The Process: A Follow Up
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Once again, things were pretty cut and dried for the selection committee for the NCAA tournament. And that's just the way they like it, especially judging by chair Marty Scarano's comments in a recent CHN article.
That's not to say there haven't been controversial moments in recent years — though most of them, ultimately, amount to geek-talk (guilty as charged).
And that isn't to say that the committee doesn't have some interesting decisions to make from time to time.
But this year, the decisions that were made or not made, were ones that all seemed to be the right call.
"I think the system is working," Scarano said.
"The thing I think we achieved — the coaches and athletes understand what's at stake. I didn't like the old system because I thought kids could be disadvantaged because of someone's agenda."
By "old system," Scarano means one that's more subjective, as opposed to the ultra-objective system that exists today.
Scarano joked that one person who might think his team was still disadvantaged is Gophers coach Don Lucia; there's been grumblings from Minnesota fans about having to play in what they believe is the toughest bracket despite being the top overall seed.
"Lucia taught me everything I know," Scarano said, noting the time they were at Colorado College together. "Maybe he wishes he hadn't."
The only place the committee differed from CHN's bracket projection was in moving the No. 15 overall seed, Air Force, away from its natural opponent, No. 2 Notre Dame, into the West Regional to face No. 1 overall Minnesota.
Some had speculated the committee might do this for attendance reasons, though since moving to a 16-team field in 2003, the committee has largely ignored attendance factors. Moreso than attendance, however, the Air Force story was too delicious to overlook, Scarano said.
"The one feel-good story out of all this is having Air Force Academy playing up the road," Scarano said. "Everyone, rightfully so, was excited about Colorado College and Denver being in the tournament (with the regional in their backyard) and no one mentioned Air Force. I have great respect for (Air Force coach) Frank Serratore. It's a feel-good story. I hope they bring the whole academy.
"We're striving for atmosphere. I would hope that Air Force mobilizes the troops and gets them up there."
It's hard to argue with the committee's desire to maintain a strong atmosphere. This is why hockey remains a sport where the host institutions actually get to play at home (such as New Hampshire this year). It ensures strong attendance.
There was a time this philosophy was more closely adhered to, and brackets were specifically structured to assist attendance. That is not as necessary today, thanks to college hockey's increased popularity. And the committee has largely ignored the issue since 2003, when the bracket went to 16 teams.
But there is still some need for that, especially, this year, in Denver, where a lot of advanced tickets were sold in the expectation the Pioneers — or at least Colorado College — would be there.
"The days are gone where you had 1,000 advance sale," Scarano said. In so doing, though, Scarano noted a recent time when there was just a 1,000 advance sale — the 1999 regional at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison. Scarano was AD at Colorado College at the time, and the Tigers' game against St. Lawrence was virtually church-like in that enormous arena.
"That's when I said I wanted to get on this committee," Scarano said. "No disrespect to (then-Badger coach) Jeff Sauer and Wisconsin, but I said, 'This is an aberration. It's disrespectful to the athletes. This is what we get? We have to do a better.'"
Scarano said if the change of Air Force away from its natural Pairwise spot would have created a more drastic impact, then it would not have been made. But flip-flopping Alabama-Huntsville and Air Force, something well within the committee's rights to do, is of minimal difference.
These are the kinds of common sense subjective shufflings that clearly have a place in the creation of brackets.
In the only other remotely "controversial" aspect of the brackets, Minnesota was sent out West even though, technically, the closest regional to Minneapolis is Grand Rapids. Again, this is a common sense alteration. It essentially makes no difference to Minnesota, and this way, Notre Dame and Clarkson (in Rochester, N.Y.) get to stay close to home.
Had the Denver Pioneers been in the tournament, and Minnesota would've faced playing them in the Denver Regional, it's unlikely the committee would have made that switch.
"A flight is a flight," Scarano said of Minnesota's travel to Grand Rapids vs. Denver. "It's not a bad thing because Minnesota is used to going to Denver, and it's an easy flight from Minneapolis. We're trying to look at ways not to disadvantage athletes, and even some small nuance as (the ease of) going in and out of Denver — I see that not as a disadvantage."
As for whether this highly-objective philosophy will remain, now that Scarano's tenure is winding down — Scarano believes it will.
"Joel Maturi (Minnesota's AD) will be the new chair, and we think alike quite a lot," Scarano said. "The coaches bring a different perspective. (Colgate coach) Don Vaughan is very vocal. He wants to do the right thing.
"At least on this committee, there's not a personal agenda with anyone."