Q&A: Mike Bobinski
DI men's basketball committee chair: Celebrating 75th Madness
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this afternoon's initial teleconference with the chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee. Mike Bobinski who is the AD at Xavier University. We want to remind everyone before I turn it over to Mike, that a transcript of this afternoon's call will be available on NCAA.com, and that can be emailed to you as well.
We also want to take this opportunity to invite all the members of the media to participate in our 75th celebration of March Madness. Voting that's taking place at NCAA.com/March Madness where members of the media can vote on the all time best players, teams and moments in March Madness history. And we encourage everyone to participate in that voting. Without further adieu, I'll turn it over to Mr. Bobinski. Mike?
Mike Bobinski: Thank you, David. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I just thought I'd start out with a few opening remarks here and give you a sense of what we're doing as a committee, and turn it over to you all for questions, whatever you might have.
Right now the committee is in Indianapolis. We are in the midst of our annual selection orientation meeting, which is really a chance for our returning members and veteran members to reacquaint themselves with the process of selection seeding and bracketing and for our new members to get introduced to how things will work when we get here in March and do it for real.
We're actually in the midst of a round of conference monitoring reports, which I think a lot of you who are familiar with what we do. Recognize that each committee member is assigned about seven conferences as either a primary or secondary monitor. That actually begins in November with the opening game of the season and really continues throughout.
It's a situation where we'd like our committee members to have the ability to really have some focused attention on specific leagues, so that when we get in the room together, they can be resources for the rest of us and be somebody that we can rely on for deeper and more in depth information about particular teams in any given league around the country.
After we conclude the conference monitoring reports, we will actually get into the process of selecting and seeding teams, again, for the purpose of really just getting an understanding of how the process works from a procedural standpoint, from a technology standpoint. Also, to give our members a sense of how selection week will look and feel from a timing standpoint so that when we leave here in a couple of days everyone will have a sense on how best to prepare themselves for the next 28 days when we actually return to Indianapolis.
After we finish the selection and seeding, we'll actually make some assumptions, fill out a field of 68 teams, assume that the season has ended and automatic qualifiers have been named, and we'll go through a bracketing exercise, again, to really orient ourselves as to how things will actually happen in March when the bullets are live and this is really going to count.
Nothing that happens these next several days will be official. No decisions will be made, nobody is in or out of the field. It's really for perspective and understanding of how the bracket will ultimately be built when we get to March.
Many of you know that your colleagues will be here with us in Indianapolis beginning tomorrow afternoon and through Friday for an annual mock selection exercise. This is the seventh year that we've done that, and it's really held in an attempt to shed some light on the process for all the participants and really for them to share that with their constituents and the broader public at large.
If you all have an interest in participating in a future mock exercise, please let David Worlock know, and he'll try to fit you in as availability occurs in the years ahead. It's something that I would tell you, I think it's fun, informative, and, again, gives you a chance to aid our transparency efforts which have built over the last few years as we've attempted to demystify what goes on when selection happens in March.
Finally, before we get to any questions that you might have, I want to take a quick moment to talk about the season. To me, it's been an amazing season to this point. There have been a number of extraordinary games, upsets, shake ups in the polls. It seems like the worst thing that can happen to you is you ascend to the top spot and because you're bound to get beaten quickly thereafter. Amazing number to me of last possession games, overtime games, a five overtime game the other day and a number of double overtime games, just an incredibly competitive field out there at this point in time.
A lot of teams have gone on hot streaks, cold streaks. But, again, it is our job as a committee as we move through all of that to take a full season's perspective and get a little longer view on things. We try not to react minute to minute, game to game, day to day, but really get a sense over the course of the full season what a team's relative strength and how they belong in or out of the field and where they fit into that field if they're lucky enough to be in there.
I think our job will be as challenging, maybe even a little bit more so than years gone by from a seeding perspective, as it appears that we're going to have a lot of teams that look and feel alike. But that's okay. You know, it's a challenge that we'll be prepared for as a committee, and we're at work on that right now.
The other thing I think this type of field will give us is really perhaps even more madness than we're used to in March, which is really appropriate. We're in a celebration year; Our 75th year of March Madness. I think it would be only fitting that we have an amazing tournament this year, and I believe that's where we're headed.
