We've Got to Wiggle It, Just a Little Bit
Hey Committee, Don't Squeeze Yourself Into That Rigid Box Again
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
With two years of the 16-team field under our belt, we are better able to project some of the pitfalls the committee faces as we approach Selection Sunday (11 a.m. ET, ESPN2).
But first, a little philosophy ...
Two years ago, the first year of the 16-team field, the committee made a shift in its philosophy, and decided to really tie itself into a strict 1-16 seeding of the field based on straight Pairwise.
But as we said at the time, the numbers in Pairwise — or anything else, really — are not precise enough for such rigidity. Furthermore, there are a number of rules which have the potential to contradict themselves, at which point it becomes a matter of priority.
The committee absolutely needs to avail itself with more wiggle room.
As you know, I'm the last person who wants to go back to the days of the smoke-filled room. An objective system for selecting the field is highly preferred, and the transparency of that system leads to great debate and chatter within the hockey community.
But strict adherence to flawed numbers leads to some unfortunate circumstances.
The biggest conundrum the committee will face, if it sticks rigidly and thoughtlessly to its guidelines, is if Minnesota is a No. 2 seed (and No. 5 overall).
Because Minnesota is hosting the West Regional, it has to be there. But also, in this scenario, Colorado College and Denver would be No. 1 seeds (in whatever order).
If the committee chooses to strictly adhere to its guideline that says No. 1 seeds stay closest to home "as possible," then you could have a No. 1 or No. 2 overall seed like CC or Denver having to play a second-round game against the highest-rated No. 2 seed on the No. 2 seed's home rink (Minnesota).
Notwithstanding the fight I've been having over the meaning of the term "as possible," this is not right.
And the thing is, all the committee would have to do to rectify that situation is fly CC or Denver to the East. The point being that a flight to Minneapolis or a flight to Amherst is the same thing. You're still flying.
The rule was put in to "protect" the No. 1 seed by keeping them as close to home as possible. But common sense would dictate that you are not doing any sort of "protecting" by forcing the No. 1 overall seed to play what amounts to a road game in the second round against the top No. 2 seed.
Clearly, the committee has to give itself wiggle room. If, like I do, you interpret "as possible" to mean "we'll try, but if it messes other things up too much we won't adhere to it," then it's OK. We'll then trust the committee to use the discretion it's given itself.
But others seem to think this is a hard and fast rule, and the committee will rotely place the No. 1 seeds as literally close to their campus as humanly possible.
If that is the case, it shouldn't be.
Conundrum No. 2 ...
Similar to what happened to Cornell two years ago, let's say Boston College is the No. 1 overall seed, and three WCHA teams are Nos. 2-3-4. Let's further say that Wisconsin is the No. 13 overall seed.
To avoid an intraconference matchup in the first round, Wisconsin would have to play Boston College. But this is unfair to Boston College, which would deserve, in this case, to play either the Atlantic Hockey or CHA champ.
The disparity between No. 16 seeds in basketball is not too pronounced. No matter which one a No. 1 seed gets, they can be assured an easy game. Here, however, the difference between, say, Wisconsin and Quinnipiac (no offense) is enormous.
In 2003, Cornell faced a similar situation when the committee refused to do any seed juggling, and the Big Red had to face Minnesota State. Cornell handled the Mavericks easily, but that was besides the point. We said at the time this situation would happen again, and it might, this year.
My solution would be to simply juggle the No. 12 and No. 13 overall seeds, assuming No. 12 is not a WCHA team. This violates a near-sacred-cow rule, which is that once you are banded into your seed group, you cannot be moved. But what's worse, flipping the overall No. 12 and No. 13 into being a No. 4 and No. 3 seed respectively, or forcing your top overall seed to play a much tougher opponent than they deserve? Remember that "protect your top seeds" concept?
The other solution is to simply break the other sacred cow rule, and let Wisconsin play a WCHA foe in the first round. The committee has actually written in that option, saying that if a conference has five teams in the tournament, intra-conference games can occur. This has not been used yet, however.
Haven't We Had Enough of Lock-Outs?
Once again, going by the numbers is great. But locking yourself in so strictly to numbers that aren't great, is too much. Even if using a great system, like KRACH, there is too much variance to lock yourself in so tightly to a straight 1-16. But when you have a system like PWR, which relies so heavily on the dubious RPI and other temperamental factors, you really have to be careful.
In fact, I'll go a step further. I say the committee take a page from the NCAA basketball committee and create first- and second-round "storyline" matchups.
Say what? I can hear it now. "Adam, have you just gone off the deep end? Aren't you the big Pairwise educator? The big KRACH proponent?"
Why, yes, I am. I love having an objective, transparent system ... of picking the teams. But, within reason, I am open to playing around with the seeds. For one, simply to avoid some of those aforementioned conundrums. But what if we created intrigue?
How about if Wisconsin and Boston College were matched up in the first round? Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves vs. son Patrick of BC. The Eaves family may not be thrilled, but it would be great theater. Or what if we set up a potential second-round matchup between Cornell and Denver, two rivals from 35 years ago who haven't played in the NCAAs since 1986? Or what about Dartmouth and Michigan, featuring the past two NHL First Round picks of the New York Rangers in Hugh Jessiman and Al Montoya?
Actually, last year, a number of first-round intriguing matchups were created solely by circumstance, and maybe the college hockey world is insular enough where it will happen without human intervention.
No need to go crazy, but this option should be available.
But really, I'd rather the committee provide itself the wiggle room to avoid as many intra-conference second-round matchups as possible too.
But to do so, let's make sure we're first starting with the right numbers, and go from there. And that leads us back to ...