This year’s NCAA Women’s Hockey Tournament selection show was quite a bit more exciting than usual. With no Pairwise to lean on to help set the bracket, the committee had to rely largely on subjectivity and was given a lot of flexibility on how to select teams to the tournament field and rank the seeds. We reached out to NCAA Women’s Hockey National Committee Chair Anita Brenner for some insight into how the selection process works and how the committee set the 2021 tournament field.
BC Interruption: Thanks so much for taking the time to dive into the process for us. I think there’s a lot of interest out there in seeing how the process works. First off, I would definitely be interested in knowing, just in a general sense, how the group actually sets the field from a procedural standpoint — is it that each position in the bracket (#1, #2, #3) is individually voted on, or does each member submit a 1-8 ballot USCHO-Poll-style, or is it just something the depends on the given year?
Anita Brenner: Each Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) provided the National Committee with a ranking of their region, and of the national field. East and West RACs include coaches and National committee members from all four AQ conferences.
[Ed. Note:] The committee members are listed publicly in each year’s tournament pre-championship manual.
This year’s national committee members consisted of:
Anita Brenner (chair), Deputy Director of Athletics, Cornell
Katie Crowley, Head Coach, Boston College
Kate McAfee, Associate Commissioner, Hockey East
Paul Flanagan, Head Coach, Syracuse
Josh Berlo, Director of Athletics, Minnesota-Duluth
The East Regional Advisory Committee consisted of:
Katie Crowley (chair), Boston College
Anita Benner, Cornell
Matt Desrosiers, Clarkson
Kate McAfee, Hockey East
Thomas O’Malley, Sacred Heart
The West Regional Advisory Committee consisted of:
Paul Flanagan (chair), Syracuse
Josh Berlo, Minnesota-Duluth
Paul Colontino, Robert Morris
Shelley Looney, Lindenwood
Nadine Muzerall, Ohio State
The National committee reviewed the RPI and other data with Tim Danehy [statistician at collegehockeystats.net] to determine relevant data in a year with almost no cross-conference competitive results. NCAA staff provided the committee with comparative data on selection criteria for each team under consideration. National committee members solicited feedback from conference commissioners on the strength of teams under consideration in their league. Each committee member came to the selection meeting prepared with extensive notes.
During selection, committee members with a team under consideration were only permitted to provide factual information about their own team and were required to leave the meeting during discussion of that team. Information was shared for each committee member to make his/her own conclusion. It was not a process where the committee tried to reach a consensus.
All votes to put teams into the field or to seed teams in the field are done via an online secret ballot using the same NCAA selection/bracketing software used by the D-I Men’s and Women’s basketball selection committees. The committee began the selection meeting at 11 a.m. on Selection Sunday, took a break to watch the end of the ECAC and WCHA conference championship games, and then worked right up to (and slightly after) the 7 p.m. deadline to complete the bracket.
BCI: There was a lot of concern out there about the fact that two bubble teams on the committee got their teams into the tournament field. Could you speak to how far in advance the committee is chosen, as well as what the procedure is during deliberations when a committee member’s team is being voted upon/discussed?
AB: The committee is a combination of five members: Four from D-I, one from D-II, and three must be administrators. Appointments are for four years, begin/end in August and are staggered across years and East/West regions.
As I mentioned above, committee members can only provide factual information for their own team. We cannot vote for/rank our own teams. At several points during the selection committee discussion, member(s) left the videoconference so the others could speak freely.
My experience is that committee reps are far more vocal and comfortable speaking about institutions other than their own throughout the season. Any speculation that committee reps can orchestrate their team’s inclusion or ranking in the field is off point. It’s not the case, and would require an absence of integrity of everyone involved.
BCI: Was there an added focus this year to avoid interconference matchups in the first round given we didn’t get any in the regular season and flights weren’t an issue, and did that factor into determining each team’s numerical seed or did it just kind of turn out that that’s how it worked out this year? We noticed that all 8 teams were seeded this year instead of the top 4.
AB: The committee’s focus was on the integrity of the bracket. Avoiding of conference matchups in the second-round was a secondary concern.
BCI: We saw in the pre-championship manual that there were many pieces of criteria being considered this year (the individual pieces of Pairwise and RPI, for example). Is there any insight you can provide as to what was the most important criteria(s) considered was, in particular (a) to compare teams within the same conferences and (b) teams from different conferences?
AB: Again, the committee was not looking to build consensus. Each of us voted on our own evaluation of the selection criteria and of the results.
BCI: Two pieces of speculation on how teams were selected were that (a) the committee may not have felt comfortable putting more than half of one conference into half the tournament slots (the WCHA) when they had never mathematically earned that privilege before when using the Pairwise, and (b) that the CHA earning two tournament bids was an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence given, again, that under the Pairwise, no CHA team had ever earned two bids. Are you able to speak to whether these considerations factored into the discussion?
AB: The number of teams from any conference was not a factor.
BCI: One of the huge surprises was the selection of UMD into the field vs. Minnesota, particularly given that UMD was in all the way up at #5 and Minnesota missed the field entirely. The surprise is largely because in just about all the individual Pairwise and RPI criteria (head to head, strength of schedule, record vs. common opponents, even RPI when looking within the WCHA itself), Minnesota was higher. Can you share what the committee considered to have UMD above Minnesota?
AB: Committee deliberations are private, and I don’t know how others voted. For me, Duluth and Minnesota have the same number of wins, Duluth in fewer games. Minnesota had a harder schedule; Duluth found a way to beat Wisconsin in the stretch. There’s lots more to it but those are a few things that stood out to me.
BCI: The last at-large spot in particular was a big surprise, with Providence getting into the field over Minnesota and Penn State. Anything you are able to share regarding the deliberations over that last spot?
AB: Those teams and others were part of challenging discussion about the at-large bids. For me, Penn State was firmly in the mix prior to the conference championship weekend. but Providence finished the regular season 3rd in Hockey East and made it to the championship game at their tournament.
We want to thank Anita for taking the time to answer some questions for us after what was definitely a surprising Selection Sunday. The NCAA quarterfinals continue this afternoon in Erie, PA as Providence College takes on Wisconsin at 2pm EDT, with Boston College and Ohio State wrapping up the opening round at 7pm EDT!