Behind the Scenes: The NCAA Selection Committee

If you've ever watched the NCAA selection show, which affectionately kicks off "March Madness" every year, you probably have asked yourself a time or two, "why did they do that?" Ask yourself no further. In a three-part installment, Bucknuts takes you behind the scenes of the selection committee to help you understand how the field of 65 is selected.

Ever since I was 14 years old, I've enjoyed doing my best to project the NCAA tournament field. Almost tantamount to my enjoyment of winning an NCAA basketball office pool (hypothetically of course, as you could imagine I'm not a gambling man), is my love for projecting the field itself.

In my nine years of this hobby, I've become reasonably accurate at it. Despite different nuances and intricacies of various members each season, they are still bound by the same principals and guidelines that are allegedly to remain consistent. Although no reasonable mind would claim any two committees think alike as a group, I've personally not been mistaken on an at-large bid the past three years, as I've been able to get a grasp for what they are looking for.

Last year my passion was taken to another level. As a paying member of the College RPI site, managed by Jerry Palm, I was fortunate enough to serve as the chairman for RPI's "mock selection committee." CollegeRPI.com is of course a replica of the criteria used by the selection committee. As this chairperson, I was able to ascertain a copy of the procedures in the selection process. While I had a vague idea of how the committee operated, it was full-disclosure as far as I was concerned.

Our first step was to gather a total of ten members. For illustration purposes, we'll correlate our selection with that of the real committee for better understanding of the procedure.

The real committee is selected seeking at least one woman, at least a representative from three small conferences, three mid-major conferences, and geographically diverse members. The committee as a whole should be inclusive of the sea to shining sea, allowing for a nationwide grasp and broad spectrum, further removing a chance there is any "bias" due to simple negligence.

Admittedly, we skirted some of these larger issues for the simplicity of having a hard time finding any South Carolina State fans out there, much less many women wanting to take part. But when it was all said and done, we had a guy from Philadelphia, two from Ohio, one from Wisconsin, one from Tennessee, one from Florida, one from Kansas, one from Virginia, one from New Mexico, and one from Wyoming.

This biggest problem we faced was not necessarily the geographic locations of this committee, but simply we were all "fans" of major-conference teams. In the real committee, you would see some athletic directors of smaller-conference teams, or conference commissioners.

So now that our committee is assembled, it's time to begin meeting for discussion. The process in itself is really basically broken down into three parts.

The first installment will deal with what we call "The Selection Process." The second part will be "The Seeding Process," followed by "The Structure." The selection will deal specifically with the selecting of the field and everything that leads up to it. The seeding will detail how the committee derives at the seeds. And then lastly, the structure will illustrate how the actual bracket is put together.

PART ONE: THE SELECTION PROCESS

Before the selection process begins to take place, there are some general guidelines that must be followed. Many of these same principals apply not only to the selection of teams, but the seeding as well.

The first principal is that any team an athletic director or commissioner represents may not be present in the meeting room for discussion of, or may not take part in the voting process for, that team. So for instance, I'm on the selection committee as the Ohio State athletic director, I'm not permitted to discussion Ohio State in the process unless I'm asked a factual question (for instance, the date of an injury, the date of a specific game, etc). The same would go if I'm the Big Ten Commissioner. I could not discuss Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, etc.

In situations where a team is being discussed within the same conference as a team in which an athletic director represents, he may speak of that team only when asked. So if I'm representing Ohio State, I may only speak of Indiana or Michigan If I'm asked.

As we get set for the first step of the selection process, we must now understand two basic concepts. The first being, that we are to select the best available teams to fill the at-large spots, and the second, we have to remember that "teams" get bids and "conferences" do not.

While my personal opinion is that subconsciously, committee members do consider how many teams a conference may or may not get, it is not supposed to be a factor. I cannot say with the utmost sincerity that every member allows that particular thought to be stricken from their mind.

Although the committee has been together at various times, usually of the proceeding month, it first officially congregates on the Monday before Selection Sunday. The first item of business is the distribution of what is termed as a "Nitty Gritty" report.

This report is a listing of the top 105 teams in the RPI in alphabetical order. For each team, it lists various records for how a team fares on the road, against top competition, and the like. Here are the following contents of this report…

* Division I record;

* Overall RPI;

* Non-conference record;

* Non-conference RPI;

* Conference record;

* Conference RPI;

* Road record;

* Record in last 10 games;

* Record against teams ranked 1-50 by RPI;

* Record against teams ranked 51-100 by RPI;

* Record against teams ranked 101-200 by RPI;

* Record against teams ranked below 200 by RPI;

* Record against other teams that are under consideration (i.e., "board teams").

