Large NCHC contingent posed biggest challenge for NCAA committee in making tournament bracket

Providence and Boston College both ended up in the East Regional in Providence (photo: Melissa Wade).

College hockey bracketologists had a rough go trying to predict the 2015 NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament in a year where the selection committee had a tough time achieving its goals.

According to committee member Kevin Sneddon, head coach at Vermont, six teams making the field from the NCHC made the seeding of the tournament most challenging. But he said he feels the committee did a good job of maintaining integrity of the seedings while still creating matchups in each region that should draw solid crowds.

“I don’t think we had major challenges but the fact we had six [teams] from one conference; that poses a little bit of a debate,” said Sneddon.

The guidelines for seeding the tournament call for the committee to avoid matchups between teams from the same conference in the first round. However, if a conference has more than four entries, as is the case this year with the NCHC, that guideline can be overlooked.

The committee, however, was able to seed the tournament without having NCHC teams play in the opening round.

“The committee, over time, has really tried to avoid [intra-conference matchups],” said Sneddon. “We realized we could avoid it and thought that was important.”

In three of the four regionals, local teams could provide large crowds and a great atmosphere, something that looking at the field shows the NCAA paid close attention to. Boston University and Yale will both be playing in Manchester, N.H.; Providence and Boston College both will play in the East Regional in Providence. And North Dakota, as host, will play in front of a sellout crowd in Fargo, N.D.

That does leave the Midwest Regional in South Bend, Ind., as the one region where attendance could be a major issue. Top overall seed Minnesota State will play RIT and Omaha will face Harvard in that region.

The good news for those teams, however, is that there has been a strong presale for tickets, which when combined with the fans of the four schools that will travel there should create a decent crowd and atmosphere.

That, however, wasn’t the top priority in seeding that region.

“That South Bend regional in terms of [seeding] numbers is right where it should be,” said Kristin Fasbender, associate director of championships and alliances for the NCAA and operations manager for the Division I men’s hockey championship. “Minnesota State being that No. 1 overall seed, [we] tried to make sure that they [face] the 16 [seed] and that they have the eighth and ninth seeds [in that regional] as well.”

One of the biggest challenges that the committee faced this year might have been conflicts that were created for committee members. Four of the six members — North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison, Minnesota associate AD Tom McGinnis, Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson and Yale senior associate AD Wayne Dean — all had to recuse themselves at one point in the process because their respective teams are playing in the tournament.

That left Sneddon, Fasbender and Army coach Brian Riley as the only three who could see the entire process through from start to finish.

“If a committee member had a team involved, when it came down to bracketing and making those decisions, they weren’t involved,” said Fasbender. “We don’t want anyone to feel that they have to make a decision on [which team] is coming to play them.”

This could be one of the final times that the NCAA tournament is seeded in four different regions. Committee chair Faison said last week that the committee may look at having the early games of the tournament played at campus sites, with the higher team earning the right to host. That exploration was confirmed on Sunday by Fasbender.

“[Moving to campus sites] is something the committee talks about every year in terms of attendance numbers,” said Fasbender. “The committee will continue to talk about it. Other [NCAA] sports that have predetermined regional sites are having the same conversations.”