NCAA Women’s Hockey: Is It Time to Tweak the Pairwise Rankings?

UND forward Susanna Tapani (Eric Classen / UND Athletcs)
UND forward Susanna Tapani (Eric Classen / UND Athletcs)

This season, the University of North Dakota women’s team finished the season with a record of 20-12-4 (.611).  You would think that record would be good enough to make the NCAA tourney.

Not so.

The UND women’s hockey season is over – finished – there will be no more games this season. Coming into the WCHA Final Face-of, UND was a bubble team, on the outside looking in.

During the Olympics, UND sent three high-end players to 2014 Sochi games. During the three players’ absence, UND went 1-6-1. That eight-game stretch sealed their fate.

Now, you could make the argument that the UND women’s team deserved a bid in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. UND beat Wisconsin (27-7-2, 21-5-2-1 WCHA) twice and Minnesota (36-1-1, 26-1-1 WCHA) once. No eastern school in the NCAA Women’s Division I Hockey Tournament can make that claim. Not a single one.  One might come to the conclusion that the women’s Pairwise Rankings are flawed.

Emily Pfalzer, Boston College Eagles (John Quackenbos/Boston College Athletics Communications)
Emily Pfalzer, Boston College Eagles (John Quackenbos/Boston College Athletics Communications)

Eastern Schools Garnering more Bids in the NCAA Tourney

The field for the Women’s NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament is set. Boston College, Boston University, Clarkson, Cornell, Harvard, Mercyhurst, Minnesota and Wisconsin make the eight-team field.  You would think with the best women’s teams being in the west that they would be represented accordingly. Not so.

Five of the eight teams that made the tournament are from the east. Here’s the kicker, not one team from the east has beaten Wisconsin or Minnesota. Again, if you’re keeping score at home, UND has beaten both teams.  Wisconsin and Minnesota’s have a combined eight losses on the season, and UND has three of those wins.

Breaking it down further, the NCAA has been running the Division I Women’s Championship since 2001.  There have been three teams to win NCAA titles, Minnesota-Duluth (X5), Minnesota (x4) and Wisconsin (X4). Not one school from the east has ever won a title. If this is the case, why should the NCAA women’s tourney continue to be top-heavy with eastern schools?

Michelle Karvinen (Eric Classen/
Michelle Karvinen (Eric Classen/

Is it time to tweak the Pairwise Rankings?

I asked coach UND Women’s Coach Brian Idalski if he thinks that the Pairwise Rankings should be tweaked.

“I had a call with the NCAA, yesterday with the committee on the line,” Idalski said. “I don’t think there’s a move to tweak or change the RPI. That’s the system we have. We knew what the system was and we didn’t perform well enough down the stretch to do what we needed to do to get in.”

Idalski continued, “At some point our league is going to have to look at ourselves and open up our schedule for non-conference games. That’s the big part why the pairwise doesn’t function for women’s hockey. I think we all know that.”

One of the suggestions the UND head coach had for the WCHA was to lower the number of conference games that they play and then play more non-conference games against the eastern schools.

“There’s not enough crossover games for comparison and everything else,” Idalski said. “I think the onus is going to be on our league, because no one else feels poorly for us.  That were going to have to look at that and maybe go with an unbalanced scheduled similar to what the men used to. To just open that up and play more non-conference games.”

“At the end of the day, really, that’s where it’s at, and that’s the only thing that probably going to change. I don’t think anyone is for going to the KRACH system. Though we think it probably reflects what’s actually happening.”

By being a power conference, the WCHA is actually shooting themselves in the foot because the Women’s WCHA has become so tough. Every team in the WCHA is a good hockey team and they’re being punished for that in the Pairwise Rankings.

“The problem is that our league has become too tough,” Idalski said. “It used to be that the play-in game – one versus four – used to be an 8-0, 9-1 (game). Congratulations you made the tournament – pack up your stuff up, and go home. You knew what the outcome was, before you got there.”

“That’s not the case (anymore). Duluth played extremely well against Minnesota, in that game. All four of those teams are quality opponents, and are legitimately top-ten teams. At the end of the day we have to get better.”

Of course, it doesn’t appear the NCAA has empathy for UND or the other western schools. I asked if there was a chance that the NCAA might add more teams to the women’s tournament.

“The NCAA turns around and tells us that were lucky to have the teams that we have, because numerically we don’t have enough clubs playing division I (women’s hockey),” Idalski said.  “So, to warrant adding more teams, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, as far as expanding the field.”

What If east played west more?

The eastern schools have made the argument that if they played the western schools more, they would beat Wisconsin and Minnesota. The evidence doesn’t support this theory at all. Minnesota has lost two games in two and a half seasons and UND has both wins against the Gophers. If the eastern schools had to play the WCHA power house schools more, they would suffer the same fate as the other WCHA schools. I don’t know how you can suggest otherwise?