Posted: Tuesday March 8, 2005 3:38PM; Updated: Wednesday March 9, 2005 1:38PM
Despite what you hear from analysts like Dick Vitale this weekend, the only people who know which teams are in the field will be holed up in the Indianapolis Westin Hotel.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Is there anyone who leaves themselves open to more second-guessing each March than the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee?
Everyone knows the drill: Minutes after the 65-school bracket is announced, Billy Packer grills some NCAA hoo-ha who's spent the past 48 hours holed up on the 15th floor of the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis. The NCAA guy patiently answers questions about the RPI, the bias toward major-conferences and why Butler's 25 wins weren't enough to land an invite. CBS should incorporate this into the first segment of 60 Minutes (which immediately follows) and have Mike Wallace interrogate the poor guy.
On Friday Greg Shaheen, the vice president of Division I men's basketball for the NCAA and a moderator for the Selection Committee, visited the Sports Illustrated offices to clue us in on what really happens. Smart move, NCAA. First, by sending an amiable guy such as Shaheen, the NCAA gave itself a personality. It put a face on the committee -- one who seemed as genuinely devoted to picking the 65 most deserving schools as you or I do.
Here's just a few of the morsels of knowledge that Shaheen shared with us:
1. A team's RPI is largely inconsequential. "The committee spend lots of time looking at good wins, good losses, bad wins and bad losses," said Shaheen. "But as far as the RPI goes, we don't pay too much attention to it."
2. That said, Shaheen displayed a page the NCAA runs for each team breaking its schedule down based on opponents' RPI. The committee pays special attention non-conference games scheduled against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and how they fare. UConn, he pointed out, played five non-conference games against top-50 RPI schools last year, finishing 3-2.
3. As far as the process of selecting the tournament goes, here is a brief timeline:
Wednesday evening (before Selection Sunday): The committee's first meeting is at an Italian restaurant. Tourney selection is like a marathon, I suppose, and this is the carb-loading.
Thursday: The first two ballots for the 34 at-large teams are due. All ballots are secret. The first ballot is teams you definitely feel should be in and the second is teams you believe should be placed under consideration.
Friday: The 10-member committee begins ranking the field from 1 to 65, fully mindful that it can change at-large teams and conference tourney upsets -- which are inevitable -- will foil its best-laid plans.
Sunday afternoon: The committee finally begins moving the teams into the bracket. A few of the guidelines to which they adhere:
The top three teams from a conference must play in three separate regions The top seed in each bracket is given the closest location possible to campus Brigham Young never plays Sunday. Shaheen noted once the committee forgot this.
In short, there are three phases to the selection process: First, select the 65 teams. Second, seed them from 1 to 65. Third, move them into the bracket.
4. It helps to think of the overall bracket as one large snake that recoils every four teams. So, in short, the tourney should look like this:
1 2 3 4 8 7 6 5 9 10 11 12 16 15 14 13
Within each four-school line, there must be some room for give-and-take to adhere to the aforementioned guidelines.
5. "Our objective," said Shaheen, "is a nationally balanced tourney." He also said that the Selection Committee has three major points of advice for every school:
Take care of business: Beat the teams you're supposed to beat, especially at home. Play the best possible non-conference competition: Wake Forest that Longwood game last month did you no favors. Lobby through your conference office: If you feel the Selection Committee is in danger of overlooking you, tell your conference commissioner who has the ear of a committee member.
6. Even though the committee members may seek media types or respected veterans (i.e., former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt) advice, the ESPN Gameday and CBS At the Half crews don't necessarily know more than you do. "It's fun, at lunch break on Sunday," Shaheen said, "we'll watch the games and Digger [Phelps] or Dick [Vitale] will say something like 'This team is definitely in' and we've just voted them out."
7. Finally, one intemperate SI staffer (maybe it was me, I can't remember) asked, "Is it true that the women's NCAA Selection process takes place during a cookie exchange at a Cracker Barrel?" Shaheen shook his head and affably, yet reproachfully, answered, "Now that is just hateful."
For the record the women's committee follows all the same steps as the men's and occupies the third floor of the Westin. Not that I'd want you to have that information to pull a Greg and Marcia Brady, disguise yourselves as room service waiters, and get access to the committee members to plead your school's case.