CHICAGO -- Somewhere out there in the future are the bright lights of March. That is when every word from Ron Wellman will draw national scrutiny. Until then, there is a lot of basketball to watch.
The chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee stood in a United Center hallway the other night, as the season began to bloom around him. He shook hands with friends, said hello to Tom Izzo as the Michigan State coach walked past, and then prepared to watch four ranked powerhouses in a doubleheader. He was a man settling in for four noisy months, because the clock will always be ticking now, toward his moment of truth. Selection Sunday.
“It’s amazing that people are already predicting who’s in and who’s out,” he said. “I saw the first predictions before we even played a game. You’re 0-0 and you’re already on the bubble. Or you’re the No. 1 seed.”
It will only get more intense, of course. Wellman’a day job is athletic director of Wake Forest. The rest of the time, he’ll be heading a group whose final judgment is invariably analyzed down to the last molecule. The full committee already has had its first meeting, and the members are regularly monitoring their assigned leagues. So it seemed a good time, before the first RPI numbers really begin to fly, to check in on what Wellman was thinking.
His first impressions of the young season ...
“Scoring is up. I think our fans are going to enjoy the game more as a result of the emphasis that we’re placing on certain rules, trying to free up the offensive maneuverability of the players.”
About the move to cut down on defensive contact that has been causing such a fuss ...
“I think that eventually it is going to add a lot of freedom of movement and more exciting games and scoring. There’s going to be an adjustment period for that, but eventually I think you’re going to see that fans will have the opportunity to enjoy the athleticism of the players, and that’s the beauty of college basketball. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The importance of the sport having high-profile games in November, such as the doubleheader he attended ...
“One of the challenges of college basketball is how do we put more emphasis on the regular season? It has become a post-season tournament sport, which is wonderful. There is nothing like March Madness, but the regular season needs to be very important as well. Football is at its peak interest right now. For college basketball not to have attractive games like this, it becomes an afterthought.”
His own feelings as he starts his season as committee chair ...
“There is excitement to be sure, when you have the opportunity to lead a group of people in as important an endeavor as we are doing. But you try not to get caught up in the excitement of it. You try to stay grounded and make sure that the job you are expected to do, you are doing effectively.”
The new bracketing principles for the tournament, which loosen the restrictions on when conference teams can meet ...
“We just had a meeting and went over the tournament last year and we applied the new principles and there would have been a myriad of changes in the bracketing of last year’s tournament. Bracketing is going to be a much longer process probably this year that it has been in the past. We have more flexibility to do what we think is right in terms of bracketing while also honoring the seed lines at the same time.
“In the past, we started bracketing sometimes on Sunday afternoon. Now I think we’ll be bracketing maybe even Friday.”
Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, said the impact of putting this year’s principles on last year’s field was “fascinating to see. The first quadrant really doesn’t change a whole lot. You’re still separating the top teams in their leagues. Once you get into the second and third quadrants, seeds 5 through 12, and the opportunity for those teams to be in different places than they were last year -- almost every one of them possibly.”
Gavitt and Wellman were traveling companions to Chicago, as they will be for many to come.
“Right now we need to be watching 350 teams, and that’s impossible,” Wellman said. “But as it begins to break out, and teams emerge and teams drop off, then you can really concentrate on teams that you really need to know a lot about.”
Basketball committee chairs are usually like most Kentucky freshmen: One and done. This is to be the season of Ron Wellman’s professional life. And it’s under way.