Beware the TUC Rule
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The Pairwise Comparison Ratings are about to have a major jolt, thanks to its arcane machinations, and something known as the Teams Under Consideration Criterion. And Michigan State and Boston College, in particular, needs to be paying close attention.
Yes, New England Patriots fans, it's the "TUC Rule," and it's back.
But let's back up first.
There is some debate over what is the right time to publicize these Ratings. Every place that publishes them chooses to do it differently.
Fact of the matter is, any time it's published prior to the end of the season, the results are imperfect. That's because these ratings are built to be a snapshot of the entire season, and following them week to week is really not supposed to be done.
But, hey, what would be the fun of that?
(Note: To clarify, this article is not intended as a knock on the system. Other articles we've written have done that. This is just pointing out an interesting fact about the machinations of the ratings, so that everyone is aware of what happened this weekend, and to point out the debate over when to start publicizing each year's standings.)
The ratings give a pretty good indication of what's going on as the season progresses, so on a practical level, there is no reason not to follow it. Just so long as you know what you are looking at.
There are factors that are hard to spot that have goofy effects on the Pairwise as the season whittles down to its final days. These factors have been chronicled before in many of our Pairwise articles over the years, and in our FAQ. You kind of have to brace yourself for these possibilities, including the "TUC Cliff," — which is related to, but not the same as, the phenomenon we will soon explain.
Some independent sites have been running the Pairwise since the season began. We chose to start publicizing it as soon as every team had at least one loss or tie. That's because the KRACH, which we promote, doesn't work mathmatically until every team has a loss or tie. So we publicize both to coincide with that. That usually means early December or late November even. Other sites wait until a more traditional January time, figuring it gives a clearer picture.
But again, there is no "right time." So long as you are viewing the results with all the facts and caveats in mind.
And here, finally, is the point of this article; the big caveat:
A couple of years ago, to mitigate some troubling end-of-season possibilities regarding Atlantic Hockey teams, the men's ice hockey committee decided to alter its Teams Under Consideration Criterion. "Record vs. TUC" is one of four factors used by the Pairwise to judge which teams wins each individual comparison with another team.
But starting last season, the Record vs. TUC is only calculated into the Pairwise Comparison when each team has played 10 games against TUCs. (FYI: A TUC is defined as any team in the Top 25 of RPI. What's RPI? See the FAQ.)
That means, some teams which haven't played 10 games yet against TUCs, will have their Pairwise dramatically altered once it kicks in. In particular, Boston College and Michigan State have very poor records vs. TUCs this season, but have not yet played 10 games against TUCs.
That will change this weekend, at least for Michigan State. The Spartans' TUC record is 1-5-3, and they will play their 10th game against a TUC on Friday when they play Michigan. Once that game ends — regardless of the result — Michigan State is poised to lose five comparisons it's currently winning. All else being equal, that would drop the Spartans from No. 7 in the Pairwise to No. 13, and the cusp of missing the NCAA tournament.
Boston College is in a similar boat. At 1-5-2 against TUCs, the Eagles have two games to go. They play Maine this weekend, which is not currently a TUC (though it could be with a couple of wins). So BC will have to wait a bit for this to kick in. But once it does Boston College will lose three comparisons it's now winning, going from a tie for 8th to No. 13.
On the other hand, there is Northeastern. The Huskies are poised to pick up two, if not more, comparisons, depending on how the RPI breaks. This could kick Northeastern up into No. 2 seed territory.
So keep an eye on the TUC Rule this weekend, and avoid the shock when your team shuffles dramatically.