COLUMBIA – Ten NCAA administrators spend four long, tiring days holed up in a suite on the 15th floor of the Indianapolis Westin Hotel. They analyze, discuss and debate.
And analyze, discuss and debate.
Until finally, at 5 p.m. Sunday, their work – the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket – is revealed to anxious college basketball coaches, players and fans.
The process the selection committee uses to pick the field of 65 teams (one of which figures to be Missouri) is a long, complicated task that starts with dinner at a downtown Indianapolis Italian restaurant on Wednesday night of selection week.
It’s become a tradition for the committee to load up on carbohydrates they will need to stay energized over the next four days. A last supper of sorts.
Here are a few other behind-the-scenes quirks that are a part of the selection process:
- The NCAA pays for DirecTV and ESPN Full-Court packages for the committee members so they can watch games all year long. Each committee member is responsible for at least three conferences. Committee chairman Dan Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA, said he usually watches at least parts of four or five games each night during the season. Spouses can't like this.
- The committee members receive just $75 per day, for meal money, according to ESPN.com. Granted, all the members are athletic directors or conference commissioners making more than enough to get by. But for the hours they spend selecting teams, and for the criticism they take from left-out schools and “expert” analysts, $75 isn’t much. Then again, they get to talk about basketball for four days.
- The committee sometimes receives e-mails or FedEx packages at their hotel suite from teams looking to provide additional information that might help get them in the tournament, according to Sports Illustrated. Teams often reiterate factors that may have affected their performance during the season, such as an injury to a key player. Missouri has been a worse team since losing forward Justin Safford to a knee injury in February. Maybe the Tigers will be shipping something to Indianapolis.
Once the committee finishes its Italian dinner, it begins the long and tedious process of selecting the teams. Those carbohydrates will be needed.
The job starts with choosing the 34 most qualified "at-large" teams - teams that didn't win their conference tournaments - to join the 31 teams that automatically qualify because they won their conference tournaments, for a total of 65 teams. Then, the committee assigns each team a ranking from one to 65. The committee finishes by placing the teams in the bracket.
It sounds like a simple process, but when there are 10 people who don't necessarily agree on what makes an NCAA Tournament team trying to follow a set of quirky rules in the NCAA Bracket Principles and Procedures guide, it's not easy at all:
- When placing a team in the bracket, the committee must remember that a team can't be moved from its geographic region too many times. According to the NCAA Bracket Principles and Procedure guide, the committee must look at the previous five years' brackets to determine how often a team has been placed in a region other than its own. However, it says nothing about how many times is too many. It could be two, maybe three, or even four times, depending on how each member interprets the rule. The subjectivity of this rule makes it the quirkiest of them all.
- The committee members make a list for everything. List-making is the key to the selection process. Each member starts by making a ranked list of eight teams they think should be in the tournament, from best to worst. The four best teams in the voting have a place solidified in the tournament. The next four are placed on another list