Between the Lines: Selection Analysis
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
It seems as though a lot of lollipops were in order.
For the first time in memory, no newspaper writers or coaches ignorantly tore into the NCAA tournament selection process. According to the last BTL, that's deserving of a lollipop.
The NCAA itself doesn't really do a good job of publicizing or educating the public on the process, but us and our readers have taken the lead in that department. Nonetheless, every year, there's always lots of fans, many writers and even hockey coaches who disparage the selections without having a clue as to how they came about.
That inevitably leads to an annual diatribe against said purveyors of ignorance, imploring them to wake up and realize that the NCAA's selection process is a cut-and-dried objective one, and the Pairwise are based on that process.
Slowly but surely, it appears we have gotten to the point where at least the hockey people and media get it. Sure, they still may not know the intricacies of PWR, or understand what a "comparison" is and how it's derived, but they understand now, at the very least, that there is a system in place for choosing the field, and that PWR is essentially it.
A couple of Minnesota newspapers actually run the Pairwise now, in the weeks leading up to the tournament selection. This is huge progress.
You have also begun to hear people use the term "Pairwise" now in matter-of-fact terms.
For a number of years, there has been a certain contingent of coaches who understood that the Pairwise were more or less identical to the committee's process. Plugged-in coaches like Shawn Walsh and Don Lucia would pester the media for the latest "numbers" each year at the conference tournaments.
But a new era of understanding is upon us.
To wit, this year the WCHA — which at one time disregarded the thought of PWR — actually had three staffers host a press conference during the WCHA tournament to discuss the up-to-the-minute implications.
My favorite is this story, from the Hockey East tournament about a conversation with HEA media relations guy Noah Smith.
"Hey Noah, I'll see you in Worcester," said Jim Connelly.
"Well, actually I'm heading West to Grand Rapids," said Smith.
A surprised Connelly asked, "How the heck did you get sent out West?"
"I had the lowest Pairwise Ranking of all the SIDs in the tournament," said Smith.
The closest anyone came to butchering the implications of PWR this year was Omaha World-Herald writer Eric Olson. Following the end of the CCHA tournament, Olson was writing his Nebraska-Omaha post-mortem story. The Mavericks fell just short of making this year's NCAA tournament.
In his article, he is quick to point out the criteria that make up PWR, so it's clear he understands it to that extent. At the same time, from conversations we've had with UNO coach Mike Kemp, it's clear he knows the drill, too.
Yet, Olson's article went about juxtaposing Kemp's comments in a way that made it seem like he was complaining over not getting into the tournament.
Five WCHA teams were awarded bids, and two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams ranked ahead of UNO in the Pairwise.
Such an outcome, Kemp said, indicates a problem with the system, particularly in determining strength of conferences.
"There's so little inter-conference play that there's not an opportunity to get a real good reading," Kemp said. "So you're going to have disparity in RPI (ratings percentage index) that makes it less of an accurate reflection."
Mercyhurst received an automatic bid by winning the MAAC, a 3-year-old league with a hockey scholarship limit of 11 — seven under the maximum. This is the first year the lightly-regarded MAAC received an automatic bid, and Kemp grudgingly accepted Mercyhurst's bid because the rules were in place.
But Kemp said it doesn't make sense that a team such as MAAC runner-up Quinnipiac, according to the Pairwise, was in line for an at-large bid ahead of UNO. Quinnipiac did not receive one.
Now, we're pretty sure Kemp realizes the situation here. There's no way Quinnipiac would have actually received a bid ahead of UNO. The committee would have upheld its right to eliminate a team based on its conference's RPI.
But the article made it seem like Kemp was complaining, when, in reality, I believe he was just pointing out the flaws in the PairWise system.
Of course, we all know this. It's no secret. Everyone from fans to committee members knows PWR does not accurately rank MAAC teams.
So, there are still misunderstandings. You see evidence of that if you read message boards on other sites, or when we get letters from new readers.
But, we've come a long way.