Earlier this year, the six independent women’s hockey programs (D-I Holy Cross & Sacred Heart, and D-II Franklin Pierce, Post, St. Anselm, & St. Michael’s) announced their intention to start a temporary scheduling alliance that would see them play each other four times, for a total of 20 games each.
This was born mostly out of necessity due to the D-II programs no longer being able to play a conference schedule with their former D-III conference mates. As we pointed out in January, though, this opens up a pretty big can of worms that the NCAA selection committee is going to have to deal with in March.
The NCAA Women’s Hockey tournament isn’t a “Division I” tournament, but is instead designated a “National Collegiate” tournament — a rarity in the NCAA, as almost all sponsored tournaments are broken out into Division I, Division II, and/or Division III brackets.
Women’s hockey is different. There is a separate D-III tournament, but the D-I and D-II teams technically compete in the same tournament.
Up until now, this has been irrelevant. Since the NCAA first sponsored a women’s hockey tournament in the 2000-2001 season, no Division II team (or Division I independent, for that matter) has even been eligible, let alone been ranked high enough for selection.
The eligibility issue changes this year, however. The NCAA requires that teams play at least 20 games against D-I or D-II competition to be considered for at-large selection to the tournament:
With the D-I and D-II independents playing each other 20 times this year, this is the first time these teams will be considered for selection.
At a glance, this doesn’t seem to pose an issue, because these teams are far below the quality of the rest of the D-I programs and are much closer to D-III in competitiveness. But in reality, the mathematical limitations of how the committee selects the tournament field — RPI, namely — means that one (and possibly two) of these teams will almost certainly be in the top 8 of the Pairwise come Selection Sunday.
We go into the details in our post from January, but essentially, the relative lack of “crossover” games between the D-I/D-II teams and the rest of the field means RPI cannot mathematically determine that these teams are not at the same level of competition.
If one or two of these teams separate themselves from the rest of its schedule mates (as happens in any conference), they will almost definitely be in the top 8. St. Anselm’s perfect 7-0-0 record against these opponents last year puts them in prime position to not just make the top 8, but perhaps even the top 4 or better.
In January, we reached out to Sarah Fraser, chair of the NCAA Women’s Hockey selection committee, for any insight as to whether the committee would be changing its criteria to prevent these teams from being eligible for the tournament:
The committee reviews the selection criteria on an annual basis. While there is no guarantee that the criteria will not change, it is not the committee's intent that changes in the criteria would eliminate teams from being eligible for selection.
With the new season underway and criteria review for the upcoming year in the books, we checked back in with Ms. Fraser to see if there were any updates or clarification that she could provide regarding this new scheduling alliance and their selection for the tournament:
The only modification in the section you reference is the editorial revision which clarifies for the sake of transparency that “each team’s full body of work will be evaluated” during the selection process.
Any Division I or Division II team that meets the requirements to be selected will be eligible for selection and the committee will evaluate all teams based on their full body of work.
This would appear to give the selection committee a way out of selecting a team for the tournament if their schedule was not comparable to the rest of Division I, even if an eligible team (say, St. Anselm) made it into an at-large position based on RPI. It does not, however, remove them from consideration (obviously), and the second line is actually our first explicit confirmation that these teams will be considered for selection.
We also wanted to confirm whether the D-III games on the alliance teams’ schedules would factor into RPI at all, as the pre-championships manual was pretty vague in that regard:
Competition is countable only when the teams played are varsity intercollegiate teams of four-year, degree-granting institutions that conduct a majority of their competition in that team sport against varsity intercollegiate teams of United States four-year, degree-granting institutions. Competition against service teams, professional teams, semiprofessional teams, amateur teams, two-year colleges and club teams shall be excluded.
Fraser confirmed that D-III games would not be included:
Only games between two national collegiate (Division I or II) programs are counted in the RPI. This is unchanged from existing practice.
And lastly, the question of how RPI awards its “Quality Wins Bonus” was worth addressing as well. If a team finished #1 in the RPI but was not selected for the tournament based on its “full body of work,” would a team that beat them still receive the 0.060 QWB associated with it, or would that team be removed from the RPI entirely?
Fraser confirmed the answer to this for us as well:
The data used to evaluate teams will not be altered based on which teams are selected to the field.
So, while the committee did update its selection criteria “out of transparency” to allow the committee to review each team’s full body of work for selection, it does seem like it’s a fact of life that this scheduling alliance is going to cause some heartburn on Selection Sunday in March.
Not only will a top 8 alliance team have no clue whether or not they are even being considered for selection, but think about what the bubble teams will be going through. If you’re sitting in 7th or 8th in the Pairwise among “regular” D-I teams, but St. Anselm is looming in 4th in the RPI to potentially knock you out despite not having a D-I caliber roster, you’re going to have a very, very long and stressful day to look forward to.