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How not to select an all-conference team

By Bill Berg, WiPH Staff, 02/16/23, 9:00AM CST


Last Saturday, Bill Jr. and I were in Medford to cover the last couple games of the Great Northern Conference Tournament, and the all-conference awards. In between games we went to a nearby pizza joint for dinner. Shout out to Sports Page Bowl and Grill for having fast service and a great pie. And for having the Badger men’s hockey game on all six of their TVs.

Bill was wearing a Wisconsin Prep Hockey hat, so some fans who were doing the same routine as we were approached and asked our thoughts about the all-conference awards, and how such selections are made. We admitted to being surprised at some of the choices. We also gave what we thought was a standard process for selecting all-conference teams. Each team nominates a certain number of forwards, defensemen, and goalies. The coaches vote using some form of ranked voting, and the results are tabulated into their respective teams.

These fans were convinced that the system the GNC uses is, if not rigged, at least flawed. Several items did not pass the eyeball test, or the sniff test, if you prefer. As in, something smells fishy here. Items such as the leading point scorer in the conference - and tied for leading goal scorer in the entire state - Caden Schmirler, not being on the first team. The player tied for fourth in conference scoring - tied with the Player of the Year award winner - Jonah Dickens, was not even listed as an honorable mention. We agreed to look into it.

During breaks in the championship game, I managed to talk to three conference coaches about their thoughts on the selections and the selection process. They admitted that there were “anomalies”, and none of the three were entirely in agreement with the process used.

The GNC process, as described by one of the coaches is as follows:

Each team is given a number of players we are allowed to nominate based on our conference ranking. 1st place starts with 7 players and it ends with 2 players allowed for the 8th place team. The list is then sent to all the coaches to review before the meeting. A coach can recommend a potential 1st team player when they send in their nominations. When we meet we are given time to speak about our players nominated and let the other coaches know where we think those players could potentially end up.

When we head to the voting, we are allowed votes for 3 forwards 2 defensemen, and 1 goalie for both 1st and 2nd teams. My understanding is, 1st team votes are worth 2 points and 2nd team are worth 1. After the votes are tallied, they are selected 1st, 2nd, and HM teams. The strange part of our conference comes here. If you have a single or multiple players selected for Honorable Mention, and another player gets one vote, the player with one vote gets no recognition at all. With our limited amount of votes, it is difficult to recognize every kid on top teams while giving respect to good players on the lower teams. The player of the year is nominated from the 1st team selections. All coaches are allowed to vote for those players nominated. That is how we have ended up with co-players multiple times by splitting the 8 votes.

While I certainly have my opinions, I don’t claim to be an expert on all-conference team selection. Even so, limiting the number of nominees by conference standings seemed wrong to me. I reached out to some coaches I know who have been doing this for a long time. They include two coaches from the Badgerland Conference, one from the Badger West, and a coach from the girls Big Rivers Conference.

The girls’ team coach in the Big Rivers Conference had this to say:

The standings in the conference have no bearing on number of nominees or number of all conference players in our conference. That seems silly. Where you fall in conference standings never even comes up in our conversation. Unless it’s a tie you may give it to the person on the team that won the conference. And that usually doesn’t happen. I can see giving a senior the nod over a freshman if it’s really really close, but if it’s not close, that shouldn’t probably happen in my opinion.

The Badgerland and the Badger West each use a process similar to what Bill and I had told the fans at the Bowling Alley. The Badgerland nominates 4 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 2 goalies. The Badger West does 3, 2, and 1 per team. Regardless of conference standings. Then they proceed with ranked voting.

One of the Badgerland coaches said “The method you describe above (GNC) has a few blaring flaws, in that it’s very possible that a last place team has a rock star goalie, a very good forward and a solid defenseman. Now what? You have to choose which ones you can nominate?”

A major flaw in the GNC process was on display in the Antigo vs Rhinelander game. When the Robins were short-handed, they put their four best skaters on the ice. Owen Dickman and Eli Kassler up front with Paden Michalek and Landon Nelson on defense. Those four were an even match for the five Hodag skaters. They are four quality players. But Antigo was near the bottom in the regular season standings, so they couldn’t even nominate all four of those guys. So you end up with Kassler and Nelson on the first team, and Michalek and Dickman left out in the cold.

Where is the harm in selecting 16 players, say for honorable mention instead of just 11? Five more deserving players get recognition. Does it cheapen the award? I don’t think so.

As one coach said, “Yeah it’s tough to make it a perfect system.” But you could start by giving the coaches the opportunity to at least consider all of the qualified candidates.

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