NCAA Tournament selection committtee’s challenges

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (March 19, 2014) — The 10-member selection committee was responsible for choosing this year’s field of 68 teams for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, including 36 at-large bids. It’s an annual March Madness project that draws plenty of criticism for “snubs” and for teams that critics feel are seeded too high or too low.

There are 31 automatic bids for conference tournament winners, and the Ivy League awards an automatic bid to its regular-season conference champion. Including assigning individual seeds to all 68 teams, that Herculean task culminated last week — Wednesday through Sunday in Indianapolis, to be specific — where the final work was done in choosing this year’s tournament field.

Doug Fullerton, the long-time Big Sky Conference commissioner, served on the committee this year.

Seeking explanation on how he approached this work, this reporter asked the Big Sky Conference for comment from Fullerton.

This morning, an email arrived in my inbox with Fullerton’s statements detailing the project.

Here are Fullerton’s insights on the big project cited above.

I think everyone on the committee understands the importance of what we do, both to the participants but also to the NCAA enterprise. Almost all of the NCAA’s revenue comes from this one source — the Division I men’s basketball tournament.  Our job is to “get it right” and I have not worked on any other committee within the NCAA structure where members leave their affiliations — school, conference, divisional – at the door and just try to do the best job they can placing the most deserving teams into the tournament.   

Most of the time it is fairly easy to get a group of teams from the same conference in the correct order of strength but when you begin to try and compare teams from the Pac-12 with teams from the Atlantic 10 (for example) – that is where it gets difficult.  So we have metrics such as the RPI to help us. And we have every metric known to man when we are looking at the teams – and they are updated each morning throughout the entire season.   

Balancing the metrics with the “eye test” – watching the teams play is what makes up the information that each of us bring to the committee. We watch 3-4 games – or parts of games — almost each day from November to March. And we call and meet at monthly intervals starting in January to start to get the field down to a workable size.   

Most of us feel confident in our selections when we arrive in Indianapolis to make the selections – however there are some built in dilemmas that we always face.

*For instance, how do we evaluate and place teams that may have a better resume (have earned their position) vs. someone who we feel is stronger at this time of the year?

*How do we reconcile injuries and suspensions?

How do we look at late “hot teams” vs. teams who have played at a solid pace?    (answers for me are: I am a resume guy, if you look at late hot teams or who teams played late in the season you may very well be subtly ranking the conferences rather than the individual teams – as most late games are conference matchups – something we want to avoid at all costs.)

As for injuries: I never assume outcomes would change because of injuries – that is a slippery slope – and I never downgrade a team’s strength in the selection process – for I think they earn that chance – I would accept a lesser seed when we think a teams makeup will be different – but I believe teams can play their way out of a bad seed, but if they are left out of the tournament they can’t play their way in.     

This year continues the trend in recent years of the tournament field being very “flat.” All teams look alike which makes for a tough selection and seeding process but a great tournament.      

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