Q&A: Marilyn McNeil
DI women's basketball committee chair
Marilyn McNeil, the chair of the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee and vice president and director of athletics at Monmouth University, along with other members of the Division I women's basketball committee, are meeting in Indianapolis beginning on Friday to begin the selection, seeding and bracketing process for the 2011 Division I Women's Basketball Championship. The 64-team bracket for the 2011 championship will be announced at 7 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN. McNeil took part in a conference call on Tuesday:
Marilyn McNeil: Thank you, Rick. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for being with us today. Obviously March is here, and we are extremely excited. I know all of the fans, all of the committee members, there's a thousand student-athletes waiting to get a call, and there are 64 head coaches that are on pins and needles.
The committee can't wait to get started. Our work began at opening tip-off in November, and we've been watching lots of games and looking at lots of information, and I will be joined by nine others this weekend as we begin the very good dialogue to select the 64. And we will be there on Monday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN to give you the best bracket ever.
Obviously the process of selecting, seeding and bracketing the field of 64 is the most important thing that this committee does, and our responsibility is to select the best 32 teams for the at-large spots. I'm going to try and answer all of your questions, but to be fair to the teams that are still playing, I won't be able to speak about specific teams today, and we will need to wait to answer those questions following our bracket announcement on Monday.
Rick, let's begin, and I'll do my best to try and answer your questions.
Q. I know that you can't speak about specific teams, but I wondered if you can speak about a unique situation, the unprecedented tragedy surrounding Middle Tennessee State. How will the selection committee try to balance or weigh this awful tragedy that hit the team?
Marilyn McNeil: Thanks for being on the call. This was an unspeakable tragedy. The entire committee has sent their prayers and thoughts to Middle Tennessee, but to be specific about a team, the committee looks at the body of work of that team throughout the year, and the tragedy that affected Middle Tennessee does not affect the body of work that they have in order to be considered for the tournament.
Q. Well, perhaps I know that you do consider injuries to players, and this kind of is a segue from that.
Marilyn McNeil: Yes, it is, obviously different, and these are very difficult situations. But teams earn their way into the tournament based on what they did in the regular season. Seeding is a different story, and it can be affected by the status of certain players and perhaps that might have an effect. But right now Middle Tennessee would be considered based on their body of work for the season.
Q. My question is a couple years ago Texas A & M was a 2-seed and they were sent to Notre Dame for the tournament. Are the higher-seeded teams put at a disadvantage if they have to go play somebody on their home court in the tournament?
Marilyn McNeil: Thank you for that question. We do know that sometimes higher-seeded teams end up playing on the home court of a lower-seeded team. We believe as a committee that this championship format serves our championship very well, and we do these predetermined sites to increase fan attendance, to get teams closer to their home courts and home audiences. We hope that attendance will grow, and we hope that some of our earlier starting times will help attendance at all of these sites.
I don't think it's a disadvantage personally to be sent to a lower seed. It may look like that in perception, but I think most coaches will also tell you that they just need to play the games, and I know our student-athletes tell us they want to play in front of good audiences, and so we believe that's the way our format has helped improve the student-athlete experience.
Q. It looks like there's going to be a lot of teams that have home sites or local sites. How much of a challenge is it for the committee to make a 1 to 64 bracket and still make everything line up so that the teams get the seeds that they should, that they need to get?
Marilyn McNeil: Have you come to the mock selection?
Marilyn McNeil: I hope if you have an opportunity that you might take yourself out to that mock selection, because your question is exactly right on. This is what the committee has in front of us. Not only do you select the 64, but then you need to seed them appropriately, and then you need to bracket them. And we have principles that we must follow, and we are the principles and the procedures guide us. So it is not easy. If it was easy, we could probably just ask the computer to do that. But it is difficult, it's a human process, and we work through it and we do the best we can. But you are absolutely right, it is difficult.
Q. Just as I've been doing my own little mock things, I could see where, well, you've got this there might be too many 2s or too many 1s or whatever you want to call it, and making it all work out so that it's perfect, I just think it will be very tough this year.
Marilyn McNeil: Yes, I think every year. I've had the opportunity to. This will be my fifth year, and let me tell you, it doesn't get easier. I don't know if Watson is available, but I still think he would have difficulty. These are young women on the floor playing with passion, and results are never phoned in. This process through our committee is not a phoned-in process. We will have difficult but intense and good dialogue, and we will try to work out all the kinks that we see and ask all the tough questions and come up with the best bracket we can.
Q. I'm wondering about the bracketing principles and how those will apply. There's been discussion of as many as 10 teams coming out of the Big East. It's obviously impossible to keep all of those from meeting before the Regional Finals, but even with fewer than 10 that gets pretty tough, especially when there's so many other teams that deserve high seeds. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Marilyn McNeil: Good question. The bracketing principles are principles that are part of the process that must be followed, but we looked at this several years ago and changed that principle that if there were more than nine teams, it was allowable to have teams from the same conference meet before the Regional Finals. The basic principle is to try and keep the same conference teams not meeting before the Regional Finals, but if there are more than nine, we really cannot assure that at all and most likely they will meet. They could meet as early as the first and second round.
Q. Even with nine, does that almost guarantee all the Big East teams the 1 and 2 seeds to keep them out of the Regional Finals?
Marilyn McNeil: I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that question.
Q. Even with nine teams out of the Big East, would that end up almost guaranteeing 1 and 2 seeds to the Big East teams?
Marilyn McNeil: No, I don't think there are any guarantees. You select the teams into the tournament and then you seed them, and all of that is done with the information at hand. They're truly seeded. When we get into bracketing, those are principles of bracketing that we must follow, and sometimes those seed lines can be changed up or down a line in order to follow the principles.
But that's not going to affect the original intent to get them in the tournament, nor will it affect the actual seeding. Those two are pure processes.
Q. I just want to ask you about the form of a team that would be coming in at the end of the season. I know Georgia has lost three out of four. They should have a fairly solid body of work, but how much does their level of play at the end of the season factor into it?
Marilyn McNeil: That's another very good question. The committee has a lot of information to look at. You would be surprised at how much is available for us. And one of the things that we do look at is the last 12 games. That's an important factor to weigh. We want to find the teams that are playing the best at the end of the season. But it's not the only factor, and I can tell you that every member of the committee looks at every factor in a different fashion. All of the information is in front of you, and you make your decision based on what you are the most comfortable with and are most at peace with. So that might be a more important factor for one committee or the other.
But the last 12 is part of the nitty gritty sheet that we look at with every team. We do see the last 12, and it does pop out as a factor that one can look at.
Q. And what's y'all's thought process about sending teams from the east out to the west? Obviously the numbers of schools out on the west coast might not support a complete bracket. How do y'all go about doing that?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, once again, once the teams are selected and seeded, then we start to bracket. You put a team into a bracket closest to their geographic region in seed order. So the No. 1 team, the No. 1 No. 1 goes to the closest geographical region, and then the No. 2 goes in. And if they're closer to that first one, they go to the next one. Somebody will go west, so eventually that does happen, and it really depends on the seed order and of course the bracketing principles.
Q. This last week in the Big Ten, I had quite a few people ask me this question so I thought I would ask you this. With Illinois beating the No. 3 seed and the No. 6 seed in the tournament, does that have a bearing on how you place the No. 3, the No. 6 and actually like Purdue, the No. 7 team once you get to the tournament?
Marilyn McNeil: It is just another piece of information that the committee has in front of us. Once again, you're looking at the last 12 games, so you're going to look at the institution and how they fared in the last 12 games. But you're also looking at the entire body of work, and one game isn't going to define a season.
At the same time, all of us have watched 150 games, and I know many of us have watched many Big Ten games, so you're going to put the computer down and you're going to walk away and you're going to talk really about how they fared on the floor. Yes, it could have a bearing because we're looking at last 12, but it's not as I said, one game isn't going to end the discussion.
Q. I was just wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on how much you take injuries into consideration. If a team was missing a key player for a half or an entire game in a game they lost, how much does that impact or you know, if a player was out for a number of games like the Drey Mingo case, if that seriously is weighted heavy.
