NCAA tournament selection committee chairman reflects on difficult job
DAYTON, Ohio – Joe Castiglione’s guess is that his email box has passed 200 entries the past two days about the NCAA tournament bracket, and not many of them happy.
“I haven’t had time to count them,” the chair of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee said, while here watching the First Four. “The institutions that have strong opinions about selection or seeding have used any and all available means to make their feelings known,”
“The emotional outbursts that people have when they’re disappointed can be understood. They’re passionate about their teams. I get it. We all get it.”
Should Kentucky have been a No. 4 seed? John Calipari has said no way. Should Tulsa have been in? Many think not. Then there was Monmouth and its Cinderella story that did not make the cut. Sentimentality was partly at work in the sizable blowback. It was as if a puppy dog had been left out on the porch, nose pressed to the window.
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As the face of the selection group, Castiglione expected to take some incoming fire. Sitting at the scorer’s table in Dayton, he showed no arrow wounds, but still.
“Committees before and committees beyond are always going to face criticism,” he said. “All that’s fine. That’s part of it. To be passionate about somebody’s belief, to be supportive, to be disappointed, or disagree with the final decisions. But there’s been some implication that we haven’t followed our process. And that’s unconscionable, and completely outrageous and over the line. You can have all the disagreement one wants with the outcome of the decisions, but we spent considerable time to review the process and create a greater understanding the way the committee would evaluate season-long results.”
In other words, Castiglione just wishes more people understood what went on last week. The hours spent poring over every detail. The debates. The determination to stick to the charge given the committee. Pick the best teams. Not the most popular teams. Not the teams that necessarily had great moments and made compelling stories. The best, as the data and process told them.
He has heard it all the past few days. How this committee member or that one supposedly was able to swing a vote for a favored team (“No possible way,” he said). And how the process is flawed.
“If everybody agrees that’s the right process going in, but it doesn’t necessarily achieve the result they want, we have to go back and talk about it. What is it you want to see?”
One other thing that fans often miss. This is not done by studying Team A and looking at its attributes and arguments to be invited. It’s done by taking Team A, and putting it next to Team B, who is next to Team C. Compare them. The question is not if one has good case. They all do. But which one has the best?
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To those who suggest a system of math and computer metrics should be used as the sole judge and followed stringently, consider this. That’s what the BCS did, and how popular was that?
So this has been Castiglione’s week to be in the storm.
“The level of it is something hard to anticipate. You know there’s going to be some. The process we have in place, while well-articulated, won’t please everybody,” he said. “And let’s be clear, not every vote is unanimous. We have discourse on the committee as well. There were a number of votes that were very close. That’s why I was very clear in trying to describe the process and how close it was. I think it’s fair to say if there were four different committees made up of 10 different members, there’d be slightly different outcomes, even using the process specifically as we’ve articulated it. It’s just the human element.”
For months, proclaimed across every media platform, was how unpredictable this season had been. How volatile. How close so many teams appeared.
“So we knew it was going to be a very tough task,” Castiglione said. “Many people who follow this all year said as much before selection week. I know our committee spent considerable time digging deep into the backgrounds of these teams before final decisions were made.”
Then those decisions were revealed, and the real noise began.
“It’s fair to say that anybody working with student athletes or programs has a very clear understanding how important playing in the NCAA Tournament really is,” Castiglione said. “It speaks to how special this is and how it should never be taken for granted.
“I think about the last four in versus the first four out, they were all in the same conversation and there were countless discussions, comparisons, evaluations on each of those teams. In the end, it got down to the application of those resources that we have to evaluate those teams and the collective minds of the committee, not necessarily unanimous, but the majority vote. Because the decisions were so incredibly difficult, we absolutely have a clear understanding and a spot in our heart for the ones who didn’t make it. I can’t convey that strongly enough.
“These were very close margins. Very, very, very close.”
The uproar should ease now, supplanted by the cheers from the arenas. The games have started, and Castiglione is glad to see that. He is headed for Atlanta the rest of the week, to monitor the tournament his committee has created. He’s hoping the worst part is over. But it is a necessary ordeal for any who would be chair.
“If you take this job to be popular, you’re way wrong.”