by Mathieu Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
Welcome to yet another edition of our annual piece in which we attempt to address the questions that have arisen as a result of Monday morning's NCAA tournament selections.
Trinity is back in the tournament and once again pops up in our Selections Explained column. But why?
Photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
The good news is that this is going to be the most streamlined version yet, thanks in large part to this year's fields being selected and seeded by the NCAA Pairwise Rankings. As a result there will be no need to burn through the usual seven rolls of parchment required to break down the primary and secondary selection criteria of all teams that were in contention for at-large bids.
Even better news is that this year's issues are so few that we don't even need to separate the men and women into two different sections. Not a bad deal at all.
Nonetheless, as there have been more questions than zero here's out best attempt to address those we've seen the most.
WHY WAS (INSERT YOUR FAVORITE TEAM) LEFT OUT?
Because it was ranked too low in the Pairwise Rankings. Really, that's it. The Pairwise Rankings were used for both men and women this year and were the only factor considered when it came to selecting and seeding teams. As a result the top four men's teams that did not win a conference tournament and autobid were the four Pool C teams, while the top four women's teams that likewise failed to win an autobid received the one Pool B and three Pool C bids.
WHAT'S UP WITH TRINITY?
Well, to be fair it's actually Trinity, Manhattanville, UMass Boston and University of New England in question here, but for those who have followed this over the years know, the Bantams always seem to find themselves in the middle of something confusing regarding the selections so we figured we'd give them the section title. And this year is no different, though thankfully this one is pretty minor compared to past years and it's especially minor compared to the travesty that was last year's final East Region rankings.
So what's the issue? Well, if you line up the six East Region teams set for first round games in order of their Pairwise rank they land in this order: Hobart, Trinity, UMass Boston, University of New England, Manhattanville and Plymouth State.
Therefore logic would conclude that the first round match-ups between them should be: Hobart/Plymouth State, Trinity/Manhattanville, and UMB/UNE. But when the curtain was raised on this year's bracket that's not what any of us saw. Rather, while Hobart and Plymouth State were indeed paired up it was actually Trinity/UNE and UMB/Manhattanville that were lined up to play in the first round.
So what gives?
Our first thought was that they straight screwed up, but that seemed a bit too harsh and further investigation revealed that, per the trusty NCAA mileage calculator, it's 499 miles from UNE to Geneseo, which is where the winner of UMB/UNE would have been headed if the above pairings were the real ones. Barring the NCAA having some sort of mystery calculator on hand, which actually wouldn't shock us, that's below the 500-mile limit. Barely, but it is, so it doesn't seem as if there would be any travel issues. Despite that, 499 would be a long way to go for a quarterfinal should UNE win in the first round so it seems rather plausible UNE was swapped with Manhattanville to yield more manageable travel across the board.
As UNE and Manhattanville are both going on the road for the first round we know that hosting issues aren't in play here so there really isn't anything else that makes sense.
IT'S RIDICULOUS THAT (INSERT YOUR FAVORITE TEAM) HAS TO PLAY IN THE FIRST ROUND
That depends on one's definition of ridiculous.
This has surfaced regarding both the men's and women's tournaments this year so we'll deal with it all at once. On the men's side it's a result of four-seed St. Norbert getting dropped into the first round which also sets up a potential quarterfinal between the one and four seeds. On the women's side it's a result of both first round games being put in the East Region which means three-seed Plattsburgh State is relegated to the first round. Obviously both situations would like to be avoided.
|The Plattsburgh State women are the three-seed yet landed in the first round. Unfortunately there was no other option.
Here's why both happened:
MEN: The 9-3 East-West split forced it. If the 500-mile travel restriction is rigidly applied the bracket is forced to be this way. No teams from the East are within 500 miles of a team in the West so that means the three West teams have to stay together, which means on first round game and one quarterfinal.
WOMEN: The 5-5 East-West split plus the fact Elmira and Adrian had to play each other forced it. Once again, if the 500-mile travel restriction is rigidly enforced the bracket is forced to be this way. With Elmira and Adrian out of the mix you're left with four East and four West teams and two first round games to fill -- both have to go in the same region. So where to put them? The West clearly holds the edge here with top overall seed St. Thomas as well as the five, six and eight seeds while the group of four remaining in the East is comprised of the three, seven, nine and ten seeds. That's a clear edge for the West so the first rounders had to go East.
So is this ridiculous?
Again, that depends on one's definition of ridiculous. Or perhaps, it's better viewed in the context of why it's ridiculous. What we can tell you is that it's not ridiculous because teams got screwed by someone because none did, and it's not ridiculous because of anything the committees did -- they have to act within the guidelines set by the NCAA and have done their jobs very well for numerous years running. Those are both very important points.
However, and granted we've been down this road 100 times but we have a very specific reason for going over this one more time, and that's because it's going to be the last time: it is ridiculous because the NCAA should be able to do better. But instead, it myopically sets blanket rules, that are at times ambigiously defined and inconsistently applied at that, for all of Division III. This leads to omnipresent disinterest and lack of foresight when it comes to minorly tweaking rules and restrictions to account for unique situations in a given sport. In hockey that's the presence of two and only two distinct geographic regions but the concept applies to all sports. The NCAA-imposed travel restrictions are one of its catch-all blanket rules that ignores basic aspects of reality and thus fails to maximize the potential of its own tournaments. But of course, maximization of anything at all requires a mindset that seeks to find optimal solutions for all situations and problems.
This results in things like the men's four-seed playing in the first round and the one-seed potentially playing the four-seed in the quarterfinals while the women's three-seed is resigned to play in the first round. And let's not forget all the instances we've all suffered through in past seasons when number one seeds from both regions have been relegated to first round games. We all know these things well.
So it's no surprise that people get frustrated, but if so it's important to be so for the right reasons. And in this instance it's not because anyone was out to cheat a team or because the committees screwed up. Rather, it's because the NCAA spends unquantifiably more time, money and energy on things like inventing catchy yet ultimately hollow slogans and initiavites, defending itself in lawsuits, filing lawsuits, submitting its unsolicited input to state legislatures, and pretending it is the self-appointed arbiter of society's social and moral values than it does running Division III tournaments as if they weren't some Mickey Mouse operation being executed by an even larger Mickey Mouse operation.
You'd think managing these matters in the best way possible would be paramount to a governing body supposedly dedicated to the management and execution of collegiate athletics, but alas it is clearly not as it has other priorities. Like trying to change the world, and stuff.
A few years ago the NCAA rolled out it's latest Division III bit of kitschy bluster: "The Three D's: Discover. Develop. Dedicate." Alright, sounds great, so how about we apply this stroke of brilliance to the issue at hand? As far as the Division III hockey tournaments, and perhaps those of many other Division III sports, how about the NCAA:
Discovers the issues that its singularly written and applied guidelines and policies as well as its choice of priorities create. Develops a plan to fix them. Dedicates itself to fixing them until they're actually fixed.
Not a bad concept at all if applied in the right manner. Unfortunately, one need look no further than the NCAAs own mountain of words and actions spanning many years to determine it remains clear that it simply has no interest in applying its latest Division III marketing ethos in a manner that might actually make it meaningful.
That's why it's ridiculous.
WHY WAS OUR BRACKETOLOGY WRONG
It wasn't really. The women's again matched the NCAA bracket perfectly, and with the minor hiccup of not accounting for the swapping of UNE and Manhattanville on the men's side, our first bracket was correct as it was completely forced by a rigid interpretation of the travel restrictions.
We did propose another option that we still believe could have been pulled off, especially as it wouldn't have led to any more flights than a West Region Frozen Four with three East Region teams does. While we do believe that alternative to be viable the bracket that was revealed this morning ultimately came as no surprise.