by Ray Biggs
Managing Editor, D3hockey.com
Yes, eventually all good things again must come to an end, and here we stand looking at the light at the end of the long tunnel we call the regular season. For some leagues, the postseason is just a week away.
With the last of the regular season upon us, and the first public NCAA regional ranking release of the season due next week, the time has come to once more examine the NCAA Division III Women's Ice Hockey Championship selection process. This installment is the first in our annual weekly series that continues until the teams are selected on Sunday, March 4.
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Photo: Eric Kelley, d3photography.com
Our first full foray into 2018 Women's Bracketology will begin next week following the release of the much-anticipated NCAA regional rankings, so for now we'll examine the women's selection process as, for those who may be familiar with one but not the other, it offers some distinct differences from the men's.
The selection process tends to change a bit annually, and that again is the case this year. 2018's notable changes include:
- The tournament field has expanded and will now include nine teams, which means there will be a single first round game. The first round game will be played one day prior to the quarterfinal and at the site of the quarterfinal host
- For the purposes of selection, a team will be considered ranked if it appears in either of the final two NCAA regional rankings. Previously, a team was only considered ranked if it appeared in the final ranking
- The final regional rankings will be published whereas they have not been in the past
- Despite being a new league with only five teams, the Northeast Women's Hockey League (NEWHL) has been granted a waiver and its postseason champion will receive an automatic qualifier (Pool A) bid
Nine schools will participate in the 2018 Division III Women's Ice Hockey Championship, which will culminate with the final four teams participating in the Frozen Four on Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17. The host site will be determined once the identities of the remaining four institutions are known and, as outlined in the championship manual, the site will be at one of the four participating institutions.
This year's tournament will feature one opening round game on March 9 and four quarterfinal games on March 9 or 10, with the winners advancing to the Frozen Four. The quarterfinal games are generally held at the home rink of the higher-seeded team, provided its school has submitted a bid to host. There have been exceptions to this in the past, however.
Why does the women's tournament consist of nine teams, and not ten, or even twelve like we see in the men's tournament? That's based on an NCAA rule that applies to nearly all Division III championship tournaments: Each championship tournament is allotted one bid per every 6.5 teams that play the sport. Currently, 62 schools sponsor Division III women's hockey which creates 9.54 bids to the tournament which, in application, leads to the nine team field.
On Sunday, March 4 the NCAA national committee will hold a conference call to select those teams that did not receive an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament, seed the entire field, and place teams into the bracket. As to the makeup of the committee, any representative of a school whose team is being considered for the tournament must recuse themself from discussions involving that team. Following the call, the tournament field will be announced on Monday, March 5 at 10:00 a.m. EST.
So who makes the tournament? There are three ways a team can earn a bid into the tournament:
- Pool A: Teams that have been awarded the championship of an automatic qualifier conference (6 bids).
- Pool B: Teams selected only from conferences without automatic qualifiers (1 bid).
- Pool C: Any other unselected team, often called “at-large” teams (2 bids).
Pool A: Any league which has played with the same seven (or more) members for at least two years is eligible to receive a Pool A bid. Five leagues qualify for a pool A bid and they are: CHC, MIAC, NEHC, NESCAC, NEWHL, NCHA. Note that as mentioned above, the NEWHL has been granted a waiver for a Pool A bid despite only having five teams.
Pool B: For the third year in a row, a single Pool B bid is now up for grabs. As it pertains to the 2018 NCAA tournament, eligible Pool B teams are those in the UCHC and WIAC.
Pool C: The Pool C bids are awarded based on the same criteria that are ultimately used to seed all teams and place them into the tournament bracket. This year the primary selection criteria remain exactly as they were a year ago, which means the primary criteria are:
- Contests versus provisional and reclassifying members in their third and
- Consisting of Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OWP) and
- Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage (OOWP)
* Strength of Schedule (SOS) is determined by a composite figure consisting of 2/3 OWP and 1/3 OOWP
To emphasize, regionally ranked teams, as defined in the fourth criterion above, does not refer to the D3hockey.com poll or any similar media, fan or computer rankings. Instead, two NCAA regional committees (East and West) will four times prior to the tournament rank teams in their respective regions based on the above selection criteria. These and these alone determine the "ranked teams" used to generate “results versus Division III ranked teams" and any team that appears in either of the final two regional rankings will be considered a ranked team on Selection Sunday.
Outside of the primary criteria, there is also secondary criteria that the committees may choose to examine. As a reminder, the NCAA Pre-Championship Manual directly states that the secondary criteria will not be reviewed unless "the evaluation of the primary criteria does not result in a decision." The secondary criteria is as follows:
- Non-Division III won-lost percentage
- Results versus common non-Division III opponents
- Won-lost percentage during the last 25 percent of season
The NCAA will release a set of regional rankings once per week for three weeks in the run up to the NCAA Tournament. This year, the three sets will be released to the public on February 13, 20, and 27. These provide the public with a guide of which teams could be considered for selection and also afford the ability to calculate each team's current “results versus Division III ranked teams,” or RNK.
The final regional rankings will be created Sunday, March 5, just before the national committee holds its conference call to select the field. These rankings will provide the foundation for the Pool B and Pool C selections, as well as for tournament seeding once the field is set. The final rankings will also be released to the public.
Regional Committee Composition
* Chairs of the regional advisory committees serve as non-voting members
** Will serve as voting representative of the NEHC
Who Plays Where and Why
At the Division III level, the tournament's ruling principle is geography. Committees are instructed to “keep flights to a minimum” when seeding the tournament as the NCAA mandates that any schools more than 500 miles apart are required to fly to face each other. The logical endpoint of these two rules being that teams located more than 500 miles from each other almost always will not play until the semifinals. However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that satisfying these requirements bears any influence on which teams are selected for the tournament in the first place. Instead, where those teams can play once in the tournament can be restricted by this 500 mile requirement.
Google Maps, Mapquest, your car's odometer, or other tools are not valid methods of determining whether two campuses are within 500 miles of each other. Instead, the campus-to-campus distances the NCAA uses can be calculated on its official site. You may view and experiment with the NCAA mileage calculator here.
Once the national committee has selected the Pool B and Pool C teams and ranked the field from top to bottom, the teams are finally set to be placed into a bracket. Due to the 500 mile limitation, this is ideally done with one chunk of “Eastern” teams and another of “Western” teams, if possible. Of course there will be a new twist this year as a ninth team has been added to the field, which will in turn alter the make-up of potentially viable brackets.
A final note on this is an element that applies to the women's tournament but not the men's: namely, "teams from the same conference will not play each other in the first round of the regional tournament as long as geographic proximity is maintained."
For the first round and quarterfinals, the team ranked highest within its region will be the host team, provided it has properly submitted an acceptable bid to host a tournament game in the given round. Note that teams’ regional seeds maintain themselves and will be used to determine a host even in the event of an early round game between teams from different regions.
And so, there you have it. This article may be getting posted now, but if you're interested in the evolution of the process as our possible tournament field begins to shape itself each week, feel free to bookmark this as a reference. While the teams and numbers may change, the process will not. Stay tuned for our first run at Bracketology in the week ahead as we get a first look at our regional rankings.