Coaches ask WBCA to look at seeding process

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Regional has the feel of a Final Four with three conference champions – either regular season or tournament and in one case both – and the top two teams in RPI. And that's wrong, according to one of the coaches.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said Saturday during her pre-game press conference that she and two other coaches in Cleveland, Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Sylvia Hatchell of North Carolina, have been discussing how and why all three teams ended up in the same regional. North Carolina, the top seed overall and No. 1 in the country in RPI, won its regular season and ACC tourney. Tennessee, the No. 2 team in the country in RPI, won its SEC tourney. Rutgers, which ended the season No. 9 in RPI, won its regular season.

The coaches, who were dismayed to all be together in one regional, have taken the matter to the Women's Basketball Coaching Association. The selection committee has, in the opinion of coaches, fans and the media, erred in the past, but this year's seedings have come under a particularly harsh spotlight that has shown no signs of dimming.

"There needs to be accountability," Stringer said. "I think everybody – we as coaches, players, officials – everyone must be accountable to this game and keep it pure and make sure everyone understands what its rules are and the weight of all of what we're doing. … Because the integrity of the game and the many people who watch it, the players certainly deserve to have a fairness demonstrated."

Stringer added that the treatment of North Carolina "almost becomes laughable when you look at the other ACC teams and where they ended up."

The Tar Heels, which were designated the top No. 1 seed, first were sent to Nashville, where they had to play Vanderbilt, on their home floor. Duke got the closer sub-regional in Norfolk, Va. Maryland was sent to Albuquerque in the weakest bracket – the No. 1 seed Ohio State fell in the second round – while North Carolina has to face Purdue, which nearly beat Ohio State in the Big 10 tourney title game, and then either Tennessee or Rutgers if the Tar Heels advance Sunday.

"You can complain, but if you do ultimately there are going to be people who write and say, ‘Why are you just a whiner and a complainer? Are you afraid?' " Stringer said. "That's one of the risks, but on the inside what we've got to do is to find out what things were being done."

The reaction came faster than that. Later that afternoon in another press conference, Purdue coach Kristy Curry said, "When you look at the 16 teams across the board, they're all talented. There has been too much complaining and criticizing of the committee, and it's time to play. The bottom line is if you sit around and complain and criticize, you're missing a doggone good tournament. Stop complaining and play. The committee does a good job. They are always doing what is best for the game."

Stringer would agree that it's time to play, but she clearly differs with Curry's assessment of the committee.

"I have to say there has been some movement on the part of the committee – probably individually; that always work better than to get everybody together – to give some weight to those areas that were being evaluated to determine how things took place," Stringer said. "I think, without probably admitting, they probably realized it didn't make a lot of sense what happened. If you have a great team only one is going to emerge (from Cleveland). And it's unfair and unfortunate. Maybe the men have the same problem, but I don't know that there's been that kind of discrepancy ever."

There have been bizarre brackets in the men's tournament over the years, too, but once the committee made it clear that RPI mattered, those teams that played a tough schedule were rewarded in the post-season. Tennessee and North Carolina were not rewarded on the women's side, and Summitt has said that RPI apparently made no difference to the committee. The committee's chair, Joni Comstock, the athletic director at American University in Washington, D.C., and a former Purdue administrator, has said the RPI was not used to rank teams but was merely a tool to organize information. The coaches believed RPI was a key factor, and the week before the committee unveiled the brackets, Comstock had indicated as much.

"We can't let that go. No matter what anybody thinks about complaining, no we cannot let it go," Stringer said. "We've got to talk about it. There's no justification. Let me just say it like that. There is none. It is the way that it is. The schools were stated; the sites were set. There is no way to take that back, but we can make it better for all of the other schools and certainly for our schools in the future. I think that until everyone feels the same sense of rage and outrage for everybody when that kind of thing happens, until that happens there is not going to be a change. It can't just be the profile schools that saw that happen. It's like your brother or your sister. You can't let that kind of thing happen and then not say anything.

"Because similar kinds of things – not quite as grossly lopsided – have happened, and everybody said, ‘Isn't that a shame?' But there was nothing really done about it. So that causes the others in the room to just sit idly by and say, ‘That's a joke' or ‘They got them again' and so it goes on.

"I really feel that this one has probably brought a lot of attention. And let's say that people did not do this intentionally but what happened is that the whole process has got to be evaluated and the necessary people brought in to see if we can have a better system to bring about greater equality for everybody and then I think everybody can feel real good about it and hopefully this will be the last time we see something like that. But in the meantime while we're here in Cleveland, we'll embrace each other and look forward to some great competition."

Tennessee and Rutgers will get the games started Sunday at noon at "The Q" in downtown Cleveland. North Carolina and Purdue follow at 2:30 p.m. with the winners playing Tuesday night for a Boston berth.

When Summitt was asked by the media if having all the teams in one bracket was a good thing, she laughed, and said, "Probably for you."

"I think all the regions are going to be really tough," she then said. "Obviously with this one there seems to be a really tough, tough bracket. I think coaches always whenever you get in a bracket you think it's the toughest one. But if you're going to win the national championship, you're going to have to beat the best teams along the way, and sometimes you may have to do that at a regional versus a Final Four. But no question, this is a great regional which represents obviously proven coaches and players who have elevated their programs to this level."

Hatchell, who brought one of the most-talented teams in her coaching career to Cleveland, seconded the strategy to take the seeding issue to the WBCA.

"They have already been very involved," Hatchell said. "It's probably number one on their agenda. It's not just affecting the teams that are here, but I think teams in other regions and teams that didn't qualify for the NCAA. It's their (WBCA) number one focus now without a doubt. We just need to handle it properly, because our game has grown over the years and this is a growing pain we're going through. There's no doubt there are some changes that need to be made as far as how things are done. I think even the people on the committee would agree with that.

"I was told they were given parameters. There were guidelines and rules that they had to follow, and that's just some of the reasons why some of the things happened the way they did. Well if that's the way it is then we need to look at those and probably change those things. I agree the Women's Basketball Coaches Association is the right way to do that, and we have our convention at the Final Four, so I'm sure that will be probably the number one topic of interest."

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