Saturday, December 4, 2021

New system draws criticism

March 20, 2002

When the Spartans first saw their NCAA Tournament seeding - No. 3 in the West Regional in Ann Arbor - they were pretty satisfied. After all, they had just lost to archrival Michigan in the CCHA Tournament championship game and thereby threw away their chance for a top-two seed and first-round bye.

But upon closer inspection of the West Regional, their No. 3 seed didn’t seem quite so nice.

MSU’s first-round opponent, No. 6 seed Colorado College, finished 26-12-3 and is a member of the powerful Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Tigers finished the season ranked No. 9 in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the method used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to choose and seed hockey teams. Usually, a No. 9 Pairwise ranking will land a team a No. 4 or 5 seed in the tournament.

Not this season.

The Selection Committee grouped teams strictly by geographic region this year - meaning the three weakest teams in the tournament are all in the East Regional in Worcester, Mass.

The East’s No. 4 seed, Cornell, finished 10th in the Pairwise. No. 5 seed Quinnipiac and No. 6 seed Harvard (two automatic qualifiers) were 23rd and 24th, respectively.

By contrast, the West’s No. 4 seed, U-M, was sixth in the Pairwise and No. 5 seed St. Cloud State was eighth.

Translation: The West is stacked this year and that has caused plenty of controversy around college hockey.

“Anyone that has a Ph.D. in bracketology is probably not happy with it,” said Selection Committee Chairman Jack McDonald, who is also Quinnipiac’s athletics director. “But I tell you what, there are plenty of students, faculty, alumni and families that are happy that they can go see their team.

“Is it perfect? No. But there have never been two brackets equal in all regards in the history of sports.”

Part of the reason teams were bound to their regions this year is because of a post-Sept. 11 mandate by the NCAA to try to keep teams within a 400-mile radius of their cities - thus avoiding air travel. McDonald said the committee’s hands were “tied” by that edict because all six East teams are within 400 miles of Worcester.

“People are forgetting why this happened,” McDonald said. “It’s because of a terrorist attack in our country. It’s for the safety of human beings, not because a committee wants to make one bracket better than another.”

The Selection Committee also changed the format of the Frozen Four when it announced this year’s bracket. The national semifinals will now pit the two East survivors against each other, and likewise for the West. Previously, the regions crossed over for the Frozen Four, with East teams playing West teams.

If all top seeds were to advance to the Frozen Four next month, East No. 1 New Hampshire would play East No. 2 Boston University, and West No. 1 Denver would play West No. 2 Minnesota.

But while the college hockey world debates the bracket controversy, MSU is trying to keep its focus on Colorado College.

“There’s definitely a stronger division that we have,” senior defenseman Jon Insana said. “But if we want to get to the championship, we’re going to have to beat those teams eventually. It doesn’t really matter when we play them.”

Radio change: This weekend’s MSU games will be aired on WJIM (1240-AM), not on WVFN radio as first announced. As for television, the only known station to be showing the games live is Fox Sports Net North, which is channel 641 on DIRECTV. Fox Sports Detroit has not committed either way.

Chat with Mason: Fans can ask retiring MSU head coach Ron Mason questions during an ESPN.com chat at 1 p.m. Thursday. Questions may be asked in advance. To access the chat, go to Web address: dynamic.espn.go.com/espn/chat/chatESPN?event_id=1486.

Discussion

Share and discuss “New system draws criticism” on social media.