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SIX PACKS ON ICE CAMPUS PUCK: Breaking Down Pairwise

Posted February 26, 2013 by Sammy Hill in Featured Blogs
So you don’t understand how Pairwise works? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Coming from a small town in British Columbia, I have never had the chance to watch or follow college hockey. Junior and major junior hockey have always been my loves, but I am making some room for college hockey in my heart.

When one of my best friends, Brett Mckinnon (@McBeauty17) of the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors, committed to College of the Holy Cross, I realized that it was time to start learning about NCAA hockey. One of the first things that I tried to educate myself on was the Pairwise. The Pairwise is a statistical tool used to make an educated guess regarding which teams will receive at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Sixteen Division I teams compete against each other in this tournament. The Pairwise system basically compares teams. Each team is compared to the other teams that are under consideration using four criteria:

  1. Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), adjusted for two tweaks
  2. Record vs. “Teams Under Consideration” (currently factored only when total games vs. TUC for each team being compared to each other is 10 or more). Teams Under Consideration are those teams that have an RPI of .500 or better.
  3. Record vs. Common Opponents
  4. Head-to-Head Record

The winner of each conference tournament automatically qualifies for the NCAA Tournament while all other teams under consideration are compared based on these criteria. The eleven teams that come out on top also qualify.

A flaw in this system is that some teams under consideration will hope that teams they’ve played well against also perform well and move into the TUC category, but they may still have to play them in the near future. An example of this is Cornell and Yale. Yale is currently a TUC and would benefit from Cornell (who is on the bubble right now) becoming a TUC as Yale has beaten Cornell this year, but Yale still has to play Cornell and losing to them now would hurt Yale’s position if Cornell became a TUC. Try to say that three times fast!

Currently Quinnipiac is the number one seed with 31 Pairwise comparisons won, and it is unlikely that they will drop from that ranking.  Minnesota and Miami are close behind. The selection of the eleven teams (excluding the five conference champions) will take place March 24th and the road to the Frozen Four begins with Regionals starting March 29th.


For a full explanation of the Pairwise and how it works check out the primer at, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @sammmyhill for all your college hockey questions!

(Photo Credit: Be sure and sauce @Buccigross and @QUBobcatHockey for use of the Twitter Photos)


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