Committee Addresses Tournament Issues
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Last season, the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Committee pulled a maneuver it hadn't previously pulled in the 10-year history of its current objective system of Pairwise Comparisons: It made a subjective decision to flip-flop Denver and Colorado College, making Denver a No. 2 overall seed and CC No. 3, because Denver defeated CC in the WCHA championship game, even though CC won the on the overall criteria.
This move seemed innocuous to some, but opened a potential can of worms. In explaining the decision, then-committee chair Wayne Dean said the criteria were so close, they let the teams "decide it on the ice."
With the very real possibility that Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan could land on the bubble, with UNO ahead on criteria but having just lost two games to NMU in the CCHA quarterfinals, the scenario could creep up again.
During a news conference Monday, the committee said it will continue to afford itself the leeway to make a similar decision, though it did acknowledge that it will do so only with great care.
"We understand the sport, and the subtleties are such that switching teams may affect things like last line change. So we do take that seriously," said current chair Marty Scarano, athletic director at New Hampshire.
"When we enter subjectivity into the picture, we tread lightly."
Of course, in the head-to-head comparison between UNO and NMU, UNO actually still comes out pretty well thanks to two early-season wins against NMU, so the Mavericks have a strong case regardless of the CCHA Tournament result. Last year's was much closer.
"Yes, we like the delineation of 1-2-3, all the way down the line, but last year, the separation was so slight, we took a look at that and head-to-head carried the day," said NCAA Director of Championships Tom Jacobs. "The possibility always exists (of subjectivity). That's why they're on the committee. It's a balancing act. Otherwise, if it's strictly a numbers exercise, we wouldn't need a committee.
"On the other hand, you need a structure or a starting point, so you have objective data."
Along those lines, the committee said there was no plan to move away from using the Ratings Percentage Index as the basis for factoring in teams' strength of schedule. In recent years, a system like KRACH, which CHN endorses, has emerged as an alternative because it adjusts for strength of schedule in a much more sophisticated way.
"The ice hockey committee uses RPI, just like it's used for all Division I sports," Jacobs said. "We have confidence that RPI is a valuable tool."
The other issue on the horizon is Minnesota's placement in the tournament. As the likely No. 1 overall seed, it should have the benefit of being closest to home. But the technically closest spot is Green Bay, about 30-40 miles closer than Grand Forks, and Green Bay is very close to the University of Wisconsin, which is the likely No. 2 overall seed. On the other hand, in Grand Forks, Minnesota would have a potential second-round game against host North Dakota.
"The proximity issue isn't so strict that we'll worry about the difference between 500 miles and 501," Jacobs said. "Those are general principles used to try to place teams in the closest proximity to their home region, but ultimately other factors come into play.
"We want to give the top team the best chance to reach Milwaukee. Whether that be by placing them in the closest region, or what on paper would be a more favorable route."
"Of course, what the committee decides is the most favorable is not always the same as what the fan base thinks," said Scarano.
This year's NCAA Tournament Selection Show will take place Sunday, March 19 at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.
Also, the 10 finalists for this year's Hobey Baker Award will be announced Thursday.