The unpredictable nature of this tournament is what makes this event what it is, and I think we'll be in for all of that and then some this year. With that, I'll take any questions that you might have and look forward to speaking with you.
|NEED TO KNOW|
|• Non-conference strength of schedule is going to have a larger impact on seeding selections for the NCAA tournament this year than ever before.|
|• Austin, Texas (as a neutral site) is looking like the favorable site for early round games for higher seeds of the NCAA tournament.|
|• "Our general philosophy right now... is to get as many teams as we can as close to their campuses and their national geographic region as we can. It's not always perfect, but that's what we're trying to get done."|
|• There roughly a dozen different "tools" used by the committee to determine seeding for the NCAA tournament.|
|• "I feel no compunction at all to think about expanding the tournament [further than 68 teams]."|
Q. I guess the first time I recall hearing non-conference strength of schedule mentioned by a committee chair was Mike Tranghese about 10 or 12 years ago. And I'm curious during your time on the committee how that concern or that component has evolved in terms of importance, and how much value you yourself place in that?
Mike Bobinski: Good question. I will tell you, my first year on the committee which was Mike's last year as chairman, he coined the phrase that we've heard a lot since then, "full body of work". And I think Mike might have been the first chair to say that, but I think that really built on Mike Tranghese's emphasis on non conference strength of schedule, and your willingness in that non conference portion of the season to challenge yourself and to give the committee evidence outside of the schools that you play year in and year out how strong you are relative to the rest of the teams around the country.
I would tell you, David, that I think we, as a committee, value that no more or no less than it has been in recent years. It's clearly a component and an important component as we're working right now through our conference monitor reports. I can tell you that it's something that every team that we speak about, it gets mentioned. It's on our radar.
Personally, I do think it's important, again, for comparative purposes and for our ability to compare teams across regions and across different groupings across the country. If you go out and play a lot of people or a number of people that are strong around the country, we have more evidence. We have a better basis to judge teams and evaluate teams. So we consider it very helpful. It is by no means an all or nothing proposition, but it's an important part of our evaluation, for sure.
Q. A quick follow up, if I could. Are you at liberty to say who the primary monitor is on the ACC this season for your committee?
Mike Bobinski: Yes, I am at liberty to say that, and I will say it if you give me just one second. I don't know exactly who that is. The primary monitor is Jamie Zaninovich, commissioner of the West Coast Conference. So direct all your cards and letters to Jamie Zaninovich.
Q. I have two questions related to Austin as a host site for early round this year. With four early round sites clustered in the midwest and Lexington and none in North Carolina or in the deep south, how much of a challenge is it to place projected high seeds like Miami, Florida, and Duke, and does that make Austin a good option for at least one of those?
Mike Bobinski: It's a little early to figure out how that's going to play. We clearly don't have the top line seeds figured out yet. But as we go through the bracket process, we work really hard to try to do that. First of all, it's clearly a geographical component to that. We try to protect those top seeds with the very best geographical location that we can provide them with. So I would suspect that Austin will end up with a team that is reasonably geographically favorable, without knowing exactly how that top line's going to look or how the field is actually going to fall out.
But we do that is a clear component. We recognize that it's important for fan access and for others to be able to get to teams or to get to sites. So we'll absolutely take that into consideration and do the very best overall job that we can of balancing the field.
Q. For the regionals, do you try to keep at least one highly seeded west team, say a Gonzaga or Arizona or Mountain West champ, in the West Regional? Or do you follow the S curve all the way?
Mike Bobinski: We follow the procedures as they're written. Obviously, that once in a while puts us in interesting situations where you have teams from the west and the east traveling to different regions, but that's really just a function of how the teams fall from a relative strength perspective and the distribution of teams around the country.
The fact of the matter is the greater preponderance of teams are east of the Mississippi, so, typically, we'll have more teams in the field that come from that region of the country, so we're going to have some of those circumstances where teams fall in and out. Ideally, I can tell you, as we sit here as a committee, we'd love to have a strong team or strong teams from the west that fit into that bracket in a way that we can place them geographically in that region.
Again, it all depends how the rest of the season plays out, and how we ultimately see the field. We won't force it one way or the other. It's going to fall out the way it falls out. But that would be the ideal situation.
Q. There seems to be an infatuation pretty much every year by fans and the media, I suppose, on the RPI. How much weight do you and the committee put on RPI? How has that changed during your time on the committee?
Mike Bobinski: I don't know that it's changed a whole heck of a lot, and you've probably heard this before, but I'll say it again. The RPI is one of many tools that are available to us as a committee. We use and rely on a number of different ranking tools and evaluation tools out there. I think they all have relative strengths and in some cases relative weaknesses.
