Q&A: Gene Smith
DI men's basketball committee chair: Madness is under way
Gene Smith, the chair of the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee and director of athletic at Ohio State University, along with other members of the Division I basketball committee, are meeting in Indianapolis in advance of the selection meeting in March. The setup is as it will be next month when the actual process takes place and as it will be Thursday and Friday, when the NCAA conducts its annual mock selection exercise with selected members of the media and conferences officers. Smith took part in a conference call on Wednesday:
Gene Smith: I feel blessed and honored to have this opportunity to be the chair of Division I men's basketball committee. It's just a great pleasure to work with a great team of people of great integrity and the best of intentions to try and ensure that we have put together a great tournament and be true to the history that the tournament has created.
I've been blessed, also, to serve under four outstanding chairs as I look back at my tenure: Gary Walters, Tom O'Connor, Mike Slive and last year Dan Guerrero and everything that I was able to learn from them, I'm able to try to embody in my responsibility as we move forward. Feel fortunate that during my tenure, I had the opportunity to watch this tournament grow and enhance itself over time.
Think about moving to the raised floor and moving to the large venues, Detroit in 2009, Indianapolis in 2010 and now we are getting ready for Houston. The creation of the student sections in those venues, just totally improved the atmosphere and the surrounding of the games for the young men who are playing in the games.
And obviously the most recent enhancement with the Turner and CBS and what that will do, not just for our kids who play on the floor and great coaches and our students who attend those games as fans, but all of our fans around the world who now have the opportunity to watch all of the games.
It has just been a great experience for me and I'm cherishing that moment and I'm going to try to live up to the responsibility of being the chair and making sure we put together a great field and hopefully we have an exciting tournament that we all are used to.
|NEED TO KNOW|
|• “First Four” comprised of four first-round games to tip off the Road to Houston, to be broadcast nationally on Turner’s truTV as part of the new NCAA-Turner/CBS broadcast agreement.|
|• Two first-round games to feature showdowns between teams playing for two of the No. 16 seeds.|
|• Two first-round games to feature the last four of the 37 at-large teams selected to the tournament.|
|• First time in tournament history that the last at-large team will be revealed.|
Q. Those of us who have done practice are struck by the weakness of the bottom of the at large pool and you've done preliminary research. What's your take on that? How strong is the at large field this year from what you've seen?
Gene Smith: Well, obviously we just really began discussing teams in detail with the committee, actually this morning, and began the vetting on the teams that each committee member monitors the league. So we just started vetting those teams.
We are excited about where we are. It seems that periodically in our history that we are here with this conversation, either earlier in the regular season or later in the regular season. But it eventually all shakes out. We feel very confident that we are going to be able to put together a great tournament that's going to be exciting.
You know, the regular season is forgotten in our minds and we know that's really where March Madness starts, and it's right now. These last six, seven, eight games in individual conferences that occur, different teams will differentiate themselves. We are very confident that when we come together in March, we'll be able to put together an exciting tournament.
2009, we were fortunate, we had four No. 1 seeds, that I think a lot of the people across the country probably resonated with and thought those were the right seeds and for the first time in our history, those four seeds went all the way through and were in the Final Four actually, 2008.
Last year, it was a lot more unpredictable and I think that's what this year represents. I think this year will be a lot more unpredictable and I think a lot of it has to do with we have some great coaches that have emerged out there and great role players that have emerged. I think it's going to be an exciting tournament when we get to the point where we are selecting teams.
Q. I'm just curious, your personal opinion, not with the way the committee looks at it, just you personally, when you evaluate a team, what do you feel is the most important criteria? Is it RPI? Is it strength of schedule? Is it road wins? Just you personally, when you look at a team, what's the most important thing to you?
Gene Smith: You know, I don't have one particular thing to be honest that I look at. I look at a lot of different things. I can't avoid down to one thing as I'm evaluating teams. I watch a lot of games on television, and sometimes I watch a whole game. Sometimes I watch half a game.
