March 22, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Bubble Teams Hanging on the TUC Cliff

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The TUC Cliff is rearing its ugly head today, in a bad way. And it's indicative of the major thing that's wrong with the Pairwise system.

(Thanks to some alert readers for pointing some of this out.)

In this case, here's the bottom line: Notre Dame is better off losing today's consolation game than tying.

As we've written so many times over the years, the Pairwise system the NCAA uses to pick the field is pretty good. It's almost universally considered among hockey people to be a better alternative than the old smoke-filled room concept of picking teams, and fan and coaches alike have bought in, even before they fully understood it. Today, it's pretty well understood too.

However, the "TUC Cliff" is where the Pairwise exposes its flaws.

A "Team Under Consideration" is a team in the Top 25 of RPI. "Record vs. TUC" is one of the four components that make up a comparison. So you're record vs. those Top 25 teams matters a lot.

However, teams come and go in that Top 25 depending on a variety of other factors. And in this case, some teams benefit from Northern Michigan staying the Top 25, and other teams don't. And NMU's ability to stay in the Top 25 depends on its result in the consolation game today against Notre Dame.

Speaking directly to this situation — Notre Dame, Minnesota State and Wisconsin are right on the bubble for two spots (assuming Boston College wins the Hockey East tournament).

A tie between Notre Dame and Northern Michigan would be enough to drop NMU as a TUC, which is beneficial to Minnesota State. And it lowers Notre Dame's RPI just enough to where the Irish drop to 14th overall in the Pairwise, and don't make the tournament. That's because Minnesota State currently loses the comparison to Northern Michigan. If NMU is longer a TUC, that comparison doesn't matter. Air Force enters the Top 25 — and Minnesota State picks up a comparison win, and goes ahead of the Irish.

If Notre Dame loses the game, it hurts Minnesota State more than it hurts the Irish. That's because, NMU will remain a TUC, and Notre Dame will stay ahead of Minnesota State.

Yes, a win by Notre Dame solves the trouble.

But ... if the game is tied in overtime, Notre Dame would be better off pulling the goalie and letting Northern Michigan score.

Things like this have come up before. And it's not good.

There is the theory that the Pairwise is not supposed to be looked at until the season is over, so that all of these machinations in it, and following the TUC Cliff, and teams going up and down and over and out — no one is really supposed to notice. And that's true, actually. The system is not meant to be scrutinized as much as we do.

However, that does not take away from the problem — which is that, in no system, should it ever be better off to lose.

Enjoy the games.

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