INDIANAPOLIS -- The Jeopardy theme blares from a speaker inside the Singapore room of the Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, a perfect score for the deliberations taking place at a long table littered with computer monitors.
About a dozen members of the media underwent the arduous task of voting, ranking, rinsing and repeating during the Media Mock Selection on Thursday and Friday. It’s an annual event meant to shed some light on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship selection process.The focus of this year’s meeting was on the new bracketing principles that allow teams from the same conference to play in the third round of the tournament if they only faced each other once during the regular season and conference tournament. If schools played twice, they can’t meet again until the Sweet 16, and if they faced off three times, they may not meet until the Elite 8.
Previously, the selection committee was forced to move teams up or down a seed line to prevent conference foes from meeting until the Elite 8, regardless of how many times they had played.
“There will be a bit more subjectivity now in making sure we protect the seed line,” said Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, who is serving as vice chairman during his fourth year on the committee.
“We just experimented in our mock selection and we found it very helpful,” added Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione, who is in his third year on the committee.
When reconstructing the bracket from the previous three years, NCAA staff found that there were five instances when teams from the same league could have played in the third round instead of adjusting a team’s seed.
“Anything that keeps more teams on their seed line is a good thing,” said Joe Lunardi of ESPN, a four-year veteran of the mock process.
However, as it turned out, the media was able to avoid pairing up any conference foes to meet before the Elite 8 anyway. Nevertheless, another new principle did come into play.
Previously, the top three teams from a conference could not be placed in the same region. Now that rule only applies to schools seeded 1-4. For example, the media slotted both of the top two teams from the Pac-12 -- No. 1 seed Arizona and No. 6 seed UCLA -- in the West.
Some members of the media took exception to the fact that No. 7 seed North Carolina could be placed in Raleigh for its first two games, setting up a potential home-crowd advantage against No. 2 seed Villanova in the third round. However, the top four seeds in each region are only protected against situations like this for their first game.
The media nearly had to knock the fictional Big Ten automatic qualifier, Illinois, down from a No. 12 to a No. 13 seed due to complications with the First Four games and the fact that a bunch of Big Ten teams were seeded along the corresponding No. 4 and 5 seed lines, but the members were able to figure a way to keep Illinois where it belonged. In the end, no team was moved off its true seed line, which was the goal of the new bracketing principles.
While the Illini was not forced to move down, its very existence in the field knocked another team out. The mock committee had completed selecting its at-large teams when it was announced that Illinois had upset Michigan State in the fake Big Ten championship game, thus stealing a bid from the last team in -- Saint Joseph’s.
This was done to show the media what the real committee goes through with a handful of conference tournament finals being played on Selection Sunday. There always needs to be a contingency plan or two. Or six.
In addition to teaching the media about the new guidelines, another purpose of the mock selection is to bring more transparency to the process.
“You become aware that any shenanigans or conspiracy theories are really not possible,” Dan Gavitt, vice president of the NCAA tournament, said.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports agreed.
“There’s really no way to manipulate it in any sort of fashion,” he said. “You really are just dedicated to finding the best teams.”
The main difference between the mock exercise and the real selections is that the media meets for just two days, while the actual committee members will get together on Wednesday before the tournament and then work for the next five days on the 68-team field.
If nothing else, the mock selection gives members of the media a greater appreciation for what the committee has to deal with.
“I already know how hard it is,” said Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com, who was in his fourth year at the event. “I hated one-hour meetings; I can’t imagine a five-day meeting. I’d be climbing the walls. It’s got to be a grind.”