There are two ways that a college basketball team can earn a bid to the NCAA tournament at the end of the season: an automatic bid, and an at-large bid.
We'll explain both here.
What is an automatic bid?
The 32 Division I conferences all receive an automatic bid, which they each award to the team that wins the postseason conference tournament. Regardless of how a team performed during the regular season, if they are eligible for postseason play and win their conference tournament, they receive a bid to the NCAA tournament. These teams are known as automatic qualifiers.
What is an at-large bid?
An at-large bid is the only avenue into the NCAA tournament for a team that didn't win its conference tournament. The selection committee (more on them in a second) convenes on Selection Sunday, after all regular season and conference tournament games are played, and decides which 36 teams that are not automatic qualifiers have the pedigree to earn an invitation to the tournament. Any Division I team that did not win its conference tournament and is not banned from postseason play is eligible to be selected as an at-large bid.
What is the March Madness selection committee?
The 10-member NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee is responsible for selecting, seeding and bracketing the field for the NCAA Tournament. School and conference administrators are nominated by their conference, serve five-year terms and represent a cross-section of the Division I membership.
How do they decide which teams get an at-large bid?
There are a multitude of stats and rankings that the Selection Committee takes into account, but there is no set formula that determines whether a team receives an at-large bid or not. The committee’s charge is simple: Select the best 36 at-large teams to join the 32 AQs. In previous years, the committee would use RPI as one of the primary sorting tool for each team’s resume, but that has been replaced by the NCAA's new NET ranking system in 2019.