Work in Sports
Defending the bracket
Tough job explaining committee's decisions
Posted: Saturday March 11, 2000 11:07 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Come Sunday afternoon, it will all be over.
After three days of exhaustive discussion and number-crunching at a downtown Indianapolis hotel, 64 teams will have been selected for the NCAA women's basketball tournament, each sitting oh so neatly on its line in the bracket.
Then Bernadette McGlade will stand up and address the other members of the selection committee, who arrived at the hotel Thursday and never left. "Any more questions?" she'll ask. "Is everybody satisfied?"
When the committee gives its assent, the pairings go in the books, another trying task out of the way.
If only that were the end of it. For McGlade, who chairs the committee, the hard work will just be starting.
She's the one who has to go before the nation to explain -- and sometimes defend -- what her committee has just done. Chairing the women's basketball committee is one of the most prestigious jobs within the NCAA, but it also can be a lightning rod for criticism. When a coach or an athletic director has a gripe, they usually go first to the leader.
"It really is a privilege," said McGlade, who is in her second year of chairing the committee. "It's an honor to be thought of by your peers like that. That's probably the most special part of the honor. But it takes a lot of determination.
"And," she added, "you have to have a pretty tough skin."
Coaches don't hide their displeasure when they're upset about something, whether it's their seeding, the regional to which they've been assigned or perhaps being left out of the tournament altogether.
Yet McGlade, an assistant commissioner for the Atlantic Coast Conference, said she never felt like she was under siege after last year's pairings were revealed.
"Overall, I feel we did a very good job," she said. "All of the feedback on the bracket when it was announced was for the most part very positive. The top 16 teams ended up advancing in the bracket so that either says we did a really great job or that the home court is really an advantage."
The top four seeds in each of the four regions play at home in the first two rounds. Because of that, picking those teams has become one of the committee's stickiest jobs.
There's not much difference in ability between a team that's seeded fourth and one that's seeded fifth. But there's a huge difference in the tournament because the No. 4 seed stays home and the No. 5 seed travels. If everyone played on a neutral court, like in the men's tournament, those numbers would not be so meaningful.
"Because the parity is just getting so strong in women's basketball, it continues yearly to make that more difficult,' McGlade said. "It's a smaller margin of information or statistics that separates teams when you talk about a four seed playing on the home court and a five seed going on the road.
"Or an eight seed versus a seven seed. I find that a more tedious process than picking the number ones because the parity is definitely there."
Jean Lenti Ponsetto, who chaired the committee before McGlade took over, said that before members left the room on Sunday, she always discussed the questions that might be asked about the bracket.
Ponsetto said she never minded other members talking about the selections -- she just wanted to make sure the group spoke with one voice.
"It wasn't a private party, I can tell you that," she said. "It was fine with me for anybody to comment. But if there was a particular situation or a high level of volatility, I felt like it was my responsibility to field those.
"My couple of years were pretty easy because the committee did a pretty darn good job. I had very few daggers to deal with."
Ponsetto had to explain in 1998 why Connecticut, which had been in line for a No. 1 seed, was dropped to a No. 2 after Nykesha Sales ruptured her Achilles' tendon. Last year, McGlade had to detail why the committee took eight Southeastern Conference teams, four of whom finished .500 or below in the league.
"That's not a job I would want," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "Those people work so hard, it's a difficult job and every year, somebody is ticked off. No one is going to say you did a great job. The only questions are how come this team didn't get in or how come they were seeded so and so.
"No matter what you say, it's a very difficult thing to do, to try to explain in a 30-second answer what has taken a whole year to do."
As for those No. 1 seeds this year, top-ranked Connecticut and No. 2 Tennessee appear to have two of them locked up. Georgia and Louisiana Tech seem to be next in line, with Penn State and Notre Dame also possibilities.
Each of the contenders has drawbacks. Georgia beat Tennessee by 27 in mid-January but lost in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. Louisiana Tech plays in a lower-rated league -- the Sun Belt -- and hasn't been challenged since losing to Connecticut by 27.
Penn State won the Big Ten regular-season championship, then lost to Purdue in the tournament finals. Notre Dame lost only to Connecticut in Big East play but was beaten by Rutgers in the conference tournament semifinals.
What's a committee to do?
"It's a combination of everything that's important in a team's success," McGlade said. "Not only the overall won-loss record, but the conference record, the level of their conference in the RPI ratings, the type of nonconference competition they engaged in.
"We look at all those factors. Certainly the wins and losses against common opponents is significant. All of that information comes into play."