What if there is a tie for first place??

As we head for the last weekend of the regular season, three teams–Hamilton, Middlebury, and Williams–are tied for first place with 22 points. A fourth team, Amherst, lurks just one point behind at 21 points. Chances are great that the regular season will end up with two or more teams in a tie for first place. The last (and only) time that that happened was in 2007 when Middlebury and Bowdoin tied, with Bowdoin gaining the NESCAC regular season championship and the no. 1 spot on the strength of its win over Middlebury under NESCAC tie-breaker rules.

Here are the top four tie scenarios and how the tie(s) would be broken under NESCAC rules:

scenario 1 (tie among Hamilton, Middlebury, and Williams–no. 1 spot likely goes to Middlebury):

Based on the strong performance by all three first place teams this past weekend, it is easy to imagine that all three teams will win out this coming weekend and there will be a three-way tie for first place among Hamilton, Middlebury, and Williams. In that case, it is likely (but not definite) that Middlebury will secure the regular season championship and the no. 1 seed (and the rights to host the championship games if it wins its quarterfinal game).

I forgot to read the small print in the NESCAC tie-breaker rules when asserting in my last post that Hamilton would likely win the no. 1 spot in the case of a three-way tie.  The fine print (see below) says that, in the case of a three-way tie, the tie-breaking criteria are first applied to screen out one of the three teams and then the criteria are re-applied afresh to the two remaining teams to determine the no. 1 spot. So Hamilton wins the first screen based on its 1-0-1 record against Middlebury and Williams but it doesn’t make the Continentals the no. 1 team because that screen serves only to exclude one of the three teams and not to break the tie. It is in the re-application of the tie-breaking criteria to the final two teams after the exclusion of the third team in this mini-second round that Middlebury likely gains an edge and dodges a bullet.

So here is how it works:

Williams is excluded from first place under the first tie-breaking criteria (head-to-head results among the three tying teams). Under this criteria, Williams has earned only 1 of 4 possible points based on its tie with Middlebury and loss to Hamilton. Hamilton and Middlebury both beat Williams under this criteria, with Hamilton having a  1-0-1 record (a win over Williams and a tie with Middlebury) and Middlebury having a 0-0-2 record (ties with both Hamilton and Williams), so those two teams advance to a fresh round of application of the tie-breaking criteria. Hamilton actually earned three points to Middlebury’s two but, according to the NESCAC rules, that is not determinative of the final outcome as to which team should be awarded first place.

Now that Williams has been excluded from the mix (and relegated it to third place), the tie-breaking criteria are applied to the two remaining teams, Middlebury and Hamilton, in the order specified by the NESCAC. And here is where it gets interesting and tricky. Assuming that both Middlebury and Hamilton win both their games next weekend to end up at 26 points, criteria no. 1 (head-to-head results) doesn’t decide first place because of the 4-4 tie between the teams. Criteria no. 2 (number of wins in conference play) doesn’t work either because each team will have the same number of wins (11). Criteria no. 3 (records against the top 4 teams) also doesn’t work because, assuming that Williams and Amherst finish in third and fourth place, Middlebury and Hamilton will have identical records of 1-0-2 (Hamilton has a win over Williams and ties with Amherst and Middlebury; Middlebury has a win over Amherst and ties with Hamilton and Williams).

Let’s go to criteria no. 4 (records against the top 8 finishers in the conference)!! Middlebury wins the no. 1 spot if it’s Wesleyan in the eighth spot in the standings with a 3-1-3 record against the top 8 teams (9 points versus Hamilton’s 8 points on a 2-1-4 record). But if  Conn College edges Wesleyan for the eighth spot in the standings, things get tricky;  Middlebury will stay at 9 points and a 3-1-3 record (Middlebury’s record does not change regardless of whether Conn College or Wesleyan qualifies for the play-offs because it lost to both Wesleyan and Conn College) but Hamilton will jump ahead of Middlebury with 10 points (and a 3-0-4 record) because it defeated Conn College but lost to Wesleyan.

