There are a lot of things that the Federal Prospects Hockey League does that could be considered different, or non-traditional, the schedule being one of them. Fun fact: the Fed has never had a season where every team played the same number of games, even in seasons with just four teams, they have never had an even schedule. Which is sort of remarkable to think about when you’re 10 seasons in.
And even if they had everyone play the same number of games, it’s likely the schedules wouldn’t be balanced with the same number of home and road games. That was the case prior to the start of the 2019-20 season when the schedule came out, but has only recently gotten worse, with at least nine games being moved to a new location, and at least six of them being being moved for what is likely financial reasons.
Now, things can happen and do come up where a schedule change is needed. A bus breaks down, or the ice plant dies, or there just wasn’t enough arena availability over the course of the season for you to hold an even 28 home games. One instance from this season was the first neutral-site game in Athens. It went so poorly, there was really no need to play the second one on a Thursday night, so it made more sense for Columbus to just play it at home instead. And having Columbus and Battle Creek play a game in Columbus, only to turn around and drive 13ish hours overnight to play a game the next day in Battle Creek makes no sense, so that’s an understandable move to have the entire series in Columbus now.
But a bigger issue is how things went down yesterday, when the Mentor Ice Breakers announced that four games of theirs were on the move to Columbus and Elmira. And then earlier in the season when Danbury at one point just flat-out took home games from Battle Creek, and apparently the Bees weren’t told about it, only to eventually agree to it and move the two games to Danbury. Mentor tried to pass off the Columbus swap as a travel issue with the River Dragons, who were originally set to play in Carolina after a pair of games in Mentor, which sort of makes sense…but then you map it out and it’s only an hour more from Mentor to Winston-Salem than it is from Columbus to Winston-Salem. Hardly a huge travel savings and not really a reason to move a pair of home games.
And the moving of two games from Mentor to Elmira is…yeah, there’s no way to sugarcoat that or even come up with a decent excuse for moving these games. Because there are no issues with the rink as far as availability, or a broken bus, or some other disaster that prevents them from playing in Mentor that weekend.
Let’s be clear, even in the Battle Creek-Columbus situation two paragraphs above, where there is a legit reason to move the games, these teams aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their heart, or just to help another team out. They’re likely getting paid to move these games, and likely quite a bit to give up 500+ tickets a night in Mentor, or 300+ tickets in Battle Creek.
It sends a very weird message to the fans of those teams who are willing to give up home games, and one can’t help but wonder what the financial situation is like if a team will just sell off home games, and how just how much they’re getting from these teams to do it. Because 500 tickets at say $15 a piece in Mentor is quite a bit of money. yet the team still thought it was better to move games to Columbus and Elmira.
Selling off home games isn’t all that uncommon in the Fed, but the last team who did it, North Shore…folded following the season they did it. It’s also probably not a coincidence that it’s two of the bottom three teams in attendance doing this either, or that the teams getting the home games are two of the top three in attendance.
But in addition to sending a bad message to fans of the teams losing games, and those outside the league, it makes for some insanely unfair schedules. Battle Creek is down to just 20 home games this season. An even split would be 28-28, Battle Creek is closer to 20-36 on the season, which is absurdly unfair to the players and fans. Mentor is down to 24 home games, so at best a 24-32 split on the schedule. Columbus becomes the big winner because of all this movement, going from a 28-26-2 (Home-Away-Neutral), to 33-24-1. That’s right, they will play 10 more home/neutral games than true away games. Great for fans in Columbus, but how is that fair to the rest of the league that they get nine more games at home than away? It very well could help them make a push in the standings and get up to third place, and avoiding Carolina in the first round. Even Elmira, with its two new home games is 32-28 now, somehow a four game split is the least bad in this instance.
It sort of raises the question of what the schedule even means or how much it matters if teams can just up and buy home games to pad their total. Or to not have to travel. Don’t want to play in Battle Creek? Just cut them a check. Don’t want to pay for your ice that weekend but still want to make money? Just sell a couple home games to one of the big teams.
There’s a lot of things the Fed does that people point at when they want to discuss all the problems with the league, but in our opinion, being able to buy home games and dramatically alter the schedule in the middle of the season might be the biggest thing holding this league back from it being considered legitimate.