daj, thanks for your input.
To your point specifically - yes, Rider could jump to the Colonial States in an attempt to go for the auto-bid. This has been discussed at lengths in M1 for a number of years. However, I would remind you of several germane points regarding the auto-bid policy.
1) Team Jumps: Any team switching Conferences within the same Division (M2 in this case) will be prohibited obtaining the Conference auto-bid for 4 years. Therefore, if the team decides to make a jump, most every player on that team will not benefit from the ACHA Regional auto-bid. Rider could make the jump, but would have to wait until 2022 to get the auto-bid in that conference. That rule was placed to reinforce the Conferences and disincentivize teams from jumping. Lastly, you are assuming that the Colonial teams or any other conference would automatically vote to give membership to a team that will run away with the conference title every year - to date I haven't seen this massive movement to where we would need to build a Trumpian wall.
2) Computer Rankings: Only teams on the "bubble" would be considering what you have suggested. Here's why:
A) Teams consistently in the top 10 would actually be subjectively lowering their rating and therefore their ranking. For example, Rider has a high SoS rating at 89.6. The highest Colonial States team has an 86.7. So given the rough math, Rider would lose 3 rating points and drop significantly in the rankings even if their W-L% were to go up. The computer gives a great deal of preference to the SoS and therefore, strong conferences raise the ranking of every member in that conference, even the worst teams in the conference. Conversely, teams in weaker conferences have their rating/rankings suppressed. Therefore, it would not benefit any team in the top 6-8, a PSU or LU for example, to drop into a weaker conference.
B) If Rider would swap to the Colonial, their ranking would drop to about ~#15 (+/-1). That would mean that Rider would be essentially trading it's chances of getting into the post-season by ranking and putting all their chips on winning the Colonial States tournament. M1 Syracuse made the opposite move you are suggesting - they are moving from a weaker M1 conference to a much stronger M1 conference to INCREASE their rating/ranking as their former conference is preventing them from making the National M1 tournament due to the mandatory weak schedule - they are giving up on an "easier" auto-bid, in an effort to make the tournament on their own competitive schedule.
C) The one aspect of the computer algorithm (for better or worse) placing so much weight on SoS, is that the worst teams in the most competitive conferences get a "bump" in their ratings, while the best teams in the conference see their ratings suppressed. Therefore, it is probable that the best teams in a weak conference are under rated by their rankings, and the weakest teams in a strong conference are overrated in their weekly rankings. This might explain that Rowan, who would face a possible TCNJ in the SE Regional play-in game won by 1 and 2 goals in their two games this season.
3) Tournament Format: The M2 Regionals are not a "Top 12" team (top two auto-bid to Nationals) tournament. They have always been, and continue to be a "Top 10" team tournament with two additional seeds to accommodate any auto-bids that are not ranked in the top 10. So if we did not have the auto-bids, we would simply go back to the Top 10 format, where #11 and #12 are not included anyway. Just like the M1 National Tournament - it is a 16 team tournament that permits four additional potential auto-bids to earn a play-in game - thus 20 teams. At least in this format, #11 and #12 have a chance if their seeds are not taken by an auto-bid. Last year #11 Michigan (who would not have been in the tournament in prior years) went to Regionals and competed deep into the tournament. The break down this year, appears to be: 1) NE, no unranked auto-bids (GNE does not qualify), therefore top 12, 2) SE, 2 unranked auto-bids (3 if a non-Top 10 MACH team wins their tournament), 3) Central, 0-1 unranked auto-bid, 4) West, 1 unranked auto-bid (PAC-8). So to roll the clock back would be to not permit 5-6 teams ranked #11 or #12 to attend regionals. Again, without auto-bids, #11 and #12 would not attend regionals.
4) Growth of our Sport and the ACHA: One post recently criticized me for only focusing on the high end, or "money teams". This is one example where the ACHA is focused on the growth of our sport to conferences and teams that might never have participated in the post season prior. Last year we had 6 auto-bid teams and 2 #11 teams compete in play-in games. In those games, 2 #11 teams beat #10 in their play-in game, Michigan destroying #10. Of the 6 auto-bid non-top 10 teams, 5 lost by 2 goals or less, 2 lost in OT. Only Rutgers (GNE) was beaten 9-2 by a #9 Boston team that game within an OT goal from making the National semi-finals. More impressive, two of those teams that went to ACHA regionals for the first time in their school's history, received significant increase in university funding and recognition. If we are truly to grow the ACHA into a National phenomenon on university campuses, exposing more teams to Regionals cannot be a bad thing.
4) Independents: One of the biggest headaches the commissioners have are independent teams (teams not a member of any conference). I don't want to broad-brush every independent team (for example, FGCU runs an exemplary M2 program from an organizational standpoint), but in general, independent teams tend to create more work for the commissioners. For example, if Rider does not submit an eligibility form, the M2 Commissioner just contacts the MACH commissioner, and the issue is resolved for Rider and ALL MACH teams - if not, the MACH will lose it's auto-bid privilege. For independents, Jay is tracking down individual coaches or team presidents. With the introduction of the auto-bid to M1, and now M2, there has been a noticeable decrease in independents, as teams are enticed to join a conference.
5) Trade offs: Most decisions are zero-sum, and in this case the benefit of the auto-bid is offset by the loss of a potentially more competitive team making the post season. However, I would argue most sports post seasons do this identical format - focusing on inclusion over "bubble" teams. NFL, MLB, NCAA basketball, etc. - teams with better records can find themselves on the outside looking in during the post season. The ACHA has also been executing the post season in M2/M3 in an identical manner for many years with the Regional formats. For example, if you look at the National Rankings, you would find that in M2, the Central is the strongest, followed by the SE, then NE, and finally the West. However, we have chosen equal representation from all regions to focus on the growth of the ACHA. If we wish to place teams in the Nationals strictly by rankings, we might chose the top 16 teams in the Nation as does ACHA M1. I'm not advocating for that position, as I believe that the ACHA has struck the proper balance between inclusion and talent in the execution of it's post-season. However, having said all that, I am only one opinion.
6) Post-Season expansion: The ACHA is examining the feasibility to expand the regional format to include more teams and/or reduce/eliminate the National auto-bids (all teams would be participating in regionals or just the Regional winner to receive an auto-bid). Would like to hear more feedback from the M2/M3 membership on that issue.
Again, thanks for the question - and hoping I'm not being too lengthy in my responses.