Interestingly, last week we asked a statistician that works with the NCAA who is really, really sharp, to sort of do a comparison of all the major different rankings that exist, including the RPI and others that you can all probably certainly come up with who they are, and compare those evaluations systems with performance in the tournament.
Interestingly, if we went through that, we were all surprised to see that the RPI actually did end up with the highest level of predictive value and the highest correlation with ultimately success in the tournament. That doesn't mean we're going to use it more or less this year. It's just a very interesting piece of information.
We use the RPI, honestly, as a means to categorize the field, categorize the teams that are under consideration. And really, what is more important, is common opponents in head-to-head competition that might happen during the course of the year.
Some of the other factors that we also use, we have regional advisory committee rankings by coaches around the country. We look at non conference records as previously spoken about, non-conference RPIs, road records, injury to key players, and a lot of special circumstances that might occur during the course of the year.
So the RPI is in there, and it's a means of organizing the information. So if you look on the NCAA website and see the nitty gritty or see our team sheets, it's RPI driven, so it's clearly in there and it's a tool that's important to what we do. But we don't ever say team X's RPI is at a number that we absolutely have to put them in the field or not. It never gets used in that fashion at all, I assure you of that.
Q. You mentioned tools and every committee chairman has mentioned tools. About how many tools are there, half dozen, dozen? About how many?
Mike Bobinski: About a dozen. We have more data than any human can possibly digest. There are probably about a dozen tools. And one of the key things that we tell new committee members that come on here, the key to this job is really how you manage information. You need to figure out as an individual committee member what is the best way you can manage and process all of the data that's available to us and make it meaningful and make it real for you so you can make good decisions, consistent decisions and decisions you'll ultimately feel comfortable about when we get into selections.
Q. I was wondering if you've done any analysis and what your thoughts are about putting schools like Duke and Carolina into the same building even though they're going to different pods? Since you guys went to the pod system and the geographics, that's obviously happened a number of times. When those things happen, do you see results in terms of I guess ticket sales are high, but in terms of the tournament and how it feeds out after that?
Mike Bobinski: I don't know that we've seen any impact on the tournament as it rolls out from there on. I will tell you this: The conversation about how we seed the teams, the pod system, and all that goes into that is something that is sort of an ever green evaluation for us. We talk about it every summer. When we get together in July, we sort of throw those types of issues on the table, and we've talked long and hard about some of those issues moving forward. What worked at a point in time or what was the right thing at a moment in time may not necessarily be the right thing forever.
But as we sit here today, there are no pending changes or immediate changes. But I will tell you that we evaluate it on a regular basis.
Our general philosophy right now though is to the pod system to get as many teams as we can as close to their campuses and their national geographic region as we can. That is the general philosophy. It's not always perfect, but that's what we're trying to get done.
Q. The reason I ask is it seems like one of those teams could probably sell out the building if ticket sales were most important, another team could go somewhere else. You haven't seen results like that?
Mike Bobinski: It's not handicapped us in any way from a ticket sales perspective as we evaluate it. It's a good point, but not one that we need to address at this point.
Q. Kentucky, as we all know, has a different team moving forward. How much value will the committee place on what they've already accomplished versus what they will accomplish with the team that will actually take the court in March?
Mike Bobinski: I don't know that it's possible for me to give a clear breakdown or any objective way to quantify that. And we ought to see, as with any injury that's significant to any player around the country, obviously, it's truly a shame that what's happened to Nerlens Noel, and I'm sorry to see that for him personally and for the Kentucky team.
The reality is we have about four and a half weeks of basketball left to be able to watch Kentucky play and to see how they perform without him in the lineup now, and that will really tell the story, I think, of how we ultimately judge and view Kentucky. It's way too early to consider them in, out, or in between.
We don't do that with anybody at this point in time. But we'll clearly be watching them closely to see how they're able to play without a young man that's clearly been an important part of their success to this point.
Q. I assume with so many large number of teams that are likely to be under consideration from the A 10, will you recluse yourself from discussion of any of them or just your home institution?
Mike Bobinski: Well, by principle I cannot speak qualitatively about any of those teams in our league. I can only give factual information if I'm asked a question. So I cannot give any opinions as to the relative strength of any of the teams in that league. So we'll abide clearly by that, and I won't speak at all about the Xavier team should they ever come up in the conversation. So we'll play it by the book.
