NCAA committee sees straightforward path to generating a ‘really strong bracket’

Greg Amlong and RIT will play their first-round NCAA tournament game against top overall seed Quinnipiac in Albany (photo: Omar Phillips).

The process of selecting and bracketing the 2016 Division I men’s NCAA tournament was pretty straightforward, according to committee member and Minnesota senior associate athletic director Tom McGinnis, despite six of the 16 teams in the field coming from Hockey East.

The entire process took just 30-45 minutes, a little bit quicker than normal, and in establishing the four regional brackets the committee was able to accomplish one of its top goals — avoiding first-round matchups between conference opponents, particularly the six Hockey East schools.

“We were very fortunate this year, laying out the seeds and the way they fell into the brackets, with a couple of changes here and there as we wanted to avoid first-round conference matchups,” said McGinnis. “We felt we had a really strong bracket and we should have a really strong championship this year.”

Quinnipiac earned the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. In doing so, the Bobcats technically should have been placed in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, which is the closest regional to the school’s Hamden, Conn., campus.

But the second Eastern regional is in Albany, N.Y., and being hosted by Quinnipiac’s own conference, ECAC Hockey. So despite being an additional 50 miles from the Quinnipiac campus, the committee felt comfortable moving the Bobcats, along with bracket mates Rochester Institute of Technology, Quinnipiac’s first-round opponent, as well as another ECAC team Yale and UMass-Lowell, out to New York’s Capital District.

“When we looked at those two regionals in the eastern part of the country, looking at Quinnipiac’s proximity to Albany and Worcester, they were very similar in our minds,” said McGinnis. “Then we looked at each regional and the teams we had in there, and it goes back to providing some more attendance and a better opportunity for fans to be able to attend.

“So while technically [Quinnipiac] was closer to one [site] than the other, we kind of felt we could go either way based on what their location was.”

In making the switch and allowing Quinnipiac and its three bracket mates to move to Albany, it placed Boston College, Providence and Harvard — all within a 60-minute drive of Worcester, Mass. — in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, a move that should help drive attendance at that site.

When all was said and done, McGinnis said, the most important aspect to him and the committee was not necessarily to maximize attendance but rather avoid any conferences from having their teams play in the opening round.

“The fans want to see their team playing a different team than who they might see in their regular season,” said McGinnis. “The changes we made really avoided those first-round matchups while maximizing attendance and the experience at all the different sites.”

It is quite possible that Sunday’s seeding and selection could be one of the final times that the NCAA committee designs its bracket in four pre-determined regions, something that has been the norm since the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003.

No regional sites have been selected past 2017. And, according to Kristin Fasbender, the NCAA’s director of championships and alliances, the committee and the college hockey body as a whole will explore whether a new structure to the regional portion of the tournament, which could include playing games at campus sites, is a more viable option.

“I think there is continued conversation about [changing the regionals],” said Fasbender. “The committee keeps talking about what [the tournament] looks like when we go forward.

“We’re in a year here where at our four regional sites, none of our host institutions are in them. So I think we’ll continue to have this conversation as we get into the championship in Tampa and at the coaches’ association meetings in April and the [NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey] committee meetings in June and trying to talk more about what we want to continue to look at globally for the whole tournament as we go forward.”

In her comments, Fasbender acknowledged that the transparency of the selection process and the extended prognostications done by the college hockey world ahead of selection Sunday made the process a little bit easier for the committee this year.

“Everybody’s watching everything going into [the selection process] from a committee member’s perspective, so folks did get on the phone [on Sunday] with some ideas in their head of how things could play out,” she said.

“So it was some good conversation with the group. While it wasn’t the longest [selection] call that we’ve had, I do think people came into the call thinking about [how to seed the field].”