In early February, Wisconsin's hockey team played on a specially constructed rink in the middle of Camp Randall Stadium. It was a neat gimmick that drew 55,000 fans, many of whom have fond memories of playing hockey under the stars on frozen ponds as kids.
The NHL has held outdoor games each of the last three years at venues like Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park, generating substantial excitement.
Apparently, the success of those events prompted the NCAA to hold this week's Frozen Four hockey championships in Detroit's Ford Field, a domed stadium that's home to the Detroit Lions. Ford Field's capacity is 65,000, which means the expected crowd of 30,000 college hockey fans will be surrounded by a sea of empty seats. Meanwhile, storied Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, with a capacity of 20,000, will sit empty.
Anyone who has ever seen a Badger hockey game at the Kohl Center - one of college hockey's largest venues with a capacity of just over 15,000 - will testify that the sport benefits greatly from the volume and excitement generated by the fans. But when Wisconsin faces off against Rochester Institute of Technology on Thursday, April 8, at 4 p.m., any enthusiasm from the fans will be swallowed up by Ford's cavernous dome.
Anytime you hear a puckhead rave about a hockey arena, it's because fans are right on top of the action. At Ford, they'll be hundreds of feet away. Experimentation is great, but this feels like a cash grab, and at the expense of a big part of the sport's appeal.