The Dean's List

Jeff Sauer – the fifth-winningest coach in college history – writes a bi-weekly column for Inside College "The Dean" was the head coach for 31 years at Colorado College and Wisconsin, where he won two national titles. Sauer retired at the end of the 2001-02 season.

For your listening pleasure, find The Bud Song on Wisconsin's official site.

Part of the fun in doing this column is the opportunity to interact with you, the hockey fan. Please send your questions or comments to

March 27, 2003
The Dean's List by Jeff Sauer

Last week, while taking part in ESPN's Selection Show, I got the opportunity to meet with the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee and find out how they select the 16 teams that are competing for the national championship.

The committee is very professional and uses criteria that makes things very objective about determining the best at-large teams. It wasn't too long ago that I remember sitting in a room with coaches and committee members older than me and arguing about which teams should make the field, which at that time was much smaller.

The sport has grown and changed.

I remember the last time my Wisconsin team made the national tournament (two years ago), I got the word in the press box at the Xcel Energy Center after the second semifinal game in the WCHA Final Five had been completed. A gentleman plugged in the results of that game, along with the results of a CCHA game, into his computer and looked at the rankings. He read the results, turned and shook my hand and said "Coach, congratulations, you are in.''

It's a lot different than the "good old days" when I was on the tournament selection committee.

The way teams used to be picked for the tournament was very subjective. I remember being on the committee with Snooks Kelly and Amo Bessone and sitting around arguing who were the best teams. Some of the time it was done face-to-face in a smoked-filled room and some of the time the lobbying was done over the phone.

I remember one year I was at Colorado College and we had a pretty good team that got hot in the playoffs. There was no criteria, so the committee decided that we and Bowling Green should have a play-in game to determine the last team to go to the Final Four. We had to travel to Bowling Green to play the game. They beat us and ended up in the tournament in 1978.

And I'll always remember 1981, the year the Backdoor Badgers won the national championship. Again I was at CC and we rallied in Madison to beat Wisconsin in a classic series.

The Badgers placed second that season, behind Minnesota, in the WCHA race. They drew my CC team, which finished seventh, in the first round of the playoffs. The Badgers whipped us, 8-2, in the first game of the total-goal playoffs March 7. The next afternoon made history. CC came from behind on what Badger fans still to this day call Black Sunday to administer maybe the most humiliating loss in UW history -- an 11-4 beating. That gave CC a 13-12 total-goals playoff win and apparently ended the Badgers' season.

But I remember leaving the Dane County Coliseum that afternoon and turning to my dad on the bus and saying, "Badger Bob is already on the phone to NCAA committee, lobbying for this team." He had the whole week to lobby his cause.

Meanwhile, we went to Minnesota the next week and split two games with the Gophers, a team with Neal Broten that would be the NCAA runner-up. We lost the total-goals series by one goal. Of course, I spent Sunday trying to plead my case to the committee, too. It didn't work.

The committee picked Wisconsin to make the eight-team tournament, and sent the Backdoor Badgers to Clarkson, where they won a total-goals series. They went on to beat Minnesota in Duluth, Minn., to win the championship.

Everyone recognized the system needed tweaking after that season and we moved toward the computer-generated system you see now with the RPI and Pairwise Rankings. It is more objective, and provides for a good tournament.

But after seeing what happened this year, it may need tweaking again. St. Cloud State got into this year's tournament fair and square, but the coaches and the NCAA have to take a look at a system that logically doesn't seem right. If St. Cloud finishes below Minnesota-Duluth during the WCHA season and is beaten by Duluth in the playoffs, logic tells you St. Cloud shouldn't finish ahead of them in the selection process.

It seems to me late-season success and the playoffs should have some significance. I'm sure fans at Providence and Michigan State question that, too. I think more bearing should be placed on how a team does down the stretch, and those issues will be addressed by the coaches in the off-season.

But overall, I expect this to be a great NCAA Tournament. There were always hard feelings when the 13th-ranked team didn't make the 12-team tournament. So, too, this year in a 16-team tournament, some teams felt left out.

Looking at the field, I think the committee did a good job with the criteria given. I expect an exciting last couple weeks of hockey.

About Us
| Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2003 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved