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NCAA.com | November 4, 2018

How the field of 68 teams is picked for March Madness

Here is how the 68 teams are selected every March for the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, commonly known as March Madness.

Each member of the Division I men's basketball committee evaluates a vast amount of information during selection process. Their opinions -- developed through observations, discussions with coaches, directors of athletics and commissioners, and review and comparison of data -- ultimately determine selections, seeding and bracketing.

There are three phases to the process to determine the 68 teams for the tournament:
I. Select the 36 best at-large teams;
II. Seed the field of 68 teams; and
III. Place the teams into the championship bracket.

SELECTION, SEEDING, BRACKETING

The  Selection, Seeding and Bracketing process for the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship adheres to the following principles:

• The committee selects the 36 best teams not otherwise automatic qualifiers for their conference to fill the at-large berths. There is no limit on the number of at-large teams the committee may select from one conference;

• The committee endeavors to achieve reasonable competitive balance in each region of the bracket;

• A committee member (“member”) shall not be present during any discussion regarding the selection or seeding of a team the individual represents as an athletics director or commissioner;

• A member is permitted to answer only general, factual questions about teams in the conference the individual represents;

• At no point in the process shall a member vote for a team the individual represents as an athletics director or commissioner;

• A committee member shall not be present during any discussion regarding the selection or seeding of a team in which an immediate family member is a student-athlete on the men’s basketball team, is a member of the men’s basketball coaching staff or is a senior athletics administrator at the institution (however upon returning to the room committee members will be updated on relevant discussion by the NCAA’s vice president of men’s basketball);

• At no point in the process shall a member vote for a team in which an immediate family member is a student-athlete on the men’s basketball team, is a member of the men’s basketball coaching staff or is a senior athletics administrator at the institution;

• All votes are by secret ballot.

RESOURCES

Committee members have a wide-range of observation, consultation and data resources available to them throughout the season and during selection week.  These resources provide the foundation for a thorough and educated process that is reinforced by the committee member’s discussion and deliberation.  Among the resources available to the committee are an extensive season-long evaluation of teams through watching games, conference monitoring calls and NABC regional advisory rankings; complete box scores and results, head-to-head results, results versus common opponents, imbalanced conference schedules and results, overall and non-conference strength of schedule, the quality of wins and losses, road record, player and coach availability and various computer metrics. Each of the 10 committee members uses these various resources to form their own opinions, resulting in the committee’s consensus position on teams’ selection and seeding.

I. SELECTING AT-LARGE TEAMS

Initial Ballot

1. Prior to the selection meeting, each committee member receives an “initial ballot” comprised of two columns listing all eligible Division I teams in alphabetical order.

Each committee member will submit the ballot by a designated time on the first full day of selection meetings:

a. In the first column, each member shall identify not more than 36 teams that, in that member’s opinion, should be at- large selections (AL) in the tournament based upon play to date, regardless of whether the team could eventually represent its  conference as the automatic qualifier.

b. In the second column, each member shall identify all teams that should receive consideration (C) for an at- large berth. There is no minimum or maximum limit in the second column; however, only teams meriting serious consideration should receive votes.

2. Any team receiving all but two of the eligible votes in Column 1 (AL) is moved into the tournament field as an at-large selection.

3. The committee will form an "under consideration” board consisting of an alphabetical listing of teams that:

a.  Received at least three votes in either of the columns of the initial ballot but did not receive enough votes to be an at- large team; or

b. Won or shared the regular-season conference championship, as determined by the conference’s tie-break policy where applicable. This does not include teams that won or shared a division title but were not the regular-season conference champion.

4. A team may be removed from the “under consideration” board at any time if it receives all but two eligible votes.

5. A team may be added to the “under consideration” board at any time provided it receives at least three eligible votes.

6. Verbal nominations are permitted.

Remaining Ballots

1. The committee then begins evaluating those teams on the “under consideration” board.

2. Each committee member will select the best eight teams from the “under consideration” board, in no particular order, to be added to the at-large field:

a. When 20 or more teams are under consideration in “list” ballots, each member shall select eight teams;
b. When 14 to 19 teams are under consideration, each member shall select six or fewer teams;
c. When 13 or fewer teams are under consideration, each member shall select four teams.

3. When 24 or fewer teams remain in the pool of teams (during the selection or seeding process), a member may not participate in “list X teams” votes if a team he or she represents as a commissioner or athletics director is included in the “pool.”

4. The eight teams receiving the most votes comprise the next at-large ballot.

5. Committee members then rank the eight teams, using a “ranking” scoring system (i.e., the best team is valued at one point).

6. The four teams receiving the fewest points shall be added to the at-large field. The other four teams will be held for the next ballot.

7. Each committee member then submits a list of the best eight teams remaining on the “under consideration” board to be added to the at-large field. The four teams with the highest vote totals are added to the teams carried over from No. 6 to comprise the next at-large ballot.

8. Steps No. 5, 6 and 7 will be repeated until all at-large berths are filled.

9. If a team fails to be included among the four teams receiving the fewest points (Step No. 6) for two consecutive ”rank” ballots, it shall be returned to the “under consideration” board, without prejudice.

10. At any time during the process, the number of teams eligible to receive votes may be increased or decreased by the chair if circumstances warrant. Further, the chair has  the  option to revise the number of teams from four to two to be moved into at- large berths per No. 6.

11. A team may be removed from the at-large field by a vote of all but two of the eligible votes. Such a team would be returned to the “under consideration” board, without prejudice.

12. After the completion of three rounds of secret voting, if the voting results are still tied, the Chair shall break the tie. 

13. At any time during the process of selecting the  at-large  teams,  the  committee  may elect to begin seeding the teams (Section II). This allows the committee to proceed while allowing time for results of games played during selection weekend.

II. SEEDING TEAMS

The committee will create a “seed list” (i.e. rank of the teams in “true seeds” 1 through 68) which reflects the relative qualitative assessment of the field in descending order, and is used to assess competitive balance of the top teams across the four regions of the championship. The seed list reflects the sequential order with which teams will be placed in the bracket. Once the “seed list” is finalized, it remains unchanged while the bracket is assembled.

Importantly, various principles may preclude a team from being placed in its “true” seed position in the bracket.

Procedures for Seeding

1. Each committee member will submit a list of the best eight teams, in no particular order, from teams that are in the tournament as automatic qualifiers or at-large selections:

a. When 20 or more teams are on the list ballot, each member shall list eight teams;
b. When 14 to 19 teams are on the list ballot, each member shall list six or fewer teams;
c. When 13 or fewer teams are on the list ballot, each member shall list four teams.

Note: When 24 or fewer teams are on the list ballot to be seeded, a member may not participate in “list X teams” ballots if a team he or she represents as a commissioner or athletics director, or has an immediate family member conflict, is included in the “pool.”

2. The eight teams receiving the most votes comprise the next seed list ballot.

3. Committee members rank the eight teams from No. 1, using a “ranking” scoring system (i.e., the best team is valued at one point).

4. The four teams receiving the fewest points are moved onto the seed list in ascending order of vote total. The other four teams are held for the next rank ballot.

5. Each committee member then submits a list of the best eight remaining teams that are in the tournament as automatic qualifiers or at-large selections. The four teams with the highest vote totals are added to the teams carried over from No. 4 to comprise the next seed list ballot.

6. Steps No. 3, 4 and 5 are repeated until all the teams are seeded.

7. At any time during the process, the number of teams eligible to receive votes may be increased or decreased by the chair if circumstances warrant. Further, the chair has  the  option  to  revise  the  number  of teams from four to fewer than four to be moved onto the seed list per No. 4. 

8. After a team has been voted into the seed list, it may be moved by a simple majority of eligible votes.  This “scrubbing” of the seed list allows the committee to affirm true seed accuracy throughout selection weekend and ultimately, in the bracket. Scrubbing is exclusively for teams that are in the field.

9. After the completion of three rounds of secret voting, if the voting results are still tied, the Chair shall break the tie.

10. The committee is not obligated to assemble the seed list in sequential order. For example, the committee may use the procedures to determine the fourth quadrant of teams at any time. 

III. BUILDING THE BRACKET

Sixteen levels are established (i.e., the seeds, 1 through 16) in the bracket that cross the four regions, permitting evaluation of four teams simultaneously on the same level.  Teams on each seed line (No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, etc.) should be as equal as possible.

Each region is divided into quadrants with four levels in each, permitting the evaluation of four different sections within each region against the same sections in each of the other regions.

The committee will assign all four teams in each bracket group (seeds 1, 16, 8, 9), (4, 13, 5, 12), (2, 15, 7, 10), (3, 14, 6, 11) to the same first-/second-round site. There will be two ”pods‟ at each first-/second-round site which may feed into different regional sites.

Each of the first four teams selected from a conference shall be placed in different regions if they are seeded on the first four lines.

Teams from the same conference shall not meet prior to the regional final if they played each other three or more times during the regular season and conference tournament.

