Committee Addresses Tourney Issues

The NCAA men’s ice hockey committee clarified a number of outstanding issues Monday as it heads towards next Sunday’s selections for this year’s NCAA tournament. (Selection show: Sunday, ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. ET.)

For one, for the purposes of tournament selection, Massachusetts-Lowell’s wins over Massachusetts (2) and Michigan State will stand. Those wins, and two others, were forfeited by Lowell for use of an ineligible player. But, according to Tom Jacobs, NCAA Director of Championships, NCAA by-laws stipulate that the wins should stand.

“There’s a difference between a no-contest and a forfeit,” Jacobs said. “If a game isn’t played, a conference may decide to count it as a win, but nothing is factored in [for tournament purposes]. With a forfeit, if the contest actually took place, the result still stands.

“[However] the committee does have the ability to consider the material contribution of the ineligible player or players. It’s more of a subjective evaluation. They ask themselves, ‘We’ve got all the boxscores to look at, had this player not participated, in our subjective opinion, would it change anything?’ Not that they would reverse it, but they could.”

Even with adding two wins, Massachusetts is likely on the outside of the NCAAs looking in at this point. Michigan State is currently on the positive side of the bubble regardless. (see: current PWR)

The possibility of Colorado College earning a bid to the NCAA tournament has the potential to become a point of controversy. With two WCHA teams and two Hockey East teams likely to get the tournament’s No. 1 seeds, it follows that they would be placed in the two Western regionals and two Eastern regionals, respectively.

However, it has long been a high priority of the committee to avoid first-round matchups from teams in their own conference. If Colorado College gets into the tournament, it must be placed in the West Regional, per another committee guideline, because it is hosting that regional.

Thus, to avoid a first-round matchup against two WCHA teams, the committee would be forced in that scenario to move one of the WCHA No. 1 seeds to an Eastern Regional, and vice-versa. However, the committee has also, in recent years, made it a priority to place No. 1 seeds as close to home as possible.

The question becomes, which principle has more weight.

“We have the latitude to have conference teams play each other in the first round,” said Ron Grahame, chair of the committee. “It depends how many teams from a particular conference are eligible.”

Said Jacobs, “The way it reads in the committee policies … if at all possible, first-round matchups are avoided unless it corrupts integrity of bracket. Maintaining the pairing process is a priority.”

Grahame did note that the idea of moving No. 1 seeds across country to avoid the first-round intra-conference matchup is unlikely — which could create the first first-round intra-conference matchup in a long time.

“I doubt something like that would happen [moving teams East to West],” said Grahame. “It’s too dramatic of a move to have that happen. I’m not saying it won’t, but [not] in all likelihood.”

By the same token, the committee reiterated that many of their principles are not set in stone, and since they often conflict with each other, they all must be juggled to come up with the most fair brackets. For example, the committee would like to set up brackets in a 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc… situation, as it attempted to last year. But it will also weigh attendance considerations, intra-conference matchups, proximity to region, and so on.

“There’s a number of variables that will go into it,” said Grahame. “Proximity is important. It’s not the sole factor. We want the fairest final 16 we can get.”

The interest in the PairWise Rankings — a term coined by USCHO — has grown exponentially over the years. The system allows the public a peak into the committee’s process. Because the ice hockey tournament selection process is cut and dried, and laid out with specific sets of rules based on four well-defined criteria, it allows a place like USCHO to reproduce the process and lay it out in full view, allowing the public and teams a chance to know exactly where they stand. (see: NCAA Selection FAQ)

The committee affirmed that it likes the objective system, though it reiterated that because, for example, it keeps the “bonus points” criterion a secret, what is on USCHO may not wind up being quite the same as the committee’s final numbers.

“I believe it’s better this way,” said Grahame. “I don’t know that we’ll ever come up with a system that’s totally foolproof or everyone happy with the numbers, but with the process now … we pretty much know who the teams are. The biggest challenge is placing them into different regionals. Before, the people who had the most influence had the most votes.

“[Publishing the PWR] allows the public to access information better. There’s nothing we can do about it. The information is out there. We will do the best we can because there will always be some kind of consideration or concern, but it’s not a problem that it’s out there. It’s good for college hockey.”

Finally, Jacobs addressed two other issues of interest. First, he said that all of the contingency plans have long since been worked out with the NHL should the Boston Bruins require the FleetCenter for a home playoff game on the Friday of Frozen Four weekend.

“We’ve already got schedules in place based on whether the Bruins have home ice in first round,” said Jacobs, “and how that would affect practice schedules, locker rooms, media space … We’ve been working long and hard with the Boston folks to make that a coordinated effort. It will be a terrific week of hockey action if [the Bruins have a game].

“Everything would be at the Fleet. The game times will be as stated. The practice times that we’ve built, we built a long time ago based on this being a possible scenario.”

Finally, Jacobs said that, despite the loss of three Division I programs in the last two years, hockey was not in danger of seeing its 16-team tournament reduced back to 12.

“Considering on how successful it’s been, competitively, financially — I don’t think we’re in any danger of dropping below 16,” he said.