I had the opportunity the evening after I posted WAFT's recap of the Cornell-Denver series to listen to the Notre Dame-Minnesota game from Mariucci Arena. The commentators who called the game for Notre Dame were speechless early in the game at the calls that were made against Notre Dame while the WCHA officials turned a blind eye to the offenses of the Golden Gophers. This speechlessness gave rise to outright vociferous anger later in the game when the inconsistency in officiating continued. The heavy implication that WCHA officiating may have influenced the flow of the game unfairly was ominpresent throughout the waning minutes of the game.
I did some quick analysis from nationally relevant and hyped games that resembled the Notre Dame game in scope. I tabulated the penalty minutes for both Michigan State-Minnesota games, the Yale-Denver game, the now infamous Boston University-Denver game, the recent Boston College-Minnesota game, both Cornell-Denver games, and the Notre Dame-Minnesota game from earlier in the week. The choice of these high stakes games ensured that the WCHA officials officiating the games would have known the stakes of each game as well as the broader audience that had interest in the outcome of those games. The games chosen involve opponents from the CCHA, ECAC, and Hockey East. Assuming that one conference does not play less disciplined or honorable than another, the penalty minutes that WCHA officials award over a large sample size of games should be relatively equal if officials are calling the games objectively and fairly.
The ratio of total penalty minutes that WCHA officials awarded to the visitor as compared to those awarded to the WCHA host team was 2.02 to 1.00. WCHA officials over those eight games awarded more than twice as many penalty minutes to their non-WCHA guests. The WCHA officials in only two of those games punished the non-conference opponent with fewer penalty minutes than those imposed on the WCHA host. In only one game, did the visiting team benefit from more than a two-minute advantage in terms of penalty-minute differential
So, what else was there to do but to expand the thesis? I decided that it was not fair to single out the WCHA without cause despite the fact that across most other conferences there are claims that WCHA officials are suspiciously inconsistent in adjudging out-of-conference clashes. I decided that I would analyze the preference of officials from the host conference for programs from their conference when officiating out-of-conference games. The metric of analysis would be a comparison of penalty minutes awarded both in-game and overall to visiting non-conference opponents and to the program from the host conference.
The primary assumption of this model is that no conference is predisposed or less susceptible to undisciplined or questionable play. There is no reason to believe that as a matter of course or culture that one conference deserves objectively to be penalized more than the other. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that each conference would be penalized equally often and to equal degrees because each is just as prone to commit penalties. Most arguments against this assumption will resort to premises that would make even the most devout homer blush.
I aggregated all penalty minutes that officials from each collegiate hockey conference awarded in non-conference games. Officials from the conference of the host team officiate non-conference games that occur there. Then, for neutral site or mid-season tournament games, I checked the conference that employs the referees for the games. If all the referees were from the same conference, their minutes awarded between the in-conference host and out-of-conference opponent went toward totals for those conference as they should. If the slate of referees was divided between representatives from more than one conference, I totaled no minutes for any conference.
Considering the general assumption and the large sample size of games, penalties and penalty minutes should be awarded to visiting, non-conference opponents at the same rate that they are given to the in-conference host. Both factors should mitigate against anomalies in the data set that would make in-conference officials seems more preferential of their own conference. The findings are below shown and discussed. It seems that WCHA officials deserve the ire and skepticism about their objectivity.
Officials from each conference have penalized visiting, out-of-conference teams more. Over the course of the season, Hockey East officials have given non-conference visitors a net total of 19 additional penalty minutes over 36 out-of-conference games that they have officiated. The CCHA has netted 40 total additional penalty minutes to their out-of-conference visitors over 31 games. Atlantic Hockey officials have given non-conference opponents 44 additional penalty minutes over the course of 24 non-conference games. The ECAC has given out-of-conference visitors just one more net penalty minute than have officials from Atlantic Hockey but over 44 games.
