Lawrence, RPI and Union might be a little upset at this format. Their opponents get a luxury when they come to town that they don’t get when they’re on the road. It’s geography, and you can’t change it, unless you change the format.
Here are two things I’d propose:
1. Get rid of the travel partners all together, and run the league similar to the way that Hockey East runs. Certain teams can play home-and-home series against each other, while other teams would require two games in the same place, on the same weekend. For Clarkson and St. Lawrence, they could play a home-and-home against each other, and then play two games on the road, or at home, against every other opponent. Quinnipiac and Princeton would probably have to play that two-and-two format with every opponent. There’s a formula there that you could figure out to balance the home-away splits on schedules, while still lightening the travel load for these teams.
The issue, to me, isn’t the travel itself. It’s that one team has to travel and the other doesn’t.
2. This is perhaps the simpler of the two fixes. They could split up the St. Lawrence-Clarkson and RPI-Union travel partners. Instead, partner Clarkson with RPI and Union with St. Lawrence, or vice versa. Those campuses are a little more than three hours apart, according to Google. It would be the longest trip between partners, but only about an hour more than Quinnipiac-Princeton. You’d have a hard time convincing me that 150 minutes on a bus is OK, but 210 minutes isn’t.
Clarkson-St. Lawrence and RPI-Union could still play home-and-home series against each other, and then fulfill the home-away games with the other set of opponents using the travel partner format. At least this way, the back-to-back road games are within 30 minutes of each other for both teams.
Something like this:
Week 1: Clarkson vs. St. Lawrence, Union vs. RPI (home-and-home series)
Week 2: Clarkson/St. Lawrence @ Union/RPI
Week 3: Union/RPI @ Clarkson/St. Lawrence
The end result is the same (1 road and 1 home game against each opponents in that group), and it makes a lot more sense.
For the rest of the league, nothing changes, with the exception of a driving after road games in the North Country and Capital District. It levels things out. When teams are on the road, everyone has to travel between nights. It seems a lot more balanced that way.
Are these perfect solutions? No. I’m not sure there really is a perfect solution. But if I were Mark Morris, Seth Appert, Rick Bennett or Casey Jones, I think I’d like to see the league travel be on more of a level playing field.