Inside look at the NCAA tournament selection process (cont.)
Shaheen offered a piece of advice about the under-consideration teams that didn't sound sage until hours later as the fake committee debated the merits of the teams near the bottom of the at-large pool. "Don't put teams here to feel good about putting teams here," Shaheen said as he stood at a large white board pointing at the under-consideration group. "Put teams here that you believe could ultimately be one of the best 37 in the country." At first, Glockner and I thought it would be best to include every team we thought might have even the slimmest chance of earning an at-large bid. It turns out that including teams that realistically have no chance only bogs down the process.
Why? Because the committee debates and votes multiple times on every team on the under-consideration board. By the time the committee gets down to the BCS conference teams with .500 conference records and zero quality wins or the non-BCS conference teams with good records but zero quality wins, those debates often become counterproductive and frustrating.
So how does the committee determine which teams receive at-large bids? It begins with the surefire at-large teams. Any team that receives all but two eligible votes on that first ballot is in the tournament. Using the information available at 1 p.m. Thursday, we punched the dance card for 21 teams. Unfortunately, the computer thought we'd only picked 18 teams. We noticed this because Duke, a certain at-large team, didn't appear anywhere on the list. After some checking, the list was corrected. That may sound inconsequential, but remember, this is the same software and hardware used by the real committee. If it happens next month, they'll have to notice and correct it.
At that point, we switched from selection to seeding for the teams we had just placed in the tournament. We were asked to pick the best eight from among the 21. On fake Beebe's laptop screen, the 21 team logos appeared with a bubble next to each one -- except there was no bubble next to Texas or Kansas. As fake Beebe, we weren't allowed to vote for Big 12 members. Ryan Feldman of HoopsReport.com and Doug Harris of the Dayton Daily News, as fake Jeff Hathaway, couldn't vote for Connecticut because Hathaway is UConn's athletic director.
A computer at NCAA headquarters about a mile away very sloooooooowly tallied the top eight vote-getters. "We just learned that we're using a Speak and Spell back at the office," Shaheen cracked. Eventually, a new screen popped up on fake Beebe's laptop. The eight logos were arranged vertically next to a set of bubbles numbered one through eight. On eight laptops, fake committee members were asked to rank each team one through eight. The results would be added, and the team with the lowest sum would be the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. The next three lowest sums would get true seeds No. 2 through No. 4 -- the field eventually will be seeded No. 1 through No. 68 before bracketing begins -- while the other four teams would be thrown back in the pool. The entire process would be repeated to get true seeds No. 5 through No. 8.
(This seems like proper time to suggest to CBS that a feed all weekend of Shaheen and tournament associate director David Worlock would be comedy gold. I'd pay at least $50 bucks on pay-per-view to hear their running commentary devoid of any bracket-revealing context. Worlock unleashed some zingers during our time there. A favorite is this mantra: "The message," he said, "is always, 'Please have your conference tournament over by Saturday.' ")
The laptops of fake Beebe and fake Gene Smith (SI's Davis and Steve Scheer of CBS Sports) had one extra item on the screen. A red stripe informed the fake committee members that they were ineligible to vote. "You are restricted from participating due to conflicts with teams in this election," the message inside the stripe reads. Beebe couldn't participate in a vote involving Texas and Kansas, and Smith couldn't participate in one involving Ohio State. The real Smith had explained this process earlier. Whenever the Buckeyes are discussed next month, he won't be in the room. "I'll be in the other room," he said, "eating chocolate pretzels."
A warning to the real Beebe: If you partake in the chocolate pretzels every time you get bounced from the room because you're ineligible for a vote, you'll weigh approximately 427 pounds by the time Gumbel reads the bracket. Because Texas and Kansas were potential No. 1 seeds and because Baylor, Oklahoma State and Nebraska were potential bubble teams, Big 12 teams seemed to always be up for discussion or a vote. After seeing the red stripe pop up on fake Beebe's screen for a fourth consecutive vote, Glockner suggested a new revenue stream for the NCAA. "They should get Red Stripe beer to sponsor the red stripe," Glockner said. "Hoo-ray, Beebe!" Meanwhile, I wondered out loud whether Big East commissioner John Marinatto -- whose league might wind up with 10 or 11 teams in the tournament -- would ever be allowed in the room if he served on the committee.
After the fake Beebes returned to the room, we learned the committee had made Ohio State the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Texas, Pittsburgh and Kansas in that order. Next we moved on to the next four. The biggest debate came between San Diego State and BYU, which were competing for the sixth and seventh true seeds behind Duke. Several members called for a side-by-side comparison of the Aztecs and the Cougars, but the room stayed fairly quiet. As a few fake committee members quietly discussed the merits of the Aztecs and Cougars, Worlock reminded everyone that the actual committee would have that conversation for the entire room to hear. "Sidebar conversations are counterproductive," Worlock said. The volume of the debate increased immediately. BYU took the No. 6 seed. In a later vote in which fake Beebe did not participate, we flipped Pittsburgh and Texas, only to flip them again during the seed scrubbing process the following day.
After seeding a few more of the locks, we returned to the selection process. Selection works the same way as seeding. The teams under consideration appear on the screen, and committee members select their top eight. Then they rank the top eight vote-getters from No. 1 through No. 8. The top four vote-getters are placed into the field, while the bottom four are thrown back into the under consideration pool. "We go layer by layer by layer," Shaheen said.
Those layers make it difficult for committee members to think about how many teams from each conference have made the field. By the time one set of teams is placed into the field, it's time to debate the merits of eight more teams. This constant churn makes considering conference difficult. During the selection, I tried to figure out how many Big East teams we were putting in. I couldn't, because things were moving too fast.
The layers also make backroom deals almost impossible. For an AD or commissioner to broker a deal, he would have to first convince a majority of committee members to vote for a particular school during the "choose the eight best" vote. Since he wouldn't need to make a deal if the team were deserving, we'll assume it would be the eighth-best of the group that requires a numerical ranking from each voter. To get that team into the top four and into the field, he would have to convince several committee members to rank that team high -- probably in the top three -- to counteract the honest voters ranking that team No. 8. He'd also have to do it without being in the room for the major portion of the debate. On top of that, the voting would have to clear NCAA staffers, who probably would notice irregularities.
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