12 August 2008

Date-Stamp Posting on College Hockey

This post is wholly to date-stamp a particular issue, without yet revealing it to the niche market that cares.

Adrian College's men's hockey team went 26-3 in its inaugural season last year, closing the year with 20 straight victories (and one of those losses came when the coach sat the starting goalie for skipping class--a big thumbs up to both the coach and the prof who reported the class skipping). Along the way they won games by scores such as 9-1, 14-2, 18-1, 16-2 and 20-2. In the process they quickly became the most hated team in NCAA Division III hockey, based not only on the traumatic losses bestowed upon their opponents, but also on the claimed ignorance and arrogance of their fans, who--it was alleged--thought they ought to be crowned NCAA D-III champs without further ado.

Ignorance did play some role, as the D-III playoff selection process is a bit odd (due to historical factors of where the most, and the best teams are located), and hard for first-timers to D-III to parse. The consequence was not so much arrogance, as frustration, as fans who believed their team could compete with the best realized that even if the team had gone undefeated, they would still have been denied a spot in the playoffs.

Without going into details, the fundamental problem was the dreaded SoS, Strength of Schedule. Because of its geographic location, the only league into which Adrian properly fit happened to be one that is--as attested to by the scores Adrian posted--quite weak. Strength of schedule is a useful measure; it ensures teams don't post good records just by playing patsies. The downside is a team, no matter how good, can be kept out of playoffs by the refusal of teams from good conferences to schedule them. And it's not all pure selfishness on the part of those teams--if they win, because their opponents' overal SoS is weak, it doesn't help the winning team's SoS, whereas if they lose their ranking will be killed by the other team's Sos.

So the Adrian College coach has reportedly sent out a message to all the good D-III conferences (nearly all on the East Coast, the one place outside Minnesota that is a real hotbed of college hockey), announcing that for the 2009-2010 season we will play anyone, anyplace, anytime (the '08'09 schedule is already set). And reportedly, so far there are no offers by any of those good programs. If they all refuse to play, they can continue to say Adrian really is weak, based on its SoS, despite its record and its scoring. But, although it grieves me as an Adrian fan to admit this, they have nothing to gain by scheduling Adrian, win or lose.

But the stakes are about to get higher. While running up those scores last year, Adrian's coach often sat his first line, or first two lines, for most of the third period. While I couldn't blame an outsider for disbelieving it, Adrian was consciously trying to not run up the score. In the final regular season home game, there was only one player on the team who had not scored, and the coach forbade everyone else from taking a shot on goal--if we were going to score any more against a badly beaten opponent, it was only going to be by that one guy (who did, finally, score his single goal for the season).

But reportedly another coach in our conference voted Adrian lower in the polls just out of spite, and Adrian's coach has, again reportedly, said that his team will try to run up the score against opponents this year. In part it's aimed at that particular other coach, whose unfortunate players are going to be the ones who suffer, and in part it's to make a statement that if a score of 20-2 isn't sufficient to be recognized as a playoff worthy program, perhaps a score of 30-2 will be.

If this comes true, Adrian will be hated more passionately than it was last season. And I can't say that I would blame anyone for that hatred. And I'm not going to whine that the current playoff selection system is unfair--the system was in place long before Adrian started a hockey team. But if the only way for Adrian to get consideration in the current system is to thrash its opponents far more than they deserve (they're just college kids not good enough for D-I or the minor leagues, after all), that's what's going to happen. And despite having a powerhouse of a team in his first season, the coach has recruited players expected to deprive current players of ice time.

So, come January, February, and March of 2009, if the Adrian Bulldogs win some games by more than 20 goals, remember that the reasons were posted here first, long before the games began. (And if they're not, if they're struggling to win, well, commenting is always open here, and you can mock me as viciously as you are able.)

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