Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pairwise Changes Come a Year Late

HOUGHTON, Mich. -- Last March, UMD players and fans were left in limbo, waiting to learn their team's ultimate fate after their run at the WCHA Final Five ended with a 2-0 loss to North Dakota.

The news wouldn't be good, as the Bulldogs were bumped from the field by a series of unfortunate events in other conference tournaments.

Turns out that they were victims of a flawed system that wasn't addressed until this year.

We knew the system was flawed. Nothing is perfect, after all, and the Pairwise has holes in it big enough to drive a bus through. One of those holes was the idea that the only teams that should be rated are the top 25 of the RPI, or Ratings Percentage Index. That arbitrary line was the subject of much debate, and it led to a term called the "TUC Cliff," meant to describe the last couple spots in the Pairwise, which changed constantly as teams at the bottom won and lost.

The number (25) was odd, because the idea of the "Teams Under Consideration" being that big for a 16-team field that included six (now five) automatic bids was a bit crazy. While that term doesn't really fit many of the teams, the change the NCAA Championship Committee made this week makes perfect sense, and it moves us away from that arbitrary number.

Beginning in 2011, the Pairwise will include any team with an RPI of .500 or better. While you could argue that this is also arbitrary and non-sensical (why the hell should Michigan State's ability to maintain a .500 RPI have any impact on who makes the NCAAs?), it's not nearly as bad as what we had before.

Why not? Because you're no longer deciding that 25 teams -- and only 25 teams, dammit -- are good enough to be in the ratings. Instead, a perfectly reasonable line has been drawn (.500 RPI) that a decent, mediocre, good, or great team can meet, but a truly bad team can't.

Teams like Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State, and Michigan State haven't had enough success to make the NCAAs without winning their league tournaments, but they have picked off some good teams this season. It makes sense that the ability of the teams above them to win games against these types of opponents would matter when it comes selection time. It should matter.

Not only that, but the Pairwise won't be as volatile with this new provision. Yes, you'll see fluctuation in the rankings. It might go from 34 teams to 38 to 33 to 30 in a short time. But once we get closer to the big day, that number won't move as much, and the teams that are on the bubble won't have to lament a series sweep over a team that finished up at No. 26, or a loss to a team that finished No. 24 in the Pairwise.

Simply put, the TUC cliff that everyone hated is gone.

Now, about that silly "TUC" moniker.

Yes, it's stupid for anyone to think that a team rated No. 33 in the Pairwise is "under consideration" for the NCAA Tournament. It's dumb. Makes no sense.

But it's just a term. It's not like the selection committee is going to sit and debate the merits of St. Cloud State's candidacy, wasting everyone's time when we all know they're not getting in.

Arguing over the term is just a waste of time.

Instead, let's look at the merits of what the committee has done here. They fixed an issue with their system.

Granted, it was a year late.

Last year, with this system in place, UMD unquestionably would have made the NCAAs. In fact, they would have been a No. 3 regional seed, with no need for hand-wringing as we headed into the selections. It's an unfortunate reality, but perhaps UMD's plight helped urge the committee to make this switch for 2011.

Of course, the Bulldogs are out to make the PWR a non-factor in 2011. Stay tuned on that.

No comments: