Late last week, Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson sent out an update on UND's game against Penn State that's scheduled to be played in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 17.
The key sentence of the update said: "Should the coronavirus pandemic force restrictions that negatively impact the quality and/or scope of the event we seek to produce, alternative event plans may need to be implemented, including the potential for the Nashville event to be played at some point in the future."
What Hodgson is saying is that UND is going to do this event right or it's not going to do it at all.
It makes a lot of sense.
If there is a limited attendance, UND isn't going to pick and choose which 25 or 50 percent of people get to enter. It's not going to tell some people who booked flights and hotels: "Hey, we're still playing the game, but you can't go." That would be a disaster.
UND and Ralph Engelstad Arena are going to wait at least another month before making a final call on the Nashville game, but realistically, there's almost no chance it will be played as scheduled. Here are three things to consider:
- The NHL believes the only feasible way to complete its 2019-20 season is by playing in two hub cities, isolating players from the public and playing without fans in attendance. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are tentatively scheduled to end in early October. So, could anyone really envision a scenario where the Nashville Predators are playing for a Stanley Cup in front of no fans in a far-away location with its players secluded, while almost simultaneously, North Dakota is playing a game in Nashville's home arena with 17,000-plus fans in attendance? That seems rather implausible.
- Coronavirus cases are still spiking in areas around the country. It's impossible to promise fans in July or August that Nashville won't be home to a spike in October. This is especially the case as the White House is preparing for another wave in the fall, and as much of the country has resisted even the most basic steps to prevent spread of the virus, like wearing face masks in public, indoor spaces.
- Even if UND gets the go-ahead to play the game with full attendance by state and local officials, school officials have to question what percentage of ticket-buyers will even want to travel and attend an indoor event during a global pandemic. President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa flopped Saturday. It is believed the pandemic -- and a hesitation for people to be in indoor, public spaces for a long period of time -- is a big reason for it. If UND can't guarantee the same won't happen in Nashville, what's the point of going forward?
If the event cannot be held as scheduled, it seems like a no-brainer to do it in the future. Nashville was an extremely popular destination for UND fans and the game sold out almost immediately.
When would it occur, though?
That's more difficult to pinpoint.
UND has been using the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game for its destination games. The Hall of Fame Game is exempt and does not count against the 34-game regular-season limit in college hockey.
The 2018 game in Las Vegas against rival Minnesota was a Hall of Fame Game. The Nashville game is scheduled to be a Hall of Fame Game, too.
UND has the rights to the 2022 Hall of Fame Game. So, that would be a possibility. UND had been exploring putting the 2022 Hall of Fame Game in Las Vegas or Seattle, but if no contract is yet signed, maybe it would reconsider putting that one back in Nashville if this year's event gets wiped out.
If UND wanted to turn around and schedule it for 2021-22, it would need to acquire the rights for the Hall of Fame Game. It currently does not have it. UND has done that before, though. It hosted the Hall of Fame Game last fall after buying it from the Xcel Energy Center for $100,000.
If UND made a push to acquire the 2021 Hall of Fame Game, it would also have to acknowledge that there's no guarantee the pandemic will end by next fall and that arenas will be full again. There also would be questions whether UND and Ralph Engelstad Arena can block off hotel rooms and plan for the scale of event it expects in a time crunch.
SCSU surveys fans on pandemic
St. Cloud State has sent a survey to fans, attempting to gauge their feelings on the pandemic and how the school should proceed in the fall if sporting events occur.
The survey begins by asking fans for their age group, which events they attend, who they attend them with and how frequently they attend them.
Among the pandemic-specific questions are:
- How comfortable are you with leaving your home? A. I am ready to return to normalcy; B. I still limit the amount of times I go out; C. I only leave for necessities.
- What are some reasons you may not attend games/events at SCSU? A. Being in a large crowd/close contact to strangers; B. Staff members at SCSU may not be healthy; C. Overall cleanliness of the venue; D. Cleanliness of the restrooms; E. Cleanliness of the food service areas; F. I no longer can afford to attend games; G. I don't want to spend the money.
- If you were to attend a game, would you still prefer physical distancing to be implemented? A. Yes; B. No.
- If you were to attend a game, would you prefer masks to be required? A. Yes, by all people in attendance; B. Yes, for SCSU staff and game personnel only; C. No.
A source told the Herald that Boston College and Northeastern are expecting St. Cloud State to cancel its October trip to Boston, where the Huskies are set to play one game against each team. But as of this week, the school says that it has not made a final decision yet on that trip. Both games still remain on St. Cloud State's schedule page on its website.
USHL weighing new scheduling format
The United States Hockey League is considering implementing a new schedule for the 2020-21 season to account for the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the proposed new schedule, Western Conference and Eastern Conference teams would almost exclusively play against their own conferences. That would be done to limit travel.
The exception would be the four Iowa-based teams (Dubuque and Cedar Rapids are in the Eastern Conference; Waterloo and Des Moines are in the Western Conference).
The new schedule proposal has not yet been approved, but most USHL personnel expect it to go through.
The Fargo Force play in a conference with Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Omaha, Tri-City (Kearney, Neb.), Lincoln, Waterloo and Des Moines.