Teams from the same conference shall not meet prior to the regional semifinals if they played each other twice during the regular season and conference tournament.

Teams from the same conference may play each other as early as the second round if they played no more than once during the regular season and conference tournament.

Any principle can be relaxed if two or more teams from the same conference are among the last four at-large seeded teams participating in the First Four.

To recognize the demonstrated quality of such teams, the committee shall not place teams seeded on the first four lines at a potential “home-crowd disadvantage” in the first round.

The last four at-large teams on the overall seed list, as well as teams seeded 65 through 68, will be paired to compete in the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday following the announcement of the field. (If allowed, the last at-large team on the seed list will be paired with the second-to-last at-large team on the seed list. The other First Four games will consist of the third-to-last at-large team on the seed list playing the fourth-to-last at-large team on the seed list, as well as seed 65 versus 66; and seed 67 versus 68).

The winners of the First Four games will advance to a first- and second-round site to be determined by the committee during selection weekend. In the event a First Four site is also a first- and second-round site, the winners of the First Four games may be assigned to that site, regardless of the days of competition.

Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible. A team moved out of its natural area will be placed in the next closest region to the extent possible. If two teams from the same natural region are in contention for the same bracket position, the team ranked higher in the seed list shall remain in its natural region.

A team will not be permitted to play in any facility in which it has played more than three games during its season, not including exhibitions and conference postseason tournaments.

A host institution’s team shall not be permitted to play at the site where the institution is hosting. However, the team may play on the same days when the institution is hosting.

Teams may play at a site where the conference of which it is a member is serving as the host.

A team may be moved up or down one (or in extraordinary circumstances) two lines from its true seed line (e.g., from the 13 seed line to the 12 seed line; or from a 12 seed line to a 13 seed line) when it is placed in the bracket if necessary to meet the principles.

Procedures for Placing the Teams into the Bracket

1. The committee will place the four No. 1 seeds in each of the four regions, thus determining the Final Four semifinals pairings (overall 1 vs. 4; 2 vs. 3). The overall No. 1 seed has the opportunity to select its preferred first- and second-round site and preferred region. 

2. The committee will then place the No. 2 seeds in each region in true seed list order. The committee may relax the principle of keeping teams as close to their area of natural interest for seeding teams on the No. 2 line to avoid, for example, the overall No. 5 seed being sent to the same region as the overall No. 1 seed. The committee will not compromise the principle of keeping teams from the same conference in separate regions.

3. The committee will then place the No. 3 seeds in each region in true seed list order.

4. The committee will then place the No. 4 seeds in each region in true seed list order.

5. After the top four seed lines have been assigned, the committee will review the relative strengths of the regions by adding the “true seed” numbers in each region to determine  if any severe numerical imbalance exists. Generally, no more than five points should separate the lowest and highest total.

6. In “true seed” order, the committee then assigns  each  team  (and,  therefore,  all teams in its bracket group—e.g., seeds 1, 8, 9, 16) to first-/second-round sites.

7. The committee will then place seeds Nos. 5-16 in the bracket, per the principles. The four  teams  assigned  to  the  seed  line,  5 through 16, will have the same numerical
value.

Additional Considerations

1. If possible, rematches of non-conference regular-season games should be avoided in the First Four and first round.

2. If possible, after examining the previous two years’ brackets, teams or conferences will not be moved out of its natural region or geographic area an inordinate number of times.

3. If  possible, rematches from the previous two tournaments should be avoided in the first round.

NCAA EVALUATION TOOL (NET)

The NET is one of many resources/tools available to the committee in the selection, seeding and bracketing process. Computer models cannot accurately evaluate qualitative factors such as games missed by key players or coaches, travel difficulties and other effects of specific games.

Each committee member independently evaluates a vast amount of information during the process to make individual decisions. It is these qualitative, quantitative and subjective opinions -- developed after hours of personal observations, discussion with coaches, directors of athletics and commissioners, and review and comparison of various data -- that each individual ultimately will determine their vote on all issues related to selections, seeding and bracketing.

The NET has five components. The dominant one is the Team Value Index, which is based on game results and factors the result, the game location and outcome. The other components are net efficiency (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage and scoring margin (capped at 10 points per contest).  

Each season, typically in late November, the NCAA will release the official NET rankings on a daily basis at www.ncaa.com.

Below is an example of a seed list:

seed list example
example seed list page 2

Below is an example of a Team Sheet Description: 

team sheet example

Related:

NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Tickets
• NCAA.org: DI Men's Basketball Selections 101