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WCHA Penalty Math

Greg Shepherd was in the booth with Frank and Doug during yesterday's Sunday matinee between Minnesota and Michigan Tech, in a move that was bound to end in disaster. One thing in particular caught my attention though. No, not that he repeated that ridiculous line about video being the officials worst enemy--because clearly, the biggest problem here was that someone filmed it. Not the terribly put assertion that the league didn't really care about fans when deciding to call 50 penalties a game--technically a good decision, but from a PR standpoint, he made it sound as terrible as possible, and Frank had to awkwardly try to clean up his mess. Not even the Freudian slip about how officials would stop calling games this way as soon as the calendar rolled over to December.

No, what stuck out to me the most was the assertion that the stricter rules enforcement wasn't that big of a deal because so far, it had only meant an extra two powerplays per team, per game. Much like the Pairwise rankings, this is the magical combination of math and poor logic.

First issue: Is that even true?

Last season, there was a total of 1229 powerplays over the course of 140 WCHA league games. That works out to an average of 8.77 powerplays per game, meaning each team is getting roughly 4.385 powerplays per game. After 39 league games this season, there have been a total of 543 powerplays. Again, going to the averages, that's 13.92 powerplays per game, or 6.96 powerplays per team, per game.

So 4.385 vs. 6.96, a difference of 2.575 powerplays per team, per game . Technically, his assertion is close to true, though stretched by about a powerplay per game.

Second, more important issue: Is that a big deal?

This is a little tougher to argue since it's a matter of opinion, but I'm pretty sure it is.

The number only looks small because it's been divided enough times until you get a small number. You may as well say, "Hey, it's only an extra .858 powerplays per period!" or "That's only an extra .032 powerplays per shift!"

The problem is that if you go in the other direction, the numbers tend to look worse. This is a little speculative on my part, since there are no concrete numbers on actual PP time, but let's assume that the average powerplay lasts 1:30 due to either powerplay goals or overlapping penalties. That means that last season there was approximately 12:23 of powerplay time per game, which is 21% of a hockey game. This year, there is approxmiately 20:53 of powerplay time per game, which is 35% of the game. I think most people would argue that 14% of a hockey game is a pretty big deal.

Third Issue: Does this mean the officials are in the wrong?

Not necessarily. In theory, I love the idea of cleaning up some of the obstruction in the game and making it faster and more exciting. The problem is putting faith in the practitioners of that theory, and frankly, there's never been much reason to put that faith in the WCHA's officials, and even less reason with a number of officials having been recently promoted from linesman out of necessity rather than performance.

The issues this causes are the same as what happened during the checking-from-behind craze of a few years ago. Game-changing decisions are being put in the hands of the officials and their calls are frustratingly inconsistent and frustratingly questionable. Some of that is just the nature of officiating. Two biased parties are going to see the same thing very differently. But I also think that more calls this group has to make, the greater the chance of them making very poor calls. And that's been the biggest complaint so far this season. It's not that a team is going shorthanded an extra five times per weekend. It's that they're going shorthanded on calls that never should have been made.

Fourth Issue: What's the Solution?

Sadly, it may just be waiting until December when officials stop calling--er, I mean, players "adjust" to the new rules. It seems to have worked for the NHL, so maybe it will work in college. In the meantime, it's up to the fans to adjust to watching a different game.