And obviously, I look at all of the data that exists out there, strength of schedule, road wins. It always comes back to something that we have always talked about: Who did you play, where did you play and how did you do. We really get to that discussion quite a bit.
So I can't tell you that there's one thing that I say is most important to me. Obviously when we get down to maybe those last teams that we are trying to get in and the teams really begin to start to look alike, going back to Bill's question earlier; those teams start to look alike. And Bob Golsby once said, previous chair, you can slip a piece of paper between teams. And then you can narrow it down a little bit and again that is dependent upon those individual teams.
So, I apologize, I can't tell you that I personally have one individual thing that I look at. I would share, I believe that's probably represented by all of the committee members in the room and that's the beauty of having the committee is we all have different views and evaluate criteria differently. You know, we have one guy that's a stat man and he beats us up on stats and that's really nice. I apologize; I just don't have one that I cling to.
Q. How do you balance geographic considerations where you maybe want to try to keep teams fairly close to home for the early round and the possibility that you could put the higher seeds at a disadvantage against the lower steeds, like if Colorado stayed makes it, would Denver be an option?
Gene Smith: First and foremost, we are putting together a national tournament, and that's our No. 1 priority, and we strive to make sure that we have reasonable competitive balance across that tournament.
Without a shadow of a doubt, we take geography into consideration. That's very important and we try to make sure our higher seeds are not put at a disadvantage relative to crowds. So I can't address a particular situation as you raised at this particular time, but we do everything that we can to protect the higher seeds if we can make that happen.
But we try to make sure that they play closer to home.
Q. Which takes precedence, is it protecting the higher seeds over geographic, if it's a situation like that, an either/or?
Gene Smith: It's an either/or. It really depends. I can't tell you that every case is the same.
Q. Could you share with us how many initial ballot locks you brought with you to Indianapolis?
Gene Smith: No, I can't. You're killing me.
Q. A ballpark?
Gene Smith: I can't do that (laughing).
Q. One thing I do want to ask is procedurally, basically you guys are charged with three big items here, selecting at large seed in the field and then placing teams in the bracket. Given your committee here, on a percentage basis, how does it break down? What's the greatest percentage of time spent? Is it in the selection of the at large?
Gene Smith: That's a good question, I would probably say, majority is in selection. We spend a great deal of time obviously talking about teams, and that takes the majority of the time.
And I'll just step you through it. As we come in on whatever day it is, Tuesday, and start on Wednesday, we focus that entire day on selection, Thursday selection. And then, you know, last year we started to play a little bit with seeding. Thursday night, I think it was, but we still focused on selection and then we move later Friday and Saturday in the seeding and so it's more, I would say selection is the most, seeding second and then bracket.
We all want to make sure that we allocate the maximum amount of time that we need to make sure we get the best 37. And then we move to seeding from there.
Q. I know the principles have not changed at all but can you talk about whether this is going to be a more difficult process or easier process because our taking four more teams? And secondly, what changes when you're looking for those last eight teams to go into the opening round games?
Gene Smith: Well, really, the principles and procedures are really going to basically stay the same, but some modifications, obviously, because we are adding three more teams.
But the process will be the same. We just don't know what teams are in and out until Conference tournaments are played on Saturday and Sunday.
So the selection part will be won't be that difficult for us and I apologize, what's your second question?
Q. Can you talk about trying to figure out the eight teams that will be playing in those opening round games?
Gene Smith: I think, obviously immersed throughout the process, once we select and begin to bracket, they just fall into place. It's not anything different than what we have done before. It will be the same and so we are planning the four at large so it won't be that much of a difference.
Q. When you do get to that part where you'll be taking the last four at large teams, is there any I know seeding takes precedence over everything else, but will there be is there any way of giving precedence to teams that will have to play an extra game, trying to get them to a Friday Sunday rather than a Thursday day Saturday, that sort of thing?
