I’ve been thinking about how to pull off a 10-team WCHA playoff with minimal perturbation to the first-round / Final 4ive. I don’t think that a five-team or five-game playoff should be an end goal, as I like the current setup. But if we’re going to go to an everybody-in system, I’d like to propose an alternative.
Seeds 1-4 get home ice. Seeds 5-6 get certainty with their travel plans to 3/4. Seeds 7-10 get sent to a 1/2 site with the #1 seed choosing the pairing whose winner they would play in the full first round. But they’re only choosing this by picking who they host for a play-in game: 7-10 or 8-9. 7-10 and 8-9 play a single play-in game on neutral ice, and the winner then plays the host school (i.e., no re-seeding). Finishing 7-10 now means that you have to win three games to make it to the Final 4ive.
Let’s look at this with how this season finished. Ferris State, as the #1 seed, would’ve been able to pick a pair: Northern Michigan & Alabama-Huntsville or Bemidji State & Lake Superior. Ferris State would have had until 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 9th to decide whom they would face in the opening round. A play-in means that there’s even more reason to get the #1 seed, because you’ll get to handicap your best competitor.
Ferris could have taken BSU-LSSU and been pretty happy with it: the Bulldogs did well against both teams, and they really held serve at home, so they would have felt confident in facing their opponent. Or they could have taken the NMU-UAH pairing. They were 3-0-1 against the Wildcats. But maybe UAH knocks off Northern Michigan in that 7-10 play-in game! Then Ferris would have an even easier task in its first-round series, as it’s pretty much a given that the McNaughton Cup winner can pick up two wins in three games no matter how many headstands Guerriero and Larose do.
Think about it for a second: two play-in games would be really exciting, probably as exciting as the WCHA’s final night was. And even that would still have been exciting, as UAH was the only assured seed at #10. Three teams (BSU, LSSU, NMU) could’ve been the 9th seed, four the 7th and 8th (UAA, BSU, LSSU, NMU in some combination). After all, 66 of the 243 (27%) scenarios for how the final day came out would’ve had UAA in either 7th or 8th, and of course they could’ve gone as high as 5th. If nothing else, we would’ve not heard caterwauling about how UAH made LSSU miss the playoffs by not playing them four times.
Don’t get me wrong: I like the top-8-or-go-home scheme. I’ll like it next season if UAH is scuffling to be in the playoffs (don’t scoff or it might happen! Wait, please scoff), too. For a team at the bottom, I think that the push to fight and claw for getting into the top 8 means a lot — because making the playoffs is an accomplishment, not a given. But if you’re really hell-bent on having all ten teams involved, send 7&10 and 8&9 to the venue of the #1 seed’s choosing.
What say you? Comment below or reply to me on Twitter at @wchaplayoffs.