July 23, 2009

By Greg Johnson
The NCAA News

Eighteen Division I women’s basketball coaches learned what it’s like to be a member of the women’s basketball committee after going through a mock-selection exercise July 16-17 at the NCAA national office.

The NCAA Division I women’s basketball staff and members of the actual selection committee conducted the mock session to illustrate the process the 10-person basketball panel experiences each March when the championship brackets are constructed and announced. While similar sessions had been held previously for media members and former coaches, this was the first one that consisted entirely of current coaches and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association administrators.

“It was a way to really educate myself, and in turn, I hope, to educate others,” said current WBCA President Geno Auriemma, who coached Connecticut to an undefeated season and a national championship in 2009. “You often hear how difficult this process is and how challenging it is to put together the NCAA tournament bracket. But until you actually experience it, you have no idea how incredibly difficult this is.”

Incoming committee chair Jane Meyer, a senior associate athletics director at Iowa, said the goal for the mock-selection program was “to provide some sunshine on the process.”

“Many people think this is a clandestine process, and it’s not,” she said. “We put our principles and procedures out there, and we follow them.”

This mock committee completed the exercise just three months removed from the 2008-09 season, but participants were asked to think of it as the second week of March when the real committee meets.

They diligently discussed what 33 teams should receive at-large bids, where the teams should be seeded and where teams should be placed in the bracket. The coaches were asked to apply the same principles and procedures the committee follows. They realized the enormous amount of time committee members spend watching games, evaluating teams and reviewing data throughout the year. And they learned how it comes down to what a team did “on the court” that given year, not about conference affiliation or previous year’s performances.

Without question, the room had a March-like atmosphere.

“I never understood the tedious task that the committee has,” said Old Dominion coach and former WBCA President Wendy Larry. “They say coaches have to juggle a lot of things, but it is unbelievable how many things this committee is using. The opportunity to lock our arms around this whole thing has been pretty awesome.”

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said the ongoing dialogue was the best part as the committee matched principles with the human part of the exercise. “That is the delicate balance of the committee work,” she said. “I don’t think people know much about the analysis that goes on.”

For coaches like Brian Giorgis of Marist, Shann Hart of IUPUI, Rick Insell of Middle Tennessee State, Curt Miller of Bowling Green, Jeff Mittie of TCU, Jennifer Rizzotti of Hartford and Audra Smith of UAB, who coach in leagues outside of the six larger conferences, it provided a chance to have their concerns heard.

“The seeding process is so close,” Rizzotti said. “The real committee does its homework through the year, and they have a better idea of where teams go. Still, it is shocking when you start putting teams in order how the ‘mid-majors’ start slipping through the cracks. It seems those are the teams that get the 10, 11 or 12 seeds, when they could be seeded seventh.”

Seeding wasn’t the only concern. Participants said it is hard to assemble the type of nonconference schedule that can impress the committee, because teams from the larger conferences won’t play them, especially if they are looking for a home game.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve won our Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament the last few years,” said Giorgis, who guided Marist to the regional semifinals in 2007. “There probably have been years where if we didn’t win the tournament, even with 29 wins, we may not have gotten in. That includes the year we went to the Sweet 16.”

Overall, the coaches were able to bounce some ideas off attending committee members Tina Cheatham, Rich Ensor, Marilyn McNeil and Meyer. That dialogue is expected to continue.

“There are different opinions on how certain parts of this should be done,” said Texas coach Gail Goestenkors. “The job of the committee is insurmountable, because you can’t please everyone.”

That is something everyone who has ever served on the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee already knows.