Q. Another seeding type question. In trying to assign top teams to nearby sights for their early round games, how deep in the bracket is that a consideration? Is it top five lines only or do you go beyond that?
Mike Bobinski: No, it's the top four lines, and because as you work through the process of building a bracket, those first four lines really determine how the rest of the field falls out. So we really try to protect the first four lines to the best of our ability. Or we do protect the first four lines, which becomes a little problematic as you might expect. As we get into multiple teams from conferences, we have to avoid crossing them over. We try to separate the first three teams by region.
So it's a little more complex exercise than just saying that, but we do try to protect the first four lines.
Q. One other question about mid majors. When you have a team like Indiana State that beat Miami early in this season in a tournament, and, obviously, that looks like a really great win now, then in their own conference though they don't get to have the same type of strength of schedule within their conference and things like that. How much weight does a win like that, an early season win over a team like Miami, give a team like Indiana State?
Mike Bobinski: Well, a notable win like that certainly is a plus. I don't know that any one win is ever enough to carry anybody throughout the course of the season. I think as we evaluate them we'll look at all circumstances. The teams that they're required to play in their own conference will be part of our evaluation and what they've been able to do in total in the non conference or the elective part of the season will be important to us. So we'll consider all of that, but that's clearly a great one for Indiana State, and we'll see how it stacks up in total picture at the end of the year.
Q. I'm just curious about your evaluation after a couple of years of the first four arrangements. In Dayton we hear occasional talk of expanding the field, and I wonder what your views are on the future of the tournament?
Mike Bobinski: This is just me speaking at this point in time. I would tell you that I feel no compunction at all to think about expanding the tournament. I think 68, while we didn't set out to come up with, I was part of the committee when we allowed that. We didn't set out with 68 as a goal. It was sort of a compromise position that we arrived at in the course of a lot of conversation.
I feel like it was the right thing though. In retrospect, I think the first four has worked out extremely well. I think we've gotten better as a committee and an NCAA basketball staff of making that into an event that really makes a lot of sense and is administered properly and doesn't put teams at any significant disadvantage.
The first year we didn't do it as well as we could have, but since then, it's worked very, very well. I feel like it's a nice way to kickoff the championship. It really sort of gives it a front end, and then it's connected to the Final Four at the back end.
So we like it. We've talked to the teams that are part of that every year to evaluate their experience, get their thoughts as to whether it was meaningful, whether it was done well. Did they feel that they were part of the tournament? Because that is what we want it to be.
Dayton, I think this year as we sit here today, is sold out for that event, which is an amazing thing. I'm not sure there are a lot of communities around the country that could pull that off, but Dayton has sold out that event. It will really give the teams that are there a real feeling of being part of the NCAA Championships. So we feel very, very good about that.
Q. With the short turnaround that those teams in that event face, is there the possibility that those that advance out of there, or some of those that advance out of there, would then be placed back in Dayton just to cut back on travel for the second and third rounds?
Mike Bobinski: I think that's absolutely a possibility. I don't know that we'll be able to accommodate the entire group, but a number of them would make perfect sense to land them in Dayton, and I suspect that will happen.
We also have this year sites in Lexington, Auburn Hills, which are very convenient to Dayton also. So I think we have enough flexibility there to provide teams without disadvantage -- successful teams without disadvantage, next round travel circumstances.
Q. I was wondering, when you have a regional site that is hosting for the first time, like Cowboy Stadium is, what the concerns are and the level of anticipation here? Because this isn't a primary basketball arena, obviously. It's hosted NBA All Star games and a couple college games, but it is primarily an NFL football stadium. I was just wondering, how are you looking at Cowboy Stadium for the regional?
Mike Bobinski: We feel like Cowboy Stadium will be a tremendous regional host and an equally tremendous Final Four host in 2014. The Big 12 has hosted a multiple number of events for this championship over the years. It is the same folks that have done it many, many times.
We really will use this regional as a dress rehearsal, a dry run for next year's Final Four. The seating configuration will be as it will be for the Final Four, the lighting, the sound. We'll really give it a chance to shake down that building from a basketball perspective and from an NCAA Championship basketball perspective, and think it will be a really positive event.
We're ready for it. We're excited about it. I think the chance for teams to play in what is one of the iconic facilities in the country at this point in time will be a unique experience for them. So we're looking forward to it and excited about being there.