Gene Smith: We probably won't get into geographically close because we don't want to not respect our principles and procedures; so we don't do that. But we will take into consideration who plays on Thursday and when they will play next and then who plays on Wednesday and who they will play next and that type of thing.
We will be very mindful of the travel distances in that regard. But we will go through our principles and procedures all the way through, and who lands where, they land. And Wednesday's winner also go to the Friday site and we'll be able to work that part out.
Q. With this big of a change to the bracket, obviously, there's going to take probably some time for the fans to understand it. The bracket to this point has always been a symmetrical how do you think you need to go about educating the public in those first few days after the bracket comes out in terms of the first four and how it's going to feed into the other games and how that's going to work?
Gene Smith: We have not really talked about that and I'm going to leave that to our creative Branding and media people to figure that out. We obviously have already branded the experience in Dayton as the first four. We will rely on our network partners, Turner and CBS, and frankly you guys. As soon as the release is out, I'm certain many of you will probably focus on that a little bit. And the bracket, the blank bracket right now is available on NCAA.com, so you can go on there and see what the format looks like. But I'll leave that to the experts, get out of their way.
Q. How much do you try to get teams off of the same day, if they are hosting, which they are here at Arizona, does it matter if Arizona makes it and they had a plan the same day or are you trying to get a play on the Friday, Sunday, as opposed to the Thursday/Saturday?
Gene Smith: No, that's not an early consideration. That's a secondary consideration.
So we will pay attention to that, but it's not a major consideration for us, because we don't want to breach the integrity of our process. And obviously, if they are in; their opportunity and where they play. So we will be respectful of that.
Q. If they play well enough to deserve a geographical favor, if they would be going to Denver, which is the same how do you balance that? Do you give them what they deserve in that case or do you which it sounds like from what you're saying, or would you move them somewhere else to play on Friday?
Gene Smith: I think it depends. I think it depends on what's going on and I obviously can't talk about particular teams and can't speculate. But really, a lot that have depends on seeding and bracketing and we don't try and breach the integrity of the seeding and bracketing process.
Now, obviously, I think everyone knows that periodically, a team may move a line because of certain circumstances. We take things into consideration. But it's that particular case that's just too hard for me to really speculate on.
|NEW IN 2011|
|• The 68-team bracket|
Q. In general, would you say what seed or line level do you try really hard to get them as close to home as possible? Would it be in a 3, 4, 5 range
Gene Smith: Really doesn't matter. We protect the first four lines as best we can. We just would not move a team solely for that reason.
And I understand your question; I'm not trying to dodge it. But we just wouldn't do it just for that reason. There's a lot of other considerations around it, and I just can't speculate on what how we would address that situation.
Q. I was just asking, the first four lines you generally try to protect or does it go down to five?
Gene Smith: Definitely, definitely.
Q. Just curious how much of a factor where a team finishes within its conference standings is as far as when you go beyond the automatics with the at larges, how critical that is in determining which teams get those at large bids.
Gene Smith: We really don't look at conference standings. We look at individual teams, and we do evaluate the conference schedules and the strength of schedule and who what their process is in their conference, whether it's one plays or two plays, and we look at all that.
But we don't look at standings as much as how well they did to get their league record. So standings don't really come into the conversation.
We do look at league record. We look at non conference record. We look at conference record. We look at overall record and the strength of those. We look at the individual teams, obviously, in the league, and we'll sometimes look at scores, how close games were in the league.
So there's a lot of factors in there we look at, but it still comes down to, who did you play and where did you play and how did you do. A lot of times, when did you play them.
So every conference, as you all know, have scheduling philosophies that are different. So you can go across the country and because of the different configurations of conferences, some play Round Robins, some don't. We always have to pay attention to that.
Q. The regional in New Orleans had to be moved because of renovations to the Superdome. Does that give you any level of concern about the preparations for next year and were there any financial adjustments that had to be made for the bid on the smaller capacity for the regional?
Gene Smith: No. We have no concerns with that move. We know that the people in New Orleans really do a great job with hosting events and we are comfortable with the configuration and the configuration we know that will be set up this summer. So we don't have any real concerns. It was a decision we made a while ago and we worked closely with them. We have just a lot of confident in the host there, so we don't see any issues. I really can't speak to the financial part, I apologize.
Q. Regional is sort of the stepchild sometimes; one thing I was thinking about is the cutting down of the net at the end of the Regional, is that something the committee talks about, to keep on doing this or not?
Gene Smith: I don't know, do we do that now? Just drawing a blank. Just had a blank there for a minute.
Yeah, we'll keep cutting down the nets. And I don't know, that's the first time I've faced that question to be quite frank. I never thought of the regionals as being a stepchild, and I guess maybe that's my narrow little focus, I'm sorry.
I know our players across the country who play this game, every time I'm there, they are really excited to get to the regionals. I know a lot of institutions celebrate the fact that they got to the regionals; not that not just that they may have gotten through the regionals but those who have gotten to the regionals and didn't exit the regionals, they still buy rings and celebrate those moments.
It's the Sweet 16, they are all trade marked. It's the Elite 8. It's just an opportunity that I think everybody is excited about.
Q. There's conjecture about 11 Big East teams; do you guys consider at all how many teams from a conference? Is there too big a number?
Gene Smith: No, not really. We don't look at a conference. We don't concern ourselves that way. We move through teams and we have provisions in place in our procedures and principles that allow us to deal with those situations. So we look at them as individual, independent institutions and try to be fair to create a national tournament.
I know as you said, it's talked about every single year, and that's understandable. But in order for us to get to the best 37, we have to separate them from their conferences and go back to making sure that we look at those individual teams and respect them, regardless of league affiliation. And again, obviously, we have in place checks and balances that allow us to deal with those situations.
Q. How can a team overcome a less than stellar non conference record?
Gene Smith: You win. It goes back to who you played, and again, where you played and how you did and sometimes when you played. But at the end of the day, I think we all know winning is a very important criteria. Your road wins, your overall wins, and so you need to win.
Q. So you can overcome your non-conference schedule if you win in your conference, if you really come on strong at the end, can you do something like that?
Gene Smith: I can't speculate. There's a lot of moving parts around there but obviously if you win all of your games or wherever you play them, you have a pretty good chance of being in. In that situation, you're probably going to end up being an automatic qualifier and you're going to get in as an AQ. But trying to narrow down your scenario there, I would say if you win all your games, you've got a good chance you're in.
Q. Are the last 10 games weighted more in the evaluation process for the teams on the proverbial bubble?
Gene Smith: Awhile ago we did look at the last ten games as a criteria. We no longer look at that. Some committee members stay still look at that as a consideration, but it's really more your entire body of work. I know that I really look back to the first few games and where you played them and how you did and we all know that some teams have different issues that they go through the middle of the season or the end of the season. You take all of those things into consideration, but all of us try and look at the entire body of work.
Q. Given the distinction between the 34th at large team and the 33rd and 34th will be so large this year, one will be required to play an extra game and one won't, do you expect to give that line extra scrutiny? Will there be additional consideration or conversation about which team has to play the extra game and which team doesn't?
Gene Smith: I think, again, everyone feel please to go and look at our policies and procedures at NCAA.com. But we really go through our seed list. We scrub it thoroughly, always. I can't tell that we'll discuss those teams any differently than we discussed the other teams. We'll scrub them all hard and discuss them with the same level of intensity. The 35th team would not have been at a tournament last year, nor the 36th. We'll have the same level of conversation about them that we have about one, two, three and four; 37 of the same thing. I can't remember.
I can't say we'll treat them any different. They will all play at Dayton the first round and really as simple as that and just playing in the first round.
Q. How cognizant of are you turmoil or obstacles teams are having to overcome during the season if players walk away or injuries or dismissed; do they get credit for overcoming things like that or bottom line when you're looking at a team?
Gene Smith: We take all of that into consideration, how a team deals with adversity. And I would not necessarily say it's credit. We are just aware of what happens and each committee member takes it into account and weighs it with their own viewpoint.
But you know, we all look at if someone was hurt through X number of games or if a player was suspended or some tragedy happened, we always take that into consideration. Whether it's a credit or not depend on the individual committee member.
Q. When you add a new city to the mix like Tulsa, is there any more or less attention or consideration given to who plays in that field, for instance, because it's new, is there an assumption that it's going to sell big because of the newness and novelty, or is there an opposite type thing where the field selection is more cautious because it's not a proven market?
Gene Smith: We don't really take that into consideration. Obviously sometimes we get fortunate and a local team that is geographically close ends up there. But we really don't take that into consideration. When we select sites, we are very confident based upon the local organizing committee and based upon the demographics of that environment and the facilities there, that when we select them, they are going to be able to host and draw fans. We feel that way about all of our sites, and so we really don't feel like we have to do something extra. We really don't emphasize it beyond that.
Q. What is your level of optimism for the Tulsa regional right now?
Gene Smith: Oh, I'm optimistic. That's a great place, and the local organizing committee is a strong one. We feel real good about what they have done and how they have communicated. We just feel great. Obviously we have a colleague there in Bubba Cunningham, who is on point, and we trust him and know how hard he works. We are just excited about bringing a tournament to Tulsa.
Q. When it comes to picking your at large team what kind of value do you place on the bracket buster games? Is it any more important than just a game to you?
Gene Smith: No. They are just like every other game. But obviously we look at them all and pay attention to them all. They are exciting games. We know there is more intensity around them and really they are other games. So we all as you can pick out different games throughout the year that are part of tournaments or part of exempt events that were created where there is a great level of intensity and we all pay attention to them. They are non conference games that we are able to look at and they are another data point for us. But I can't say that we put a different emphasis on them.
Q. In other words, you would not call it like a play in game situation?
Gene Smith: No. The teams put a little emphasis on it, but we don't.
Q. One other thing that comes up sometimes, you hear analysts especially, maybe former coaches on television talk about the eyeball test. Is there any validity to that, whether a team deserves to be in a tournament or not?
Gene Smith: You know, we value input from a lot of sources and one of them is we do watch games. Some of us go to games. Some of us may put some emphasis on physicality of a particular team and of size and length of teams, and we are just fortunate that we have on our committee some people who are great coaches in Stan Morrison and Len Hickey, and they always remind of us of a subjective view of teams from a coach's perspective.
So you know, I don't say we use the eyeball test kind of like you're referring to it. I would say that we look at teams and we evaluate how good they are sometimes based upon how they play and who they play.
Q. What do you on the committee look for in tournament sites this year when you're considering them down the road and whether to come back?
Gene Smith: Well, we obviously look at how well they are operated. We get down to the detail level of how things flow, how the kid are hosted, which is the most important thing, and experiences that the institutions have; the experiences that the fans have. All of the different things that are important to any fan that comes there, the accessibility to the city and the hotel cooperation and how welcoming people are in the city, and all of the things that your local Chamber of Commerce would think is important. We look at all those. We want to make sure that all hosts put their best foot forward and want to make sure that it's a quality experience for our kids and fans.
Q. In the last few years as you know, there's been an explosion of sites and people who have done statistical analysis, how much does the committee look at that stuff? Is it something they look at more than they used to?
Gene Smith: You know, every committee member looks at different things. But for us, the most important votes are our own. We have a lot of data. We look at a lot of different ratings. But in this process, the discussion on teams and all of the information has proven to be the most valuable. And so for a long time now, committee votes are issues that really matter the most. And some of us look at different ratings and track them and some don't.
But we never really discuss them in the room.
Q. Can a conference RPI ranking detract from your wins?
Gene Smith: Not really, I don't think. Not sure what you mean there.
Q. In other words you have conference RPI rankings and as you're moving on down
Gene Smith: Oh, I've got you. We really don't take in the conference RPI as an issue. It's not even on our documentation and frankly if you ask me today, I would probably have to guess what they are across the country, based upon my subjective view, because I don't track that.
So we don't look at conference RPIs. And I really want to emphasize it, and I hope that some of you, if you have not been through the mock bracketing process that we have put on and go through the process, to try and get on the list to do it, that I'm sure David Worlock will talk about.
But we truly look at the individual teams. We look at who they have played, where they have played and how they did. We look at their win/loss record. We try to make sure that we respect the individuality of what that coach and those group of kids did.
So sure, there's a lot of data out there and rankings and things of that nature, but we really try and look at what these teams accomplished in the regular season. So there's always a lot of conversation about conference RPIs and that type of stuff but we look from the body of work from November when the season starts all the way through when it ends and from the very first game they say or wherever they play, neutral site, on the way home; we look at that and go through the whole season and evaluate those individual teams.
Q. Out in the west, fans all feel there's a bias against the west, but how would you assure fans out here that the conferences on the west and the teams in the west are getting sort of fair looks by the committee?
Gene Smith: You know I love the west. That's my quote.
Really, we are blessed. You know, this is a national tournament. I can't tell you how often we talk about making sure that we on the east coast or midwest pay attention and watch games out west. So I have watched a number of different games.
We have individual committee members who are assigned to monitor conferences. And so each conference on the west, as it is everywhere else, has someone that's assigned to watch that, that's a primary and we also have secondary with that person to watch those leagues and report to us what goes on in those leagues.
But we also have representation from the west. We have Stan Morrison, Scott Barnes and Doug Fullerton who really canvas the West. They come in here with their West Coast badges on.
But I have heard that in the years that I've been on the committee, and you know that's certainly not true. We pay attention to all of the teams across the country and I wish I could talk to you today about the teams we talked about out west. So as we know, there's good basketball across this country, and we pay attention everywhere.
Q. Would it be good for the tournament for a No. 1 team to lose a first round game at some point?
Gene Smith: It would have to be the second round, but I can't speculate on that. I'm really not a mocketeer. I'm not one of those guys that said, if this happens, that's great for our marketing campaign. So I really can't speculate on that.
Q. When you watch a tournament and there are upsets, how do you judge the work you've done? When you see upsets, do you ever think, we might have missed on that team, maybe they were not as strong as they thought or is it just part of the game?
Gene Smith: You know, that's part of the game and that's why we play them. To me that's the phenom of March Madness. You just think back to last year and the great games that we had last year. So I never look back and say, you know, we should have done this or should have done that.
I think when we go through the process, every time I've done this, I felt real good about it when we were done and look at the bracket and amazingly most people don't understand, we don't truly see the bracket until we are done on Friday and say, oh my God, what do we do.
But we really love just all of the exciting things that happen. So that's the unpredictable part of March Madness, why our fans love it so much I think.
Q. Do you think the televising of the games this year, making them all available to the public, will change the experience for the general public?
Gene Smith: Yeah, I think so. I think people now will be able to see all of the games they want to see. They will be able to see them to the end and without going crazy on channels. So I think people will be in their living rooms and control what they see and select and the establishments will be able to put the games up that people want to see while they are drinking their Diet Cokes. I think it's going to be a great thing having all of those platforms that people can see the games. I'm really excited about that.
Q. Buffalo has gotten an opportunity to host first and second rounds games. What's the likelihood of Buffalo hosting a regional one of those days?
Gene Smith: I can't speak to that. Great games in Buffalo and I see no reason why that can't happen. But I can't speculate on that. It would have to go through the bid process and compete and win it through the bid process.
We always have a bunch of cities that always bid, so I really can't speculate on that right now.
Q. Any concern the venue may be too small for a regional?
Gene Smith: No, I don't think so. We have always kept capacity as not a requirement. We are okay as the facility competing with the other facilities, so I don't see that as an issue.