D-III Selections: What Happened?

Where It’s At

The NCAA tournament field is set, and the usual complaining has dimmed to a dull roar, so let’s take a final look at what transpired in terms of pairings and site selection, and also look ahead to possible hosts for the Division III semifinals and finals.

I made two errors in my predictions of the NCAA field and seedings. First, I had heard from a source at Trinity that they were scrambling to somehow host a quarterfinal game, but as it turns out, that didn’t happen. Second, I had Trinity seeded above Middlebury in the East, while the committee saw it the other way.

“It was very close,” said Chris Schneider, Assistant Director of Championships at the NCAA, who facilitated the committee’s conference call on Sunday. “It came down to some of the secondary criteria, especially record during the last 25 percent of the season.”

Apparently, the committee (Middlebury Athletic Director Russ Reilly and Curry Associate Athletic Director Vincent Eruzione had to excuse themselves from this discussion, as both had teams in the tournament) felt that Trinity’s significant advantage in winning percentage, and slight lead in quality wins and record against common opponents were offset by Middlebury’s substantial lead in record against ranked teams. The secondary criteria of record in the final 25 percent of the season went Middlebury’s way (Trinity was 4-1-1; Middlebury was 6-0-1) and of course the Panthers won the NESCAC title.

I still don’t agree. See for yourself:

Middlebury vs. Trinity
WIN 0.7800 0 0.8261 1
SOS 9.9200 0 10.0000 1
H2H 0- 0- 1 0 0- 0- 1 0
COP 16- 4- 2 0 17- 3- 1 1
RNK 6- 2- 3 1 3- 2- 2 0
PTS 1 3

I would have still taken Trinity as the second seed. This will become important later in our discussion.

Once the committee had seeded the teams, the pairings were assigned. Manhattanville was the top seed in the East, drawing sixth-seeded New England College. Middlebury was assigned to host fifth-seeded Curry, and Trinity was paired with fourth-seeded Geneseo. In the West, things went as expected with third-seeded St. Thomas traveling to St. John’s for the first-round game with St. Norbert hosting the winners in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

This is an unfortunate result of the 6-3 East-West split, which has occurred each season since the tournament went to nine teams. The NCAA Championship manual for Division III says that “flights will be kept to a minimum.” This means that in the even of a 6-3 or 7-2 split, the Western teams will play down to one, which, assuming an Eastern team can host (more about this later) will then fly east for the semifinals and finals.

Also, since Trinity could not host the game, the Bantams were sent to Geneseo. “I really don’t mind,” said Trinity coach John Dunham. “We’ve played better on the road this season anyway.”

Dunham says he would have liked to find a way for Trinity to host, but it just couldn’t happen. “Maybe we could have played Curry at Babson or somewhere in Boston where we have a large alumni base,” said Dunham. “But it didn’t work out. We’re just happy to be playing.”

Conspiracy Theory

Of course, with three Eastern teams and one Western squad slated to advance to the semifinals, that means that the championship will again be determined in the East, right?

Maybe not. The following teams have put in bids for the semifinals and finals: St. Thomas, St. Norbert, St. John’s, Geneseo, and Middlebury. Curry and Manhattanville put in bids for the quarterfinals but not the finals.

If the committee wanted to ensure a final in the east, they would have sent Geneseo to Middlebury, thus ensuring that one Eastern team with a bid for the finals would have advanced. Since it was so close between Middlebury and Trinity for the second seed, the committee could easily have sent Geneseo to Middlebury and paired Trinity with Curry, sending the Bantams to Boston.

Instead, they awarded Middlebury the No. 2 spot, meaning that the pairings do hold the possibility that there won’t be any Eastern teams in the semifinals capable of hosting. Manhattanville and New England College can’t, and if both Curry and Trinity win, they can’t either. Schneider confirmed that in that event, the NCAA would indeed fly three teams west to the surviving Western team.

So here’s what it comes down to:

• Middlebury wins: The Pathers will host. They’ll be the highest seeded Eastern team that put in a bid.

• Middlebury loses, but Geneseo wins: Geneseo will host.

• Both Middlebury and Geneseo lose: The survivor among St. John’s, St. Norbert and St. Thomas will host.

A Whole New Ball Game

Changes next year will make this process a lot more straightforward. Division III hockey moves to a three-year experiment in which pre-determined sites will host. Elmira’s First Arena will host in 2006 (note this is not the Murray Athletic Center where the Soaring Eagles play), Wisconsin-Superior’s Wessman Arena will host in 2007, and the 1980 Rink, Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid will be the site of the 2008 championship.

Also, a tenth team is being added to the NCAA field next season, making it easier for the West to get four teams in the tournament. It doesn’t guarantee it, however; based on the PWR, it would have been a 7-3 split this season with Oswego being the tenth team. Also, new rinks at Trinity and Oswego are slated to open the season after next, allowing the NCAA more options for hosting sites, even if they decide to go back to the on-campus format.

But for now, maybe for the last time, we have this controversy. While this one may pass, we’ll always have a tenth or eleventh or seventeenth team that got “screwed.” To those teams and their fans, my sympathies go out to you this season, and in the future.