Conn College already trails Wesleyan by 2 points in the standings and Wesleyan holds the tie-breaker over Conn College (it defeated the Camels). Further, Wesleyan has a game in hand and can pick up another 2 points on Tuesday of this week when it plays travel partner Trinity. Finally, Conn College has the tougher schedule–road games in Vermont against Norwich and St. Mike’s–while Wesleyan has the easiest schedule possible in the interlock–it entertains USM and UNE. So chances of Conn College making the cut are very slim (it requires major cooperation from Trinity and a meltdown by Wesleyan in the last weekend of regular season play) but not completely out of the question.

scenario # 2 (tie between Hamilton and Middlebury–likely goes to Middlebury:

See scenario # 1.

Scenario # 3 (tie between Hamilton and Williams–goes to Hamilton):

This one is easy as the first criteria (head-to-head) decides and Hamilton is the regular season winner, with the right to host if it wins its quarterfinal game, based on its win over Williams.

Scenario # 4 (tie between Middlebury and Williams–goes to Williams):

Assuming that both Middlebury and Williams win out this coming weekend in their home games with Skidmore and Castleton (and Hamilton stumbles), first place would go to Williams on the basis of the second tie breaker (conference wins with 12 wins for Williams versus 11 for Middlebury; the first tie-breaker–head-to-head results–doesn’t break the deadlock because of the Feb 8 tie game between Williams and Middlebury).

These four scenarios are only the most obvious scenarios. Things will get even more complicated if all three top teams stumble in any way and Amherst moves back into contention for first place. Of course Amherst could end up in the no. 1 spot if the three current first place holders lose one game this coming weekend and Amherst wins both its games.  Stranger things have happened.

Here are the NESCAC tie-breaker rules (fine print included):

If teams tied during the regular season, or there is a 3-way or more tie, the following tie breaking procedure will be used:

  • Best record among tying teams, against one another (head-to-head).
  • Most conference wins (in games that are part of the conference schedule and count toward league standings).
  • Comparison of results of conference games played against top 4 teams (including all teams at the 4th spot).
  • Comparison of results of conference games played against top 8 teams (including all teams at the 8th spot).
  • Comparison of results of conference games played against conference teams in rank order.
  • Comparisons shall be made one team at a time starting with the highest ranked team.
  • If the tie remains after comparing results against the highest ranked team, the results against the next team in rank order shall be used. This process is continued until a winner is determined.
  • Coin flip (or similar random action involving all tied teams).

Note: In case of ties among three or more schools, the criteria above will be applied in order until a team is (or teams are) separated.  At that point, the process begins anew (returning to the first criteria) with the remaining teams.  The process is continued until the tie is eventually broken.  In cases where only a random action will break the tie of three or more teams, the random action will be applied to all teams involved in the tie.  For example, if three teams are tied and only a random action (pulling names out of a hat) will break the tie, each name will be pulled and seeded in order of being pulled.  Also, in the event that there are two (or more) groups of teams tied at different spots in the standings and the only criteria left that can be used to break those ties is a coin flip/random action, the coin flip/random action used to break the tie of one group (to put teams in rank order) will not affect the tie breaking procedures of the other group(s) of tied teams.

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2 Responses

  1. There is a threeway tie for third place with Middlebury, Amherst, and Bowdoin. Why is Middlebury assigned fifth place if they beat both other teams? Isn’t head to head the tiebreaker? Seems like Middlebury should be seated third, Amherst fourth ( they beat Bowdoin) and then Bowdoin fifth since they lost to both other teams.

    • Who says Middlebury is assigned fifth place?? The Panthers get third place based on the NESCAC’s complex tie-breaker formulations and will be hosting Colby — see post regarding Feb 19, 2011, results for more detail. Bowdoin ended up in fifth place and Amherst in fourth . .

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