March 13, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

No Worries For Syracuse in Hockey

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

If you want to see why so many hockey people continue to stick to the objective system of selecting teams to the NCAA tournament — warts and all — then just look to the NCAA men's basketball selections.

More specifically, look to Syracuse, which was controversially snubbed by the committee.

Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said he called committee members trying to understand why the Orange were not selected to the tournament. His subsequent comments are telling:

"The more I talk to some of the committee members, the more I realize that there's almost too much data, to the point where you can cherry-pick what you want and sell that piece of data. The thing that I'm worried about with the committee is them having objective criteria, and then not following along that criteria path. It just sounded like to me that there's a lot of subjectiveness [sic] that goes on when it comes to deciding who those last few teams in will be. It's so tough to figure out, that it ends up being that whoever has the prevailing argument wins"

If ever you need a clear-cut case for "hockey's way," that is it.

The beauty of hockey's objective system is not that it's perfect, it's that it's fairly flawed. By being purely mathematical and mechanical, no one has to wonder why they didn't make the hockey tournament. They don't have to worry about back-room politics, or favoritism — regardless of whether or not it actually exists.

Sometimes — such as when someone's favorite team doesn't make the hockey tournament — people argue that subjectivity should be allowed, that committee members should be granted the leeway to take into consideration other factors that aren't part of the mechanical process. This, they say, will help compensate for the flaws in the Pairwise.

But as Gross' comments perfectly illustrate, you can never compensate for one system's flaws. You only introduce other flaws.

When you have a large set of objective data, and you use that to make subjective decisions, then anyone can twist the data to suit their needs. Almost any rational argument can be made in your favor.

So whose set of "common sense" do you use? Everyone's definition of "common sense" will be different.

So why mess around?

This is exactly what men's ice hockey committee chair Marty Scarano addressed in Jim Love's excellent, must-read two-part interview with him.

As it relates to Syracuse, Mr. Gross' comments were particularly intriguing given that his department is currently investigating adding Division I men's ice hockey. Mr. Gross should know — or if not, we should tell him (go here Mr. Gross) — that should Syracuse ever add hockey, it can be rest assured that it will never have to worry about the subjective whims of the ice hockey committee.

Thanks to Jim Love for his inspiration for this article.

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