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NCAA Hockey: Scheduling CupCakes

Trevor Olson during the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (Photo Credit: Russell Hons)

This past week, college hockey held their annual meetings in Naples, Florida. Unlike previous meetings, it doesn’t appear that a lot of earth shattering topics were discussed during this year’s meetings. Of course, eventually, information will trickle out. Of course, you had your classic grumbling by some.

In today’s Grand Forks Herald Brad Schlossman penned this:

Some coaches also railed against teams who load up their nonconference schedule with home games against weak opponents to get into the NCAA tournament. They asked about a possible change in the Pairwise Rankings formula to discourage it in the future.

To be honest, I laughed (at the paragraph above, not Brad) when I first read this. As we know, schedules are planned years in advance. Teams rise and fall. Nothing stays the same from year-to-year. A team can go from being a contender to a bottom feeder in a matter of a couple of years.

Not All is Equal

Take last year’s schedule, the University of North Dakota hockey team had a nice mix of teams on their non-conference schedule. If UND hadn’t beaten Union College and Boston College, UND would’ve been at home instead of playing in the West Regional.

Here’s my question, are some division I hockey coaches suggesting the NCAA punished teams via the Pairwise Rankings because they dared schedule a team like AHA schools Canisius or Sacred Heart on home ice? That’s borderline elitism. I think this is a flawed argument. It’s not as simplistic as it may appear.

First, it’s hard to get schedule some teams because of their limit of non-conference games due to their bigger conference schedules. Big Ten and NCHC teams have more scheduling flexibility than WCHA and ECAC teams. Personally, I’d love to see UND schedule a home series against Yale or Cornell in hockey, but they only have so many available non-conference games on their schedule.

Again, not all is equal in college hockey. There’s definitely a divide between the haves and have-nots. NCHC teams don’t need to load up their non-conference schedules with a bunch of tough games. Their conference schedule is a death march. I am sure UND fans would love to see UND schedule BU and BC every year in college hockey, but again, it’s not going to happen. There’s only so many non-conference games to go around.

Also, last year, the NCHC had the highest strength of schedule ranking. I think there’s room for a little leeway to schedule a cupcake team or two. Seriously. Is college hockey perfect? No. But there’s also a reward for a quality non-conference win on the road. With that in mind, there’s really not a reason to mess with the current Pairwise Rankings. Teams with quality wins against top-20 teams are going to be rewarded accordingly. Those that don’t, might be left at home on college hockey’s selection Sunday.

Chris Dilks lays this out on SBN College Hockey:

Games are weighted based on where they are played. Winning a road game counts as 1.2 wins, winning at home counts as .8 wins. Conversely, losing at home counts as 1.2 losses, and losing on the road only counts as .8 losses.

There is a ‘Quality Win Bonus’ added to a team’s RPI for beating a team ranked in the top-20 of the country. A win against the top-ranked team earns a .050 bonus in RPI, with the bonus decreasing in incremental amounts down to a .0025 bonus for beating the 20th-ranked team.

One of the things that make division I college hockey great is that a small school (division II or division III) can beat a big-time college hockey power. For the most part, the other college sports can’t usually make that claim (another exception; FCS beating FBS teams). There’s probably no feasible way a small school like Bemidji State could beat a Power-Five division I college basketball team, but they did qualify for a Frozen Four.

In conclusion, maybe we should stop grumbling and enjoy college hockey in its present form. To be successful, your team still has to beat the teams on their schedule no matter who it is. Things have a way of evening out in the end.

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