We have ourselves some champions! Wisconsin took down Minnesota, Clarkson took down Cornell, and Northeastern took down Boston College (in overtime) to win the three remaining conference championships, with Syracuse earning the CHA crown earlier in the week.
So that’s it, the Pairwise is set. The selection show is tonight. Let’s see what we can expect from the committee.
Here is the selection criteria as set forth in the women’s hockey handbook:
The Women’s Ice Hockey Committee will seed the selected participants as follows:
1. The top four teams according to the selection criteria will be seeded 1-4 at the time of the selection call. The remaining four teams will be placed in the bracket based on relative strength as long as these pairings do not result in additional flights. These teams will not be reseeded and the committee will not change the bracket once the tournament has begun.
2. Assuming it meets the committee’s hosting criteria, the highest seeded team will be given the opportunity to host the quarterfinal game.
Pairings in the quarterfinal round shall be based primarily on the teams’ geographical proximity to one another, regardless of their region, in order to avoid air travel in quarterfinal-round games whenever possible. Teams’ relative strength, according to the committee’s selection criteria, shall be considered when establishing pairings if such pairings do not result in air travel that otherwise could be avoided. The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee shall have the authority to modify its working principles related to the championship site assignment on a case-by-case basis.
There are a few key differences between the men’s hockey criteria and the women’s hockey criteria. In the men’s tournament, the selection committee primarily avoids intraconference first round matchups and tries to improve attendance, and the 16 teams are seeded 1-16.
Women’s hockey only seeds the top 4 of 8 teams, and the primary consideration is minimizing the number of flights, with bracket integrity the secondary consideration.
Here are the tournament autobids, awarded to the four conference tournament champions:
Now, let’s take our conference autobids and fill in the rest of the top eight using the Pairwise Rankings, seeding only the top 4 teams:
1) Wisconsin — WCHA Champion
3) Northeastern — WHEA Champion
4) Clarkson— ECAC Champion
Syracuse — CHA Champion
Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:
Syracuse @ (1) Wisconsin
Princeton @ (2) Minnesota
Cornell @ (3) Northeastern
Boston College @ (4) Clarkson
Four eastern teams in the bottom four mean we will have two flights and two bus trips no matter what we do, so based on the committee’s directives, this is the bracket we should get.
We have ourselves a predicament.
Cornell to Northeastern and Boston College to Clarkson are both lengthy bus trips. Might the committee flip Cornell and Boston College to significantly shorten travel and save costs? Sending Boston College to Northeastern would likely even save a team’s worth of hotel rooms for the NCAA.
This exact situation happened a few years ago, in 2016, and it was pretty controversial. The committee sent Northeastern to BC instead of Princeton, as the bracket suggested would happen, and while it was explained as a strength of schedule thing, all signs suggest it was a money-saving situation. Now, having said that, it was a different committee with a different NCAA oversight person involved back then.
There are a few things that suggest the committee might do this again, though. First, you aren’t just shortening one bus trip — you’re shortening two. Second, in the actual Pairwise, Cornell and Boston College are technically tied with each other with 31 points. And the tiebreaker, RPI, is rather close. It wouldn’t take much for the committee to decide they wanted to save some money and just flip the two tied teams. And furthermore, there are rumors that the NCAA may scrap the “minimize flights” directive for next season — which might make them want to pinch pennies as much as they can in this last season.
If the committee flipped Cornell and Boston College, this is the bracket we would get:
Syracuse @ (1) Wisconsin
Princeton @ (2) Minnesota
Boston College @ (3) Northeastern
Cornell @ (4) Clarkson
It’s a truly ugly bracket, with two games being exact rematches of the NCAA tournament, which nobody ever wants — but the committee has shown that they have zero qualms putting teams back together one week later in the quarterfinals after they played for a conference title.
It’s a very difficult call here. As a BC fan, I do want the Eagles to have another crack at the Huskies, and furthermore, BC is probably not exactly eager to get shipped up to the Canadian border when they could be just hopping on a bus and going down the street instead. Trying to put aside those biases, and given the committee’s history, I think it’s... I guess “likely” would be the term, but I don’t feel all that confident, truthfully — that we get some bracket shenanigans and see BC going to NU and Cornell going to Clarkson. If I’m forced to make a prediction, I think this may be what we see, with something like 55% odds.
If the committee just keeps bracket integrity intact, though, I don’t think you’re going to have many complaints. BC at Clarkson and Cornell at Northeastern are far more intriguing matchups, from a casual fan’s perspective.
The NCAA Women’s Hockey Tournament selection show will be streamed live tonight at 9pm EDT on NCAA.com. A live link should be available here shortly before the stream begins.