Now that it’s nearly the moment of truth for deciding the football playoff bracket, and the critics are lining up like shoppers on Black Friday, is there anyone out there who can truly understand what the selection committee is going through?
Well, yes. The folks on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, who will be under the same microwave heat in March. Nothing makes kindred spirits like sharing the same risk of being shredded on talk shows and by water coolers coast to coast.
Committee chair Scott Barnes will be watching Sunday. Unlike the masses at either Ohio State or TCU or Baylor or Florida State, he’ll be casting no stones.
“I have too much empathy for them. We sit in the same seat. No second guessing here. I’ll pat them on the back and tell them job well done. There are a lot of parallels in what we do, obviously.
“There’s a bullseye on our collective foreheads in this process, because so many people care. And because so many people care, that’s what makes it so important.”
Does he have his own four teams selected?
Care to share them?
Vice-chair – and 2015-16 committee chair – Joe Castiglione will be watching,
“As we’re seeing the process now come toward the end, I see similarities [with basketball] in that the resumes between some teams that will be selected and some teams that won’t have very, very slim margins of difference. Razor-thin. You knew that was probably going to happen.”
He’ll have his own bracket?
“Sure, as a fan I will.”
And what information will he be using?
“Obviously I’m not accountable for the decision, so it can be anything it needs to be.”
NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships Dan Gavitt will be watching.
“I think everybody who’s involved in the process has empathy for the challenges of what that committee is faced with. Particularly given the precious few number of spots in the playoff. Our process of selecting 68 and 36 at-large teams is challenging for us, but it’s not nearly as acute as deciding between 4 and 5.”
Indeed, if the basketball committee was picking the same percentage of Division I teams as the football committee is culling from the FBS field, it would be selecting only 13 teams in March.
“I can’t imagine,” Gavitt said. “The basketball committee agonizes over the last few picks, and rightfully so. Those in most cases are 11, 12 or 13 seeds.”
There are obvious differences between the two groups. The football selection committee is just that; it selects. Case closed. “We’re not the selection committee,” Barnes said. “We’re the men’s basketball committee. We are stewards of the game.”
Television contracts, site selection, officiating assignments; all are within their province. But Selection Sunday, and its buildup, is when everyone is watching.
Which brings up one intriguing question from this fall. The football committee released a weekly poll. Any chance one day of the basketball committee doing something like that?
Barnes mentioned perhaps a one-time regional poll. Castiglione mentioned possibly an early version of the top-seed line, or maybe even the top 16. Gavitt mentioned coming out with a preliminary version of the top four seeds in each region. There has been some brief, preliminary talk, and there will be more in January. But nobody sounds eager for anything drastic.
Barnes: “In my own personal opinion I don’t think a weekly ranking would work, or will happen.
“The anticipation when we get to March and we unveil the bracket and you’ve got literally millions of people with that blank bracket and they’re ready to fill it out, it’s part of the culture of what’s made March Madness what it is. Tinkering with it, tweaking it, always looking for ways to improve it, absolutely. But let’s not spend a lot of time trying to fix something that’s not broken.”
Castiglione: “We have briefly discussed some options. Perhaps a mid-year how-things-look-right now. But by no means did we get a chance to vet that out.
“If there was a way to consider a process to make it better, then we should talk about it. But we’re very mindful of the importance of protecting the great and unique spectacle we already have. I can’t even imagine us doing anything over multiple weeks. The only thing we’ve talked about is maybe once.”
Gavitt: “One thing I’ve thought about the last couple of years when there seems to be such shock at seedings on Selection Sunday of certain teams, maybe it would help if there was more transparency on how the committee was evaluating teams before that.
“Some of the ones last year that got so much discussion really were never considered to be No. 1 or 2 seeds, so there’s a disconnect a little bit, and I think it could help in a way. But we’d have to do it so it protects the integrity of the process.”
That is for the future. For this week, all three men understand what has been going on in the football committee room. The attention to detail, the bottomless factors to consider, the omnipresent pressure to get it right. And the occasional battles.
Castiglione: “The process doesn’t mean everybody agrees with every decision, so why should it be a surprise if people outside agree or disagree? There are probably great debates going on in that room about one team or another. That’s the beauty of the process.”
Gavitt: “The one thing I’ve learned from being in the room the last couple of years is they don’t leave any stone unturned. You can disagree with the decision, but the idea that they haven’t considered one thing or another, that’s not going to be the case. They will have agonized over everything.”
And then they will announce it, committee chair Jeff Long doing the explaining and taking any incoming fire. Just like Barnes will be doing next March.
“I’ll be cheering them on,” he said. “Because that’s what I’d want them to do for me.”