After this past weekend, the playoff picture is starting to clear up. Gustavus Adolphus, Hamline, and St. Thomas have all clinched playoff spots, although in what position they finish is still to be determined. While the top of the standings are shaking out nicely, the fight for the playoffs has become as tight as ever.
Coming into the final weekend, five teams have a shot at claiming the last two playoff spots. Bethel, St. Olaf, and Augsburg all control their own destiny, while Concordia (MN) and St. Johnâ€™s need help. How can three teams control their own destiny for two playoff spots, you ask? Because for Augsburg and Bethel, the playoffs start this weekend as they face off against each other. Two points for Augsburg guarantees them a playoff spot, while Bethel needs to take three points to clinch.
With so much clustered around the center of the standings, itâ€™s a good idea to dust off the tiebreakers. From the MIAC homepage:
1. Results of head to head competition;
2. Results against all teams above those tied;
3. Results against all teams, beginning in rank order;
4. Order of losses, beginning with the ninth place team and moving up to those tied;
5. Total goal series, with those tied;
6. Goal differential for total conference season;
7. Number of overtime losses;
8. Random Selection.
(Based only on conference competition)
Confused? Itâ€™s not difficult to be, especially since these tiebreakers are quite a bit different from those used by most other conferences. Theyâ€™re much easier to discern, however, if you break things down step by step. Since theyâ€™re currently tied in the standings, letâ€™s first use Bethel vs. St. Olaf as an example by themselves.
If both teams sweep this weekend, here are the tie breaking scenarios. These two split their conference games with each team winning one, leaving them tied after the first tiebreaker. Now hereâ€™s where it starts to get a little tricky. The second tiebreaker is record against all teams above those tied. If they each gain three points this weekend (one win and a tie), theyâ€™ll be tied for fourth and fifth place in the standings, with St. Thomas at third and Augsburg out of the playoffs at sixth.
That would leave Gustavus Adolphus and Hamline as the two teams above them in the standings. Bethel split vs. Gustavus Adolphus, while St. Olaf lost one game and tied their second against the Gusties. Against Hamline, St. Olaf again lost one and tied one, while Bethel was swept. Against St. Thomas, St. Olaf split yet again, and Bethel was swept. That gives St. Olaf a record of 1-3-2, and Bethel a record of 1-5-0, which means the Oles hold the tiebreaker.
The third tiebreaker is where things get really strange (to me at least.) If they had the same records against those top three teams, it would go to record against teams above in order of rank. That means that if Gustavus wins the regular season title, Bethel would own the tiebreaker since they went 1-1-0 against them while St. Olaf went 0-1-1. On the other hand, if Hamline ends up winning the MIAC, St. Olaf would win the third tiebreaker. St. Olaf didnâ€™t do particularly well against Hamline, coming away with a loss and a tie, but Bethel lost twice to the Pipers, giving the edge to the Oles.
This is hypothetical though, since St. Olaf holds the advantage based on the second tiebreaker if the two teams end up tied. This holds true if both teams split this weekend, and finish tied for the last playoff spot. Augsburg would now be ahead of them in the standings, but to end up tied for the last playoff spot, Bethel would need to split with Augsburg, which is exactly what St. Olaf did, so the advantage would still go to the Oles.
If youâ€™re still somewhat confused, I doubt youâ€™re the only one, but those are the tiebreakers the league uses, for better or worse. Now, letâ€™s break down what each team needs to do to ensure they make the playoffs, tiebreaker or no tiebreaker.
Current seed Fourth
Current points: 15
What they need to do: Win. Two points against Bethel ensures Augsburg will make the playoffs. With four points, theyâ€™ll pass St. Thomas and clinch third place. Three points would see the Auggies tied with the Tommies, but St. Thomas holds the head to head tiebreaker.
â€œWe try to approach every game during the season as though it were a playoff gameâ€ said Augsburg head coach Chris Brown. â€œWith how close this league is, one game might be all it takes to make or miss the playoffs.â€
Itâ€™s happened in past years, and it will most likely happen this year. Any team missing the playoffs will be able to look back to games they should have closed out but didnâ€™t, games where effort was lacking, or games where the bounces didnâ€™t go their way. An extra one or two points may be all that separates the final playoff spot from two other teams who missed out.
â€œFor this last weekend, it should be a passionate, desperate game for both of us,â€ said Brown. â€œBoth teams will be fighting for their playoff lives, and each team should come out playing hard for 60 minutes. If Bethel can win at Augsburg on Friday, it sets up a huge game the next night where both teams will be trying to clinch a playoff berth with a win.
Current seed: Fifth (tied)
Current points 14
What they need to do: Win and tie. Bethel could make the playoffs by getting only a single point this weekend, but they would be depending on St. Johnâ€™s to sweep St. Olaf, and for Concordia (MN) to pick up two or fewer points against Hamline.
Like Augsburg, Bethel has their destiny in their own hands. Unlike Augsburg, two points does not clinch a playoff berth for the Royals, they need at least three points to guarantee themselves a spot in the MIACâ€™s second season.
Current seed: Fifth (tied)
Current points: 14
What they need to do: More than Bethel. If the Oles can gain one more point than Bethel this weekend, theyâ€™re in. Itâ€™s as simple as that. A sweep of St. Johnâ€™s would clinch a spot for St. Olaf, as those four points would guarantee that they pass one of Augsburg or Bethel (and possibly both.)
Head coach Sean Goldsworthy isnâ€™t concerned with watching other scores this weekend.
â€œWeâ€™re going to focus on us and how weâ€™re playingâ€, he said. â€œOur goal is to make the playoffs, and hopefully peak going into them.â€
With only five teams making the playoffs, the fight for the playoffs tends to be tighter in the MIAC than in other leagues, especially with the high level of parity.
â€œSt. Johnâ€™s is a playoff caliber team, and theyâ€™ve played very well lately, yet they might finish near the bottom of the league,â€ said Goldsworthy. â€œIt goes to show the depth and parity in this league.â€
The Oles know what they have to do to make the playoffs, if they can follow through, they will have definitely earned their spot, and any team making the playoffs has the ability to make a run not only in the MIAC playoffs, but in the NCAA tournament as well.
Current seed: Seventh
Current points: 12
What they need to do: Sweep and hope. The best case scenario for the Cobbers is to sweep Hamline while Augsburg and St. Johnâ€™s also sweep. Concordia can get into the playoffs without a clean sweep, but anything less than three points (or two or more points by Bethel or St. Olaf) means their season is over.
However the season ends, this has been a great rebuilding year for the Cobbers. After finishing last in the MIAC the previous year, Concordia has been fighting for a playoff spot all season. Theyâ€™ve been competitive in virtually every game theyâ€™ve played, and have given up a whopping 24 fewer goals in conference games this season. With the lionâ€™s share of the team returning next season, Concordia could be one of the up and coming teams in the league.
Current seed: Eighth
Current points: 10
What they need to do: Honestly? Iâ€™m not exactly sure. If Augsburg sweeps Bethel, Hamline sweeps Concordia, and St. Johnâ€™s sweeps St. Olaf, there will be three teams tied for the final playoff position. If Concordia manages two points against Hamline, there could be four teams tied for that final spot.
The MIAC tiebreakers make no distinction on how things are handled if multiple teams are tied. In the case of St. Olaf, St. Johnâ€™s, and Bethel all being tied, each team holds a head to head advantage with another. In order for this tie to happen, St. Johnâ€™s will need to sweep St. Olaf, who split against Bethel, who swept St. Johnâ€™s. How that situation plays out isnâ€™t specified on the MIAC website. Itâ€™s possible that St. Johnâ€™s is already mathematically eliminated if they canâ€™t win the tiebreaker against Bethel and St. Olaf.
Either way though, the Jonnies should come into this weekend looking to play hard. A team playing loose and without pressure at the end of the season can be a dangerous opponent, as St. Johnâ€™s well knows. Last season they missed out on a playoff spot when they were beaten by St. Maryâ€™s in the last game of the season. This time St. Johnâ€™s has a chance to play the spoiler against St. Olaf.
Itâ€™s been great following the regular season here in the MIAC. Itâ€™s been filled with some excellent individual and team performances, back-and-forth action, upsets, and big matchups. In some ways, itâ€™s kind of disappointing knowing the regular season will be over after this weekend. Several teams have shown the ability to win big games and compete at a high level, but not all of them will be playing after these next two games.
The parity in this league is hard to understand if you havenâ€™t seen the teams play regularly. Despite disparate records, any team can beat another on any given night. The parity does mean that you wonâ€™t usually see any teams with a stellar record, which may give people from other regions the impression that theyâ€™re not very good.
All anyone has to do is point to Gustavus Adolphus last year though. The Gusties finished with a 10-6-0 record in the MIAC, and a 15-10-0 record overall in the regular season. But when the playoffs started, they first won the MIAC championship, then their first two NCAA games before falling in the national title game.
Whoever emerges from the MIAC playoffs will certainly be battled tested. Every team making the playoffs will have been playing significant games for the past two to three weeks at least, and the playoffs havenâ€™t even started yet.
Itâ€™s been a wild ride so far, and it isnâ€™t showing any signs of slowing down.
In my opinion, a tiebreaker should compare what teams did against each other and against the league as a whole. Making or missing the playoffs because one team or another won the regular season title just doesnâ€™t seem fair. Maybe one team was resting up for the playoffs or trying out new lines while another team was gung-ho for finishing in first.
Using a tiebreaking system that uses head to head results, number of conference wins, goal differential in head-to-head games, goal differential in all league games, or number overtime losses seems much more equitable to me. It just seems to be a poor system when two teams can be dead even head-to-head, and to have the balance tipped based on what order other teams finish in.
I understand the reasoning of the MIAC: they would rather have a team in the playoffs that has showed it can compete with the higher ranked teams versus one who did not. But in a potential case like Bethel and St. Olaf, it doesnâ€™t seem fair to boot Bethel out of the picture if, say, Gustavus rests starters while Hamline does not. Iâ€™m not saying that St. Olaf is undeserving if that does happen, but I feel that after a 16 game season, that whole body of work should be taken into account.
If youâ€™re going to pick out one or two games to focus on, then St. Olafâ€™s games against Bethel should be the ones to look at. It just doesnâ€™t seem fair to ignore a whole season and make or break someoneâ€™s playoff hopes on how they did against a team theyâ€™re not tied with.
This is just my opinion on the MIAC tiebreakers, you can let me know what you think by sending me an email to [email protected].