By Peter Langella
When the NCAA Selection Committee holds their call on Sunday night to determine which teams get into the national tournament, we'll be left to puzzle together how they reached their decision. It might be straightforward but it might be pretty baffling, as it has been in too many recent years. This is because the committee won't show us what order they ranked the teams in for their final ranking. It's secret. They won't even show us who they ranked. That's secret, too. Even worse, the committee won't even show us how they ranked the teams. Again, it's a secret. Sure, we all know what criteria they use, but we have no idea how they weight those criteria. They get to choose. And get this: the committee can switch up the weighting system they use from year to year or even week to week.
|As Langella contends, the NCAA tournament selection process can be a murky one to wade through.|
It feels weird to see that in writing. Secrets aren't a good thing. They don't help anyone involved.
The NCAA Selection Committee owes it to everyone involved – schools, teams, players, coaches, fans, everyone – to publish the truth about their choices. Be transparent like the D1 process. Show us a mathematical equation. Choose a weighting system and stick with it. Give us something concrete to go on. I know there are problems and contradictions with any ratings system, but at least it would be an objective process. At least all of the teams and players would know exactly where they stand. They'd know if they were in or out, and why.
This secrecy and subjectivity is just plain wrong. I've never spoken to anyone who likes the current process.
But I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, hey, you might be right, but stop whining, it is what it is, and the NCAA isn't going to change everything at the drop of a puck. And that's true. It is. This is the system our favorite teams have to live with. So, trying to keep that in mind, there's really only one question left to ask:
Who gets in this year?
I'm not trying to one-up Josh and Matt or any other bracketologists, but what I want to think about is how the committee should use its subjectivity. How should they weight the criteria? How should they utilize secondary criteria? What should they consider when they pick the field?
Now let's assume that all of the highest seeds in leagues with an automatic bid win this weekend. That would leave the committee with a nice, clean slate on which to pick the three Pool C at-large selections. The rankings as of right now seem to say those three teams will be Utica, St. Norbert, and either Babson or Hobart.
I'm fine with Utica and St. Norbert being selected. Utica won the ECAC West regular season championship, and the numbers clearly say that they're the most deserving non-AQ eastern team. St. Norbert (along with UW-Eau Claire and Adrian) has been one of three teams that played at a level well above the rest of the western teams this season, both in the standings and rankings.
That leaves the final Pool C slot to Babson or Hobart. Well, maybe. As I said, we don't exactly know how the final rankings will be determined or how the criteria will be applied during the selection call. Again, assuming that all favorites win this weekend, the current contenders for the final pool C position based on this week's published rankings are Babson, Hobart, Neumann, Williams, and Trinity.
Hobart seems to be the front-runner based on the numbers (remember Babson will have another loss if favored Norwich wins the ECAC East), but their season is done, while the rest of these teams are playing for a league championship this weekend. I think at least one of these teams can leapfrog Hobart with a strong showing this weekend, and I think it will happen because of the secondary criteria.
Babson is really good team. Coach Rice always seems to get them to click in the clutch, and they could definitely beat Norwich this weekend and steal the AQ, which, of course, would probably mean that Norwich would get the final Pool C bid and make the rest of this meaningless. So, for argument's sake, let's say Babson loses this weekend. I don't think they get in. Here's why: they lost both of their games against St. Anselm. Because St. A's is D2, those losses aren't considered in Babson's primary criteria, but they will be considered in its secondary criteria, and they should be. St. Anselm is in their league, the ECAC East. That's how nutty some of this stuff is. Two league losses don't even count in the primary criteria for the NCAA selection process. But I think the committee will notice that and rank them accordingly when all is said and done.
Williams and Trinity have had great seasons, and I've been associated with both programs and wish them well, but I think that they'll need to win the NESCAC tournament to get a bid. Trinity has a real strong RNK (record against other ranked teams), but falls just short in the other categories. Williams has a solid résumé all around, but it's just that: solid. None of their rankings stand out. Now, it's totally feasible that Trinity, Williams, or even Middlebury will win the NESCAC, which would leave Bowdoin hoping for a Pool C bid, but I don't think they'd get it, either. One more loss would hurt them more than it would hurt other teams because their SOS (Strength-of-Schedule rating) is one of the lowest in the country.
Which leaves us with Neumann to consider. If the Knights beat Manhattanville on Saturday to win the ECAC West championship – and all other favorites win like we've been saying – I think Neumann will be the final team selected for the tournament.
|Could a Neumann win over Manhattanville in Saturday's ECAC West title game be enough to get the Knights into the tournament field?|
As the ECAC West Champions, Neumann would be in a similar position as Manhatanville in 2010 and Hobart last season. Both of those teams did not get an invite to the NCAA tournament, and I think that was the wrong choice by the committee. Why? They each won their league championship for starters. But I know that the selection committee erroneously counts league championship games for non-AQ conferences as just another game, so I had to dig deeper into the secondary criteria to find my answer.
"Win-loss percentage during the last 25% of the season (roughly 6-8 games)."
This piece of criteria is huge. The committee has it at their disposal, yet they choose not to use it very often, even when it would help make their subjective choice much more objective. It's important because adding weight to the final quarter of the season means adding weight to the league playoffs, which is the right thing to do. If a conference doesn't want to hold playoffs and chooses to award a championship to the best regular season team, fine, they can set up their league any way they want. But, if they do hold playoffs, those playoffs mean more than the regular season. They just do. At Norwich, we held ceremonies for NCAA and ECAC East Playoff Championship banner raisings. The one year we only won the league regular season and missed out on the NCAA's? Who knows... one of the rink guys raised the banner by himself in the summer or something.
Anyone who says that the regular season is as important as the playoffs has never won a playoff championship. Period.
In 2010, Manhattanville finished 20-6-1, going 5-1-0 in its last six and 5-2-1 in its last eight. They beat Elmira in the league championship. Elmira finished 18-8-1, going 2-4-0 in its last six and 3-5-0 in its final eight. Elmira got the bid. I know I'm leaving out the other relevant numbers that the committee looked at, but I don't even see the need to include them. For some reason, the committee chose not to apply this "Win-loss percentage during the last 25% of the season" rule, and Manhattanville suffered because of it.
Just last season, Hobart finished 16-10-1, going 5-1-0 in its last six and 6-1-1 in its final eight. They beat Neumann in the league championship. Elmira finished 15-8-3, going 2-3-1 in its final six and 4-3-1 in its final eight. Elmira lost in the league semis and got the bid. Again. The secondary criteria were ignored for the second time in three years, and Hobart suffered because of it.
Neumann has plenty to brag about this season. They beat every team on their schedule, meaning that if they lost or tied a team, they also beat them in a different game. They beat Norwich on the road. They beat D1 Penn St. on the road (in a game that doesn't count toward any of the criteria). They went undefeated in non-league play. And, if they were to win on Saturday and claim the ECAC West Championship, Neumann would be 19-6-3, going 6-0-0 in its last six and 7-0-1 in its final eight. In contrast, Hobart finished 19-5-2, going 3-3-0 in its last six and 5-3-0 in its final eight.
The committee needs to stop ignoring this aspect of the secondary criteria. They need to award Pool C bids to the most deserving teams, and the most deserving teams win when it counts.
If Neumann wins on Saturday, the committee needs to award them the bid.
If Manhattanville were to beat Neumann on Saturday, I personally believe that they should get the final bid as well. The ECAC West playoff champion deserves to get into the NCAA's every year. All the playoff champions do. But, I fully understand that's not how the process works and, unfortunately, Manhattanville just has too much ground to make up in the criteria.
Will all of the favorites win to set up this perfect scenario? Probably not. Will Neumann win? I have no idea. Will the most important piece of secondary criteria be used even though its been ignored in the past? I certainly hope so!
All I know is that it's going to be an exciting weekend of hockey, and if I were sitting in the Neumann Knights' dressing room, I'd sure want to give the Selection Committee something to think about come Sunday Night.
Peter Langella played at Trinity College and Norwich University and has also coached at Williams. He is now a writer and librarian in central Vermont.