Bear in mind that the RPI is a simple mathematical component that combines your winning percentage, your opponents winning percentage, and your opponents' opponents winning percentage. It is similar to the SOS component used by the BCS, but much more simplistic in nature.

As each of the 10 members is provided this information, it is theirs to ponder for the next few days. While the members continue to discuss things, their next official act takes place on Thursday before Selection Sunday.

By 8 p.m. on Thursday, the first and second ballots, as they are referred to, are due to the chairman.

a. On Ballot No. 1, each committee member shall identify not more than 34 teams that should be at-large selections into the tournament based upon their successful play to date, even if they could eventually rep­resent conferences as automatic qualifiers.

 

b. On Ballot No. 2, each committee member shall identify all other teams that should receive con­sideration for at-large berths.

Committee members are not limited to voting for just the 105 teams listed on their nitty gritty reports. Any team that has already earned automatic qualification shall not be included on any portion of these ballots. So if for instance South Carolina State has already won their conference tournament, they need not be included on this ballot.

Two large boards will be kept during this process, the first being the "At-Large" board, and the second being the "At-Large Nomination" board. After the 10 members have submitted their ballots by 8 P.M., any team receiving all but two of the eligible votes will automatically be put on the At-Large board. So if the Ohio State athletic director is not permitted to vote Ohio State, but they receive 7 of the 9 eligible votes, they would be included. This of course means they are in the field of 34 at-large teams for the time being (keep in mind, as some teams begin to win their conference tournaments, they will be removed as the automatic qualifier).

The At-Large nomination board will consist of (in alphabetical order) all teams that gained at least one vote for the At-Large board or won or shared their conference regular season title. Teams may also be included on the nomination board by being recommended by more than one member upon final closing procedures.

After this process is complete, the At-Large nomination procedure is technically closed. The only way a team not included on the nomination board may be added, is to receive three or more votes from committee members. Teams also may be removed from the nomination board by receiving all but two eligible votes.

The committee now begins to examine the nomination board.

From here begins an elaborate voting process. Typically the first ballot will yield 25 or so teams that will garner enough votes to be included on the at-large board. So hypothetically speaking, let's say we have nine spots yet to fill.

Each committee member lists eight teams from the nomination board they feel is most deserving of being included on the at-large board. Any team that receives at least seven of the eligible votes will be transferred from the nomination board, to the at-large board.

Of the teams that do not garner enough votes, the top four will be held over for the next ballot, the rest return to the nomination board.

The committee members will then list another eight teams (if there are at least 20 remaining on the nomination board), six teams (if there are 14 to 19), or four teams (if there are 13 or less) to join the previous four holdovers.

The four teams that receive the most votes will join the previous four, for a pool of eight teams that will then be ranked by each committee member. Each member shall rank these teams 1 through 8. One point is given for being ranked first, and eight points given for being eight. The top four vote-getters will be then included on the At-Large board.

The remaining four will then again be held, as each member again lists 8 teams from the nomination board (or 6 or 4 pending how many remain). The 4 teams receiving the most votes, join the previous 4 teams, and once again are ranked 1-8. Once again, the top vote-getters join the At-Large board.

It is noteworthy that if a team fails on two consecutive attempts to be one of the top four vote getters in this process, it is automatically returned to the nomination board as opposed to being held-over.

This process is repeated until all 34 slots are full. Any team on the At-Large board may be returned to the nomination board with seven eligible votes.

Also, at any time during this process, the chair may do any of the following…

- Suggest the committee begin eliminating teams from consideration (the same voting procedures would be used)

- Call for a "Cross-Country" vote of teams under consideration

- The chair has the option to revise the number of teams to be accepted to the at-large board from four to two if the situation dictates. Further, he can reduce the number of teams eligible to receive votes.

Once this whole process is complete and the At-Large board has all 34 slots filled up, it's time to begin seeding teams. As the mid-major conferences and major conferences begin to start producing automatic bids, some of the 34 teams will begin to leave the board. As those slots open up, the same voting procedures outlined above will be used to fill those newly opened slots.

The rest of the weekend, as the committee waits for slots, they begin to seed the teams that are already in the field. In the second installment, we'll begin to "seed" the teams. But for now, you know how the teams get there. Stay tuned for Part Two: The Seeding Process.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories