The Argument Continues

In the wake of Vermont’s decision to drop the remainder of its hockey season, the ECAC went to a winning-percentage ranking system for this year, keeping the seven completed Vermont games in the league standings and producing an unbalanced schedule.

[ii]You’ve heard my opinion on the ECAC’s decision. What you haven’t heard is what coaches around the league think.

Before the ECAC ruled last week, many thought that the league would render the seven Vermont ECAC contests nonconference games, making it a 20-game regular-season schedule.

It didn’t happen that way, which to some was a surprise. Reaction around the league — and the nation — was varied, and not all positive.

“We have compassion for the situation and every coach should have, but at the same time, this was not well thought out as to how to rectify it,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. “It’s common sense to make it a 20-game season.”

“I had talked to my AD (Dick Sakala) prior to the decision and win percentage wasn’t even an option,” said Union head coach Kevin Sneddon. “Not many coaches had a chance to discuss that, or think it through on how it would impact. I don’t know how the different scenarios will play out. I was under the impression that they would count the games played and forfeit the rest or that we would drop to a 20-game season.”

“In dealing with numbers, there’s not a way that you could do it right,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “My initial thought was that they would do away with all the games. That to me at first made the most sense. Then you’re not dealing with an unequal amount of games.”

“I think that this is a very, very unique situation,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “I’m sure when Vermont made the decision to cancel the season they felt they had to do something along these lines despite the fact that it would affect the league. Unfortunately, there is always a ripple effect.

“I know that there were a lot of issues to discuss, some logistical and cost-related ones. It’s a long and arduous process that they are working through. I had a long conversation with (Boston University head coach) Jack Parker about this situation, and let me tell you, all of the coaches are talking about this.”

Indeed they are.

“It would drive me nuts,” said Michigan State head coach Ron Mason on the decision. “I’m glad, if anything, that it’s not happening to us because it’s throwing your league out of whack, and who knows what can happen now. There are just so many teams that are so close.”

The decision, reached in a conference call with 11 of the 12 ECAC athletic directors on the Monday morning following Vermont’s announcement, does have its supporters.

“Once the reality was there that Vermont was out of the league, I thought that the winning percentage was a good resolution — I hadn’t thought of doing that,” said Taylor. “I guess we could have let the ones with wins or losses live with the results and give the rest automatic forfeit wins, but that’s not very fair. That would make it a pretty automatic four points for those teams.

“Then again, it’s easy to endorse the winning percentage decision when I sit here with a win over Vermont. I bet if you talk to Toot Cahoon (Princeton head coach) I doubt he would say the same, because he sits there with a loss to Vermont.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, Cahoon disagreed with Taylor’s guess.

“I think it’s as fair as they could make it,” said Cahoon. “You can’t just miss games that have been played — wins or losses. Once you ignore that, other teams that played Vermont and beat them, they should be given credit for that. Certainly there are missed opportunities, and certainly you can gripe over that, but this seems the fairest.

“I didn’t think of it initially, but when I heard it, it made sense. When we had a 17-team league in the 70’s everything was done on winning percentage. So it was a logical thing for the ECAC to come up with.”

“It’s not like there is a precedent set,” said Rensselaer head coach Dan Fridgen. “Therefore, anything that they do is going to do is not going to make it a fair playing ground for anyone, so you’re looking for the best-case scenario. Behind it was the thought that they don’t want to make Vermont invisible. With winning percentage I think what it does is that it may hurt the guys that played them and lost, [but] it will help the teams that won and the teams that didn’t play them, they’ll remain as is, which can hurt them but could also conceivably help them.

“But with no precedent set, I don’t know what else they could have done with the thought process that they wanted Vermont to stand as is.”

Others wondered about the time allotted to such a critical decision.

“I don’t know what really happened as I wasn’t part of the process, but I wonder if they felt a time pressure,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan about the decision. “There was a media conference call at 1 p.m., so I wonder about that.

“I guess they felt it was the ‘lesser of three evils,’ maybe, in terms of their options. They felt it was fair, but once you stand back and take a good hard look at it — was it right or not? I don’t know.”

“You’re totally dependent on what other people do,” said Grillo. “When I first heard the thought I wasn’t totally in agreement, but whomever you are talking to at the moment is the best argument at the time. I think everybody could have taken more time in this whole thing, but they also didn’t want to leave it sit. They were thrown this at the last minute and they had to make a decision.”

“I don’t know why it had to be a hurried situation,” asked Sneddon. “[They could have said it’s] points right now, and a decision will be forthcoming in February. I don’t know why it was such a hurry.”

“You have to look at what the goal is as far as making your decision,” said Fridgen. “If the goal is to make it not so that Vermont was not a part of the league, you have to make the best decision for what your goal is. If it’s to make it equitable for the rest of the 11 teams in the league then you would clean the slate, but obviously that’s not what they wanted to do.

“It’s like anything else, for example the major junior issue with the NCAA, I can’t see that being a rule that will be fair for everyone, so I think you have the same type of scenario here.”

“It’s not right and we continue to make things difficult for ourselves,” said Morris. “It’s not a decision you can make in five to ten minutes. It needs to be kicked around to fully comprehend the impact and the scenarios that result as a result of the decision.

“We’d all like to be on equal footing because it’s tough as it is, and we don’t need to dig ourselves any deeper.

“There are so many different factors that are entering into it after the fact. I think we need to get smart about this and if there is any way to reconsider this, we should.”

One of the criticisms of the decision has been that with an uneven schedule, percentage points can make or break a team.

“If this makes a difference between a championship or home ice when we’re talking about percentage points then it’s wrong,” said Morris. “People’s livelihoods and kids’ careers, and to make that the decision in five or ten minutes is just not right.”

“I haven’t thought that much about it, but my feeling is that I’d like to see it taken a little further,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “There could be a ‘what if?’ situation.

“Theoretically, say that Yale ends up 15-6 and Colgate ends up 14-6, with the only difference being Yale’s win over Vermont and Colgate never getting a chance to play them. That’s a situation that the league would have to address. It may never come to that, but I do think that we should look at every possible scenario. If it comes down to first place and an NCAA bid being at stake, I think it’s very important that we look at things like that.”

“It sounds like a pretty good idea, but there may some glitches that can hurt some teams,” said Sneddon. “I need to see something from the league office painting a few different scenarios to see what would happen. I don’t see how you could vote on that without having all the information.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come down to a situation where it comes down to a fraction that means a team doesn’t get into the playoffs or the NCAA tournament.”

“You’re going to have teams at the end of the year, because of those games, you’re talking about percentage points that are miniscule and it would be a shame if that was the case,” said Grillo. “It should come down to competition, and I don’t know if they could go back on what they decided at this point in time.

“I don’t think it will hit everyone fully until the end of the year. And with our league, who knows?”

“What if the scenario that would play out for a regular-season championship, do they go to a tiebreaker or is the case strong enough if they are so close in the percentage?” said Vaughan. “You feel for a lot of the athletes that are coming out on the short end of the stick here.

“I think we’re going to be talking about this further on in the season and it will come to a head late in the season.”

In the end, though, a decision has been made and for now, everyone has to live with it.

“Just win, baby, win,” laughed Cahoon.

“I think the only thing you can do is accept it for what it is — you can’t cry about it,” said Taylor. “Find strength in the adversity, rally the troops around the increased travel time and move on with the season.”

This article compiled with the help of Becky Blaeser and David Sherzer.