The conference whose officials have produced the largest differential between penalty minutes that it has awarded to its teams when compared to those with which it has punished its visitors? The WCHA. WCHA officials have penalized visiting out-of-conference opponents with over two hours worth of additional penalties. Yes, with the surplus of minutes that WCHA officials award visiting, non-conference opponents as compared to WCHA host teams, one would be able to nearly finish A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back. If classic films are more your thing, the rise and fall of Charles Foster Kane would occur in Citizen Kane before the surplus minutes that WCHA officials penalize out-of-conference opponents with elapsed.
Yes, the 122-minute total is over many games but it is over just three more games than the ECAC's total of 45 minutes and it differs from that figure by 77 net minutes of extra penalties awarded to the visiting team.
It might be somewhat natural to prefer one's own conference in officiating. It may be unavoidable. However, the fact that officials from three major college hockey conferences manage to be more objective indicates that WCHA officials are once again an outlier on this basis of comparison.
WCHA officials again lead their counterparts from all other conferences in terms of preference for their in-conference programs. Assuming that the macro 1.19 ratio were experienced in an in-game situation, that would amount to 2:24 of penalties for the visiting team for every 2:00 of penalties for the WCHA host.
The average ratio of the penalty minutes awarded to out-of-conference visitors to in-conference hosts is telling because it captures the in-game deficits and situations that out-of-conference foes must overcome in the realm of penalty minutes. This approach takes the ratio of penalty minutes from each non-conference game that officials from each conference officiated and then averages those ratios.
It is apparent that each conference in game situations favors its own teams to a degree. Officials from Atlantic Hockey, the CCHA, the ECAC, and Hockey East all have ratios in favor of the in-conference host that fall within the range of 1.30 to 1.40. The difference between the least preferential, Hockey East, and the most preferential, the ECAC, falls within this bloc of 0.10. One conference remains outside this range of 0.10.
WCHA officials awarded penalty minutes by in-game ratios of 0.10 more than did officials from the ECAC. Yes, the difference between the ratio of penalties awarded to out-of-conference opponents and in-conference hosts differs between the second and first most preferential by the same margin that unites the second through fifth. This highlights a significant deviation from an apparent range of normality among the other four conferences of college hockey. Officials from the WCHA again are outliers.
WCHA officials penalize out-of-conference teams one and a half times as often as they penalize their in-conference teams. This ratio, derived from in-game statistics, indicates that for two minutes of power-play opportunities that a WCHA opponent receives, that opponent will have needed to kill off three minutes in penalties.
Officials from the WCHA have been derided often for their lack of consistency. That inconsistency can be born out in the data above in the realm of non-conference games. WCHA officials show significant preference for their own programs by all three means of determining preferences. WCHA officials have penalized visiting, out-of-conference opponents with more than two hours more of penalties compared to the total that they have doled out to WCHA teams, given out penalties over the entire season in a ratio of nearly 1.20 in favor of the host WCHA teams, and forced out-of-conference visitors in in-game situations to overcome three minutes of penalties for every two minutes of penalties awarded to the WCHA host. Conclusions of objectivity and fairness can hardly align with these statistics.
The data shows another trend as well. No conference is entirely objective in its officiating of non-conference games. This lends itself to immediate support of the use of neutral officials from other conferences for non-conference games. Schafer lent his voice to that cause after the Cornell-Denver series. Even though the CCHA, ECAC, and Hockey East are within less than one tenth of the idealized ratio of 1.00, preferences still exist. The end of the WCHA as it has been known and the CCHA, and the ensuing conference realignments with cause greater geographic overlap of the footprints of college hockey's conferences. This overlap will make it more practicable that neutral officials could be summoned and retained for non-conference clashes.
Even though the WCHA from which the most statistically egregious offenders in terms of in-conference preference hail effectively will cease to exist in a few short months, it does not undermine the salience of the need to try to obtain neutral officials for non-conference games.