Prior to the 2015-2016 season, the NCAA quietly updated its women’s hockey Pairwise criteria. No one noticed (or at least no one who wasn’t involved in the offseason coaches’ meetings noticed) until the season was half over. We published a corrected Pairwise Rankings calculator based on this new criteria, and USCHO followed suit a few days later.
This season there haven’t been any new changes to the criteria, but the addition of six D-I/D-II independent programs who will have played the required number of games to be included in the Pairwise does have the potential to throw some quirks into the rankings — and to affect which teams are selected to the tournament in the process.
We looked into this phenomenon a year ago specifically with regards to whether or not one of these independent teams could actually get high enough to be selected to the tournament with a high enough Pairwise ranking. D-II Saint Anselm is currently 6th and is hoping to gate crash, but that’s not the only effect that Saint Anselm’s strong D-II run has had on the Pairwise.
Back in October we reached out to Sarah Fraser, chair of the NCAA women’s hockey selection committee, looking for some clarification on some of the nuances of how RPI was going to be calculated. Our last question wasn’t important at the time, but it’s looking like it might have real-world consequences for this year’s tournament:
This turns out to be an important distinction that Ms. Fraser made back in October and it’s being applied now that we have Saint Anselm 6th in the RPI. What she’s saying is that with Saint Anselm in 6th, even if Saint Anselm is not selected to the NCAA tournament, a team would still get a 6th place Quality Win Bonus (QWB) for beating them — and by extension, a 7th place QWB for beating the team below them.
If Saint Anselm were to be removed, then beating the teams in 7th through 13th place in the RPI would suddenly be 6th through 12th place wins instead.
This application of the QWB can have a surprising effect on the final rankings.
The rankings at the left are from BC Interruption’s calculation of the Pairwise Rankings, which we believe to be correct based on our interpretation of Ms. Fraser’s statement. The rankings are the right are USCHO’s calculation, which we believe to be incorrect. USCHO is not factoring in Saint Anselm into its RPI.
With Saint Anselm included in the rankings — as Ms. Fraser implied they would be regardless of tournament selection — Minnesota is ahead of Cornell. Without Saint Anselm, Cornell is ahead of Minnesota. The reason for this is that Cornell has beaten St. Lawrence once and Providence twice, and both teams are below Saint Anselm in RPI. Minnesota hasn’t played anyone ranked between 6th and 12th, so their QWB is unaffected.
Without Saint Anselm, Cornell gets credit for beating 8th place SLU and 11th place PC. With Saint Anselm in 6th, that means Cornell gets credit for beating 9th place SLU and 12th place PC. That means that with Saint Anselm 6th, Cornell’s QWB drops and it keeps the Gophers ahead of them in the RPI (and by extension, the Pairwise).
This “Saint Anselm Effect” on Quality Wins Bonus has seen BC, Clarkson, and Colgate periodically swap positions all season relative to BCI’s and USCHO’s calculation of the Pairwise, because these teams have been so close throughout the year. But while such differences at the top of the rankings would only affect seeding, a flipped pairing at the tournament bubble would be the difference between making the tournament and staying home entirely.
In fact, if the season ended today, that’s exactly what would happen with Cornell and Minnesota. Even if the committee wanted to weigh the Pairwise criteria differently, the two teams haven’t faced each other head to head and their common opponent records feature only identical 0-fers against Wisconsin, so RPI would be the only factor in their Pairwise comparison. With the CHA guaranteed an autobid to the tournament, if a team outside the top 8 of the rankings won the WCHA, WHEA, or ECAC tournaments — or if Saint Anselm was selected at 6th place in the Pairwise (another discussion entirely) — that would knock Cornell out of the tournament in favor of Minnesota. But if Saint Anselm was removed from the RPI calculations (as they have been in prior years due to their tournament ineligibility), you would have Cornell getting in over the Gophers.
Whether or not D-II Saint Anselm is going to find its way into the tournament field despite its position in the Pairwise remains to be seen. But their mere existence toward the top of the RPI could affect the tournament rankings come Selection Sunday regardless of whether the Hawks are selected.