Out of the Box, Part II: Another Look at NCAA Selections
Protecting Miami and Michigan Was Perfectly OK
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Now that we've thrown some mild (friendly) criticism at the committee with our Wisconsin-Minnesota State analysis, let's throw some steadfast support at the committee.
Colleague Mike Machnik wrote a blog post where he took the committee to task for inconsistency in its procedures. He said that, by "protecting" the top two overall seeds in the tournament — Miami and Michigan — from having to play at regions where teams are hosting, that it was breaking precedent.
I disagree. And to the extent that the committee was breaking precedent — which is debateable — I support the decision anyway.
First thing you need to ask is, who is getting harmed by the way it was done? New Hampshire? OK, sure, New Hampshire may have wanted to play closer to home to have its fans there. And certainly the fans who wanted to go would have preferred that.
But really, as the No. 4 overall seed, UNH is "supposed to" play Colorado College, the No. 5 overall seed. And as the lower No. 1 seed, it only makes sense that UNH should be the one that has to go to Colorado College.
I've had this argument for years, that protecting the top seeds was more important than keeping the No. 1 seeds "closest to home." It's been argued that the concept of staying "closest to home" is what's written down in the committee manual, while the "protection" concept is not. But so what? Time and time again, the committee has shown that it would try to protect the top seeds, even if it meant not putting that seed in its precise bracket that's closest to home.
This is merely an extension of this. The committee has extended this courtesy to the No. 2 overall seed, Miami. And, in so doing, it has created the 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 matchups it likes anyway.
This is not inconsistent at all.
Mike — and others elsewhere (in particular with the first example) — pointed out four examples of this alleged inconsistency. I'll take them one by one:
2002: No. 1 seed Denver is placed in Ann Arbor with Michigan.
Three points ...
1. This was before the tournament went to 16 teams. Things are completely different now. It was a lot harder to "protect" teams then, and the committee was dealing with a completely different set of procedures.
2. Denver was not the No. 1 overall seed. It was No. 2. New Hampshire, in the East, was No. 1 overall. What were you supposed to do back then with only two regions?
3. Biggest of all ... the committee was REQUIRED not to move teams out of region because of something called "regionalization" that was imposed for one year after 9/11. Read all about it here.
2003: No. 1 seed Colorado College was sent to Ann Arbor
Again, as the first year of the new format, things were still unclear. And the committee itself was still sorting out how it would handle these scenarios. This was when the committee went to this strict 1-16, 2-15, 3-14, etc... ordering of things, where possible. CC was actually the No. 2 overall seed, and Michigan was No. 7. So things fell into natural order here.
2004: No. 1 seed Boston College was in Manchester
There are numerous things wrong with this example.
1. Again, BC was a No. 2 overall seed, and thus not as important to protect as the No. 1 overall.
2. Again, "bracket integrity" was maintained here.
3. New Hampshire was not the No. 2 seed in the region, but the No. 3 seed. So it, theoretically, would've lost in the first round. This is why I thought the committee wouldn't choose to protect Michigan when we did our bracket prediction Saturday night. With Wisconsin a 3 seed, we figured the committee wouldn't bother protecting Michigan, since, theoretically, it wouldn't play Wisconsin in the second round. But after it chose to do so, I supported the decision.
4. New Hampshire was not playing at its home arena, like in the other examples, but rather on an NHL sheet that is unlike its home Olympic-sized facility.
2006: No. 1 seed Minnesota went to Grand Forks
Again, Minnesota was the No. 2 overall seed, not No. 1. And, again, keeping Minnesota there actually preserved a 2-7 second-round matchup with North Dakota (which never materialized because Minnesota lost to Holy Cross in the first round).
Further, there was a lot of talk leading up to that selection of protecting Minnesota should it finish as the No. 1 overall seed. Wisconsin was No. 2 leading into the final weekend, but had a Regional in its backyard — Green Bay. The feeling was the committee would, in fact, move Minnesota out of Grand Forks were it the No. 1 overall seed. But Wisconsin jumped over Minnesota leading up to selection day, so the issue became moot.
So, really, the committee was not inconsistent with past practices at all. Yes, it "protected" a No. 2 seed this time, in Miami, but only because doing so also created the "pure" 4-5 matchup of New Hampshire and Colorado College. Lots of different factors are weighed, and you can't look at something in vacuum and say the committee was inconsistent. The committee was very consistent in its preservation of "bracket integrity," which has become a high priority. That's been very consistent.
And the bottom line is, no team was unfairly hurt by this. I'd be the first to be screaming if there was an inequity, but there wasn't.
Finally, Mike and others have suggested putting this process in writing. I am against that. While I think the committee should have a transparent process, and it's good to have procedures to follow, I don't want the committee locking itself into boxes. I've written extensively in the past about the committee needing to give itself the wiggle room to make common sense choices in seeding, and it's bad enough that the Pairwise list is so strictly adhered to already when you are dealing with such imprecise numbers.
But, again, it's better than most alternatives.