Quotas in college sports have not been kind to the state of Wisconsin as of late. Last month, the Badgers’ football team failed to qualify for the Bowl Championship Series, despite an 11-1 record and No. 7 national ranking. The BCS cannot take more than two teams from any one conference, and Wisconsin was stuck behind Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten. A similar logjam is on the horizon in D-III women’s hockey – and coincidentally, three of the teams involved come from Wisconsin.
The related rule in D-III women’s hockey puts all teams from conferences with fewer than seven members in a category titled Pool B, from which only one team can qualify for the NCAA tournament. Currently the only conference in Pool B is the NCHA, whose top four teams all rank among the nation’s leaders in win percentage — Wisconsin-Superior (13-2-0), Wisconsin-River Falls (8-3-3), Lake Forest (7-1-3), and Wisconsin-Stevens Point (8-2-1).
There is one difference between the BCS and the D-III NCAA situation. When the Badgers missed out on the BCS, they still received the largest non-BCS bowl payoff of 4.25 million in the Capital One Bowl. There they defeated Arkansas, while the Buckeyes and Wolverines were dismantled and embarrassed in their BCS games — and that is putting it lightly. For the three teams who don’t earn the Pool B berth in D-III women’s hockey, there will be no alternative opportunity for postseason play. Their seasons will be over.
Thankfully, for the NCHA schools, players, and fans, the league will not be stuck in the Pool B swamp next season. The NCHA will have an automatic qualifier to NCAAs, because the addition of Concordia University will boost the league’s membership to the magical number of seven teams. However, that doesn’t help the situation this year any. With four teams in the hunt it could get very messy come March when the NCAA committee sits down to iron out the tournament field.
Wis.-Superior has impressive wins over Elmira and Wis.-Stevens Point and two losses against highly ranked opponents in Gustavus Adolphus and the Pointers. The Yellowjackets have a long way to go, however, as they will face Wis.-River Falls and Lake Forest three times each before the end of the regular season. They also have to play Wis.-Stevens Point again as well as Gustavus Adolphus.
Wis.-River Falls on the other hand has just one impressive win, coming at the hands of Wis.-Stevens Point. The Falcons have suffered losses to Gustavus Adolphus, St. Thomas, and Wis. Eau-Claire as well as ties against the Pointers, Hamline, and St. Mary’s. The Falcons will have to finish among the strongest of all the teams in the NCHA in order to be playing deep into March. They will get that chance as seven of their last 11 games come against the other three schools fighting for the one spot.
Out of the four teams hunting for the Pool B bid, Lake Forest has had the easiest schedule to date. The Foresters’ best wins came in a weekend sweep of St. Thomas, who has struggled to date despite a preseason national ranking. The Foresters have lost to Wis.-Stevens Point and tied Augsburg, Finlandia, and Wis.-Eau Claire. With 10 of their final 12 NCAA games coming against Gustavus Adolphus, Wis.-Superior, Wis.-River Falls, and Wis.-Stevens Point, the Foresters have a tall order ahead if they hope to make it to the dance.
If you had to pick the team with the easier road remaining it may be the Pointers. They have already faced Wis.-Superior and Wis.-River Falls twice each and Lake Forest once. They are just 2-2-1 in those games and that could hurt them down the road. They still have two games against Lake Forest and one each against the Falcons and Yellowjackets. They have disposed of Gustavus Adolphus already once this season and get another shot at them on Tuesday.
So, what have we learned? Well I am just thankful that at the end of the day, I am not the one sitting on the committee, trying to figure out which team should get the nod. In a perfect world, one team will run the table and make this discussion mute. However, like everything else in life, it will not be that easy. It is going to be a very interesting month to see how everything plays out.
Over the course of this season, there have been several discussions about what particular teams do during the playing of the National Anthem. There are several teams whose players stand perfectly on the blueline, remaining motionless until The Anthem is over. Other teams choose to stand in a pseudo-line with players shuffling skates and sometimes lightly bouncing from side to side in anticipation for the game they are about to embark on. This issue has spurned many debates beyond the Division III hockey world. While there is no right or wrong side of the debate, there is a certain sense of respect that should be shown while the Star Spangled Banner is played. I will say this however, as a spectator, teams who stand motionless on the blueline give off a better impression than those who do not.