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Mike Lopresti | | March 1, 2018

The truth behind the NCAA tournament selection process

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Bats are blind, Napoleon was short, and the NCAA Tournament selection committee lives and dies with the RPI.

All myths. It’s the last one that brings us here today. The committee will be at center stage soon, and here are the top-10 misconceptions surrounding its work, with rebuttal from David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination and statistics, and a constant presence in the committee room.

1. The RPI is the Holy Grail for the committee, and what it says goes on Selection Sunday.

"Not true. The RPI is rarely mentioned in the room. Because of the wealth of game and team information available to the committee, they are able to dig much deeper in analyzing any team. The RPI is one of several components, but it doesn't drive the process.

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2. Membership matters. Conference affiliation is huge in team selections.

“No, conference affiliation and the conference's RPI are not part of the decision-making process. In essence, teams are viewed as independents by the committee when it comes time to select teams. In fact, the Nitty Gritty reports and team sheets don't include the conference RPI for each team."

3. Last year’s bracket must be taped up on the wall in the committee room, since if a conference had X number of teams last year, it’s almost a lock to get that many this year. Also, the blue-bloods will always get the benefit of the doubt. The mid-majors? Not so much.

“It’s obviously a perception that’s out there, but it couldn’t be any more inaccurate. Past team performance or conference counts are completely irrelevant. Teams that have a great history of doing well in the tournament and winning championships have no advantage over a team in the current year. Everything is based on what you’ve done over 30-some odd games in the '17-18 season. What All-Americans you’ve had, what coaches you’ve had, what tournaments you’ve won means absolutely nothing.”

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4. Oh, those fun-loving committee members do have a flair for the dramatic. That’s why they set up some of those early round matchups.

"While we love conspiracy theories, this simply isn't possible. Committee members don't even see the match-ups until the bracket is done -- there isn't time, nor is it any consideration in the process."

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5. Nothing gets put into that bracket without the television suits nodding yes.

"Turner/CBS records brief footage of the room periodically during the meeting, with no selection information visible. Otherwise, no one besides the committee and NCAA staff is present while any of the selection, seeding or bracketing is taking place."

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6. Imagine a backroom of secret handshakes, only without the cigar smoke. That’s the committee when it comes time for granting favors to its own schools and conferences.

"While the voting process and discussion in the committee room is strictly confidential -- so that committee members may speak candidly -- there are also specific safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest. At no point is a member present for conversation about or vote on a ballot including a team the individual represents as an athletics director or commissioner. Also, a committee member may not vote and 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 team, is a member of the coaching staff, or is a senior athletics administrator of the institution. An athletics director or commissioner is permitted to answer general factual questions-- i.e. injury dates, player availability -- about teams in the conference the individual represents.

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7. What it really comes down to is the eye test, right? What they see on TV?

"Literally tens of thousands of pieces of information are available to the committee, including all box scores and results, game summaries and notes, direct input from each conference with the rationale for each team, various computer rankings, head-to-head and common opponent results, details on coach and player availability, rankings, polls and the NABC regional advisory committee rankings, collected each month, January through March. The committee room has about 40 computer screens but not a single television. They have a dedicated viewing room which receives feeds of all games for breaks, meals and late-night viewing. But while in the meeting room, they only receive occasional game updates.

8. Who can remember December or January? What happened the past two weeks is a lot more important, like it's always been.

“Mike Slive, I believe, is the first committee member to say, `Look, we talk about full body of work. And if we’re going to do that, (emphasizing) five or 10 games won't work. It doesn’t add up. So let’s just remove it as one of the criteria and resources of the committee.'

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“Now subjectively, committee members may look at it and say, `OK, this team really started playing well in February because a player became eligible or an injured player became healthy,' so that could come in. But the bottom line is, your results in November mean just as much as they do on March 1. The committee has asked the teams to challenge themselves. They’ve put more weight on games on the road and on neutral courts. Non-conference games are huge in the evaluation process, and a lot of those games take place in November and December.”

9. Why is the committee like an elephant? It never forgets. So any bubble teams that have complained in the past or tried to put the heat on the committee can start making plans for the NIT.

“Bracketologists and others on social media have lots of opinions and we hear them. That’s great. The discussion helps the interest in the game. But the committee uses its own information to gauge the strength of teams. Lobbying through newspaper ads, and in more recent years through social media, have been attempted but the committee’s not impacted either way by what’s said in a positive sense or a negative one. It’s 10 people whose collective opinions determine whether or not a team makes the tournament and where it’s seeded.”

10. The magic number is 20. Reach that many victories, and you have the golden ticket. A winning conference record vital, too.

“Using 20 wins, people are starting to figure out, is just not feasible. Because of the number of games teams are playing, to have every team with 20 wins, you would have a field much larger than 68, and that’s not being discussed. Just getting to 20 wins is not a magic number that puts you in the tournament or in consideration for the tournament.

“As far as a winning conference record, these conferences have expanded, so teams are playing more conference games but they’re not playing true double-round robin. So the committee has to break down exactly how a team arrives at a 10-8 conference record vs. a team that may be 8-10, but may have played a more difficult conference schedule, Maybe they had to play the upper echelon teams only on the road. One team being 10-8, the other team being 9-9 or 8-10, doesn’t necessarily give that 10-8 team an advantage.”

So that’s that. By the way, Napoleon was 5-7. Pretty tall for his time in France.

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