An Inside Look At How NCAA Picks 68
Animated conversations debating the merits of the evaluation process are guaranteed to ensue. Conspiracy theorists reveled in the past, citing either contrived bracket favoritism for an easy road to victory or premeditated diabolic plans intended to sabotage a team's chances for success.
Since 2007, the NCAA has made a concerted effort countering the public perception of the committee's manipulation powers by sponsoring a mock selection seminar for interested media and league officials from around the country.
‘BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com was among 20 participants paired to represent one of the 10 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Selection Committee members at the February 16-17 exercise.
A manual outlining the seminar schedule and explanation of the entire process was mailed in advance to every individual. Prior to congregating at the Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, each duo was assigned several conferences and leagues to monitor the progress of the teams with the intent to become conversant for the inevitable discussion.
All three phases of the process – at-large selection, seeding and bracketing – involves every team being "scrubbed." The term implies the extensive analysis of a team's performance. Extenuating circumstances such as suspensions, academic casualties, injuries, and availability of the coach were divulged during the two-day group discourse to give context to the overall record. Status reports detailing those situations are gathered to assist in the actual process.
[The case will certainly be made that Alabama's final record was likely affected by suspensions.]
Created in 1981, the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is the statistical indicator favored by the NCAA to organize the field. Other resources - Sagarin Ratings, CollegeRPI.com, RPIRatings.com, LRMC Rankings and Pomeroy Ratings - are available and can be the preferred barometer for a committee member.
Present for the entire two-day affair was Jeff Hathaway, 2012 chairman of the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Selection Committee. He defined the RPI as "one of the many tools in the tool box." The RPI is not the most weighted factor dominating the exploratory review.
First on the agenda was to identify the 37 "best" at-large teams to be combined with the 31 automatic qualifiers. Every school was viewed as an island independent from conference affiliation. Establishing priority for the selection criteria is left to the discretion of each committee member.
Preferences varied widely among the assembled group. Voting is private and cast on a computer ballot. Each duo designated not more than 37 teams they considered to be at-large selections in the first column. The second column established teams under consideration for at-large berth. Team sheet profile comparisons were projected onto a big screen monitor for all to view. An athletic director or conference commissioner on the committee affiliated with a team/teams being deliberated or voted upon must leave the room.
Contrary to popular belief, no transitory properties such as a school or coach's prior tournament record or his ability to prepare for the post season can be attached to the cache of a team.
Past committee chair, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, established an accepted streamlined three-pronged criteria - who did you play, where did you play them, and how did you perform – as the most influential factors guiding decisions.
Every game from the first to the last is reviewed and equally valued. Road victories, overall strength of schedule, non-conference strength of schedule, and outcomes against the top teams in the country can catapult a team's stature in the evaluation process -- all things being equal. Common opponents, head-to-head results, and record against the chosen field are valuable tie-breakers. If the margin of separation is razor thin, the "eye test" is one step above the last resort of a "shirts vs. skins" preference.
After an accelerated assessment of possible at-large entries the mock selection committee proceeded to step two: creating a seed list of the teams from 1-68.
Bracketing the field is the third step. A computer program provides mileage from every campus to a tournament site. Practices and principles dictate the formation of the match-ups. An S-curve insures the goal of competitive regional balance.
In a perfect world, the top number one seed would be grouped with the lowest rated number four team. A myriad of parameters ranging from geographical and hosting restrictions to avoiding regular season and recent tournament rematches to avoiding same conference members from meeting until the later rounds governs the bracketing.
BYU has requested they not compete on Sundays. All those stipulations are averred to negate any chance to conspire, manipulate, or plot for the demise of one team. Pairings of a coach against his former team, a common conspiratorial cry, are a coincidental byproduct of the process.
For the first time in history, the NCAA has made available on their website the RPI, team, and nitty-gritty sheets normally reserved exclusively for the committee members.
Actual committee members, serving a five-year term, receive weekly conference reports, confer with league officials throughout the season, and are provided a DIRECTV account to view games. An eagle-eyed fixation on the potential at-large candidates commences with the first jump ball in November.
Coaches can present favorable information to their league to be included with the weekly monitoring reports. Additionally, a single coach from every conference serving a three-year term is on the regional advisory board available to committee members for consultation. NCAA staffers channel pertinent information to a website available to committee members. Wednesday afternoon prior to "Selection Sunday" the meticulous five-day vetting process was to begin.
Transparency was the intended theme for the abbreviated two-day seminar. Every conceived myth perpetuated through the years was dispelled. Mission accomplished.
Assisted by the NCAA men's basketball staff, the seminar was well organized and an invaluable inside peek into one of the most scrutinized committees in sports. Yet at the end of the day on Sunday, judgment critical of the subjective final decision will occur despite the thorough analysis and debate of games played from November to March. Deserving teams can be absent from the field as only the magic number of 68 will flash on the television screen.
Alabama should be one of the teams celebrating an invitation to the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.
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