Marilyn McNeil: These are very difficult situations for the committee to factor. Once again, teams are selected on the team's body of work, and they're not based on injuries or unavailable players, so you get selected on the whole entire season, and selection does look at the last 12 games, does look at the entire body of work, does look at actually what's happened on the floor. And we have available to us a complete report on who is injured or who is unavailable or who may be coming back. As I said, we have a lot of information, and the injured and unavailable report is an important piece of that.
It could affect seeding. So when you look at it and you look at this team and they're in the tournament and a player is with them or not available, that may affect seeding. But once again, it also it also is determined by how an individual committee member is going to look at it, as well. I think that's the beauty of having 10 on the committee; no one idea is going to take over; it is going to be a decision that we will all agree on. And I think we'll all look at that differently, but because there are 10 of us I think we'll come up with the right answer.
Q. I was wondering where RPI and strength of schedule fit into the process.
Marilyn McNeil: RPI, it's one of the most talked about factors, but it also is only one of the factors reviewed by the committee, and it's a very complicated factor. It is a mathematical formula, and it depends on so many other things other than actual play on the floor.
I know this kind of sounds like it's a trite answer, but it is indeed very true; each committee member looks at this very differently. Some of them consider RPI right out of the gate, some of them look at it after the fact, some of them weigh heavily with an RPI, some not so. And so it can have an effect, but it really is only one cause for the final effect, and of ten people I can't tell you how many think of it really importantly, and it's the same with the strength of schedule. There are mathematical formulas, and some people like the math and some people really just like watching the game, and that's really what comes out in this weekend heart-to-heart dialogue that we have.
Q. So essentially what you've been saying, the performance on the floor over the last third of the season might matter more than anything like that?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, it depends on who you're talking to on the committee, it really does. That's why it's so nice to have a diverse committee, because I don't think you could say that that one factor is more important than the other. Over the whole ten people, all those factors will be important. But some of us find something that's a little more important to us than others.
Q. I have a two-part question. One, does the women's side get the equitable part of coverage, meaning in terms of selecting teams, as the men's does? I don't know if the committee takes a balance of that. And then also, how ethnically balanced or diverse your committee is among the 10 people.
Marilyn McNeil: Are you talking about general publicity for the selection process?
Q. Yeah, what I wrote about this week in my column is since you hear about the men's teams, who's going to be in, who's going to be out, and you don't really hear anything about the women's selections. Does the committee look at that in terms is women's basketball still being short shifted in that regard?
Marilyn McNeil: Thank you for asking that question because that's an important question, and I applaud you for writing it in your column. I think the state of women's basketball is good, and it's getting better. And I think often times we're compared to the men's program, and they have been around a lot longer, so we have to remember that. But the skill level, the participation, the excitement is all going up. We play a great game.
I think we are continuing to fight for our fair share of the media, and I think we're continuing to put out a great product. So it takes people like yourself who care about it and write about it, and we're working to get the audience there. We have a great partner in ESPN. So I think a lot of good things are in place, and it just takes more people asking and more people writing about it, and the more people we get to come to our games, the more they want to come back, because it is a great product.
Your second question was about the composition of the committee?
Marilyn McNeil: The composition of the committee is an NCAA bylaw, and it determined by the membership. We have a group of wonderful men and women, and there's former players, there's coaches, there's officials, there are administrators who have lots of basketball experience in whatever realm they had, and we do have diverse representation, as well. So I think it's a very representative committee.
Q. I've been told that the committee as a matter of policy doesn't look at point spreads, in part to prevent gambling on the sport and the like, but for instance, when you get scores like we had early in the season between Duke and Texas A&M or Duke and Xavier where there's a win by a nose, obviously that's a lot different game when you're considering what's happened on the floor than a complete blowout. So does that get considered at any point in the process?
Marilyn McNeil: No. Once again, we look at the entire body of the work. We look at so many other factors. Margin of victory is not one we look at. We do look at wins and losses but not scores.
Q. Even when a Baylor comes within one point of upsetting Connecticut, it doesn't matter whether it was by one or by 30?
Marilyn McNeil: No, you're right, it doesn't matter. The score does not matter.