Wednesday, December 20, 2006

UAA/UAF: Four Games or Two?

I wrote Eric Carlson at the UAF Blog about the possibility of posting two opposing opinions about the number of games in the UAA/UAF yearly series. Due to past history I'd expected that Eric would write something in favor of continuing the 4 games while I'd advocate dropping the series to 2. Eric surprised me though as he has posted that he has had a change of heart and is now in favor of the 2 game format. At this point I've only given his post a cursory read so that I don't turn what I'm writing here into a series of agreements and/or disagreements with his points. I had my key points in mind so it's necessary (for me) to keep my process separate while I write.

The history of the rivalry includes years when the teams have played each other 2, 4, 6 and even 8 times a year. All pretty much due to the availability of scheduling other teams. In years where it is was more difficult to arrange other opponents UAA and UAF found themselves playing each other a ridiculous number of times. Since each school entered their respective new conferences though that situation hasn't really presented itself. There was a brief period where we only played twice but for whatever reason that ended 6 seasons ago and since then it's been a 4 game set. The first few years it was a bookend series with games at the beginning and end of the season. The last couple of years its been as it is now. So with all that, why does this blogger advocate cutting it back to 2 games?

For one reason only. The NCAA determines it's 16 playoff participants by comittee using a process that is objective. It takes into account many different comparisons amongst the eligible teams and calculates who the best participants would be. It's recognized as one of the most fair processes the NCAA uses but each and every year there are one or two "bubble" teams that get left out in the cold because their "numbers" lack in comparison to the bubble teams that get in. It all sounds a bit confusing and it can be. I won't attempt any sort of explanation here (note: too complicated for me to explain) but if you're interested USCHO has the most comprehensive explanations. There is one way for a school to ensure that they don't end up on the wrong side of the bubble. And that is to maximize their competition toward the goal of improving their comparisons.

Comparisons outside conference play carry a lot of weight. If UAA and UAF both have great seasons and are possible NCAA participants, playing 4 games a year could be detrimental to one or the other's comparisons depending on the results. Splitting the 4 games could doom one or both to watching from the sidelines. If one of the two teams has a great season and the other doesn't then playing 4 games could again hurt the better teams chances. Naturally, either team can avoid these situations by winning their league or league tournament. And while that is the preferred method to get to the NCAA's it is probably also the most infrequent method that UAA or UAF is likely to attain. Therefore, it is vitally important that both schools have the opportunity to maximize their comparisons by scheduling other quality non-confernce opponents. Both UAA and UAF have an advantage in scheduling that no other D-I program has. It is the exemption granted to schools for playing games in Alaska. The NCAA realizes that member schools in both Hawaii and Alaska are at a disadvantage geographically and gives an exemption against the total number of games a team can play if they schedule a contest against a school in either state. It is this rule that has made the basketball tournaments in Alaska and Hawaii popular. With the schedule exemption a lower-48 school can schedule an additonal home game and generate a nice gate for their school. It's a powerful tool that isn't fully utilized by UAA or UAF at this time.

Because of conference requirements both UAA and UAF only have a minimum number of non-conference games they can schedule. It limits the number of comparisons either school can have. Playing only twice gives both schools the flexibility they need to schedule teams that will be good for their comparisons. For example, either school could initiate a new tournament over Xmas and invite perennial powerhouses from outside their conferences. Maine, UNH, BC, BU, Michigan, Michigan St. would be likely candidates for UAA and these schools would all be interested in the exemption since an additional home date in their own arenas means big bucks. Minnesota, Wisconsin, UND, CC, DU, Maine, UNH, BC and BU would be good likely candidates for UAF and would likewise be interested. In particular this would seem to be a great option for UAF as I can't remember the last time fans in Fairbanks were lucky enough to see any of the above WCHA opponents in their rink.

Playing 4 games a year is an obsolete idea that must go. With both programs on an upswing that will increase their possibilities for NCAA post season play, neither school can afford to continue to beat themselves up against each other for nothing other than a trophy that a Governor of Alaska hasn't ever actually touched. Stop the insanity!


Anonymous said...

I understand your point and why cutting back the series could give the team more opportunities but the UAA vs. UAF series is the highlight of the season. Every year I just wait for that weekend at the Sully that we will beat UAF and send them home crying (which usually doesn't happen).

Donald said...

You make a point that I didn't address. The importance of the series to fans. I doubt many people will like what I have to say about it.

The fact that this series is so important to fans as some sort of highlight of the season is a symptom of a huge problem.

The problem of mediocrity. While it's nice to have this series and the rivalry. It's a mediocre measure by which we can determine success.

If the program hopes to truly be a success then it MUST make the NCAA tournament the majority of seasons. Not one out of 15 years. Not one out of 5 years. Not one out of 3 years. Look at the truly successful programs in College Hockey and you find each and every one of them are NCAA participants almost every year.

That is the standard by which true success is measured and I'm afraid any program (especially a WCHA program) that doesn't have that as one of it's long term goals will ultimately only be considered mediocre.

This program CAN reach that level. Recruiting is improved. Coaching is improved. And as time goes on both of those successes will BUILD more success because the best players want to play at a program that has real opportunities for championships. Playing UAF twice a year is only a small part of the picture but it is a necessary one (I believe) if we are to begin to be less provincial and more nationally recognized.

Anonymous said...

vHave to side with the first poster, Donald.

If we can play MTU, MSM, et al four times per year, it would be a shame to see UAF cut back to two.

Fans love it and, seeing the Bourne quote in the ADN this week, players love it too.

As the program continues to improve, we can try to up the quality of opponents at the Nye Classic or add other non-conference games.

But the UAA-UAF series should be sacrosanct.

Donald said...

It isn't about "can" play conference opponents. That is part of being in the conference. There's no changing the conference schedule. It's fixed. The conference requirement of 28 games and the NCAA's 34 game limit means the program has 6 games a year to schedule. Ever notice that other schools play more than 34 games a year? How do they do that? They come to Alaska and play which earns them an exemption which they can use to schedule a non-conference opponent that will hopefully enhance their own bonus when it comes to selection time. UAA and UAF don't have that advantage. The ONLY possible way to enhance the bonus points position for both schools is to play each other only twice.

It's about not having/having the extra non-conference games that gets the team bonus points when it comes time to get into the NCAA's. It is the one factor that a team can influence via it's own scheduling.

Finish on the bubble once because we played the 9th place CCHA team 4 times (even if we beat them all 4 times) and not get into the NCAA's and I'd think you'd change your mind.

I'm advocating fixing it before that happens. Like I said, it could bite either (or even both) teams in the ass come tournament selection day.

Bourne's comments were (excuse the reference) "born" out of never having won the cup. Would a two game series for the cup be any less meaningful? No. In fact it would make those two games even more meaningful.

I can only hope the program itself has a higher opinion of itself than to be satisfied with the highlight of the season being our 4 games a year vs. UAF.

Donald said...

I want to add that there is an attitude here in Alaska that is a potential problem. I heard that the Alaska Avalanche ownership group continually pressured the coaches to put more Alaskans on thier roster.

To me that sounds as if they weren't concerned with putting the best players they could find on their roster. No doubt that Dean Larson and Corey Millen would have been happy to include as many Alaskans as possible but attempting to force them to give spots to a lesser player from Alaska vs. a good one from lets say Poland then I say that smacks of provincialism and even a sort of mirror to the US Govts implementation of Affirmative Action.

It's time for Alaskan hockey culture to lose that sort of provincial thinking. An insistence that UAA/UAF remain as is smells like that to me.

Upperdeck fan said...

Of course this would mean we would only get the income from the UAF fan base every other year.

Anonymous said...


Not a good idea! We wait all year for these two games! NO DAMMIT, NO! >;-<

Q for Donald: You think if that imaginary arena we keep dreaming about is ever built (I saw the location on the UAA website they've selected) but haven't seen anything in print on when they hope to break ground or how much they plan to spend.

I say build the damn thing - with two sheets of ice - and make our ladies hockey team a D3 (for starters).. Too many of our top class female players are heading down to MN, WI, NH, NY, etc. after highschool to play hockey in college. :o(


Donald said...

Our first fight. Awwww.

Um ... From what I've read we'll see a new arena on or about 2013. In advance of that I'd expect that UAA will go D-1 in all sports. I'm pretty curious about whether or not women's hockey will be a part of that but I'd think it wouldn't require two rinks in the new arena. I'm not sure what Title 9 would require the school to do either. Right now womens Gymnastics is D-1 and Men's Hockey is D-1 with everything else D-2. Going D-1 means everything goes D-1 I think (obviously club teams don't have to change) but I don't think you can have a D-1 school and play D-3 in "some" sports. There is also (I believe) a minimum # of programs that the NCAA requires. So ... it would seem to make sense that women's Hockey would grow to that stage (although the existence of women's Volleyball might be enough of a Title 9 offset to meet any requirements).

So you can see ... I really know very little about all that stuff. What are the plans for girls high school hockey? Is it going to be fully fledged at some point? I'd think that will help development and we'd find the talent pool deepening.

My head hurts.

Donald said...

And by then ...

We'll need a blogger for D-1 Women's Hockey eh? I wonder who could do that? Um ... I'm thinking YOU would be great!! Eh?

Jimjamesak said...

Title IX is just about equal funding (scholarships and such) and use of facilities, is doesn't specify what sports (that's how US Womens Soccer got so good, many schools used that as a way to comply with Title IX). But you can't be a DII school and have a team play down at DIII, nor can you have play up at DI if you're DII or DIII (hockey is an exception of course). But UAA is no where near in danger of non-compliance with Title IX, in fact they didn't have to go DI in Gymnastics but decided to anyway. And we aren't as close to the minimum number of programs required as we once were (in fact in 1983 we were under that number and that cost UAA a chance at the DII National Championship in 1984).

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