After a week of confusion and lingering questions, the NCAA has confirmed that byes in the national tournament will be awarded to the top four seeded teams irrespective of region, as was first announced last summer.
“Nothing has changed,” said selection committee chair Bill Wilkinson. “We’re going to rank the teams one through 12 and the top four, no matter which region they come from, would be the ones that would get the byes. This is just coming out of the minutes of the summer meetings.”
This change to previous protocol was brought into question by an editing error in the NCAA Ice Hockey Championships Handbook, which left in place a key paragraph that was intended to be removed.
In past years, the byes at the East and West Regionals were reserved for teams from that same region, with preference going first to any team that won both its regular season and conference championship. Last July, however, the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee voted for region-blind byes to increase the chances of the four best teams reaching the Frozen Four.
The committee’s vote to alter that process, however, drew little attention because it was overshadowed by other more significant changes. Most notably, this included dropping the number of each conference’s automatic bids from two to one, and the awarding of an automatic bid to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
Because of the lack of publicity over the issue, and because last year’s language was inadvertantly kept in the handbook, many hockey people continued to believe the protocol was similar to past years.
Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna was particularly irked in recent days about the failure of the Men’s Ice Hockey committee to properly publicize the switch. He said the NCAA compounded the problem by leaving in the old language, and then doing nothing to alert anyone to the error.
After some speculation that the committee may have to revert back to the old rule, it instead reaffirmed its position.
The following is taken from the Ice Hockey Championships Handbook, page 15. Under the topic “Determination of Competing Institutions (Division I Men)” and under the subtopic of “Seeding and Pairings” are seven articles, the fourth of which was supposed to be removed, but was not.
Seeding and Pairings
[Reference: Championship Structure in this handbook and Bylaw 31.1.3 in the NCAA Manual.]
The Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee will seed the selected participants as follows:
1. The top four seeds will be determined by the selection criteria. These teams will receive first-round byes.
2. Teams will be seeded within their respective geographical regions.
3. Should the number of teams selected from the regions be unequal, the lower seeded team(s) in the region with the higher number of teams will be shifted to represent the other region in order to equalize the regional seedings.
4. A team moved from one region to the other may not be seeded higher than No. 3. Therefore, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in each regional shall be teams from that region.
5. Four teams from the East region may be placed in the East regional bracket along with two teams representing the West region.
6. Four teams from the West region may be placed in the West regional bracket along with two teams representing the East region.
7. When possible, first-round conference matchups will be avoided.
Lee Urton, Adam Wodon and Jayson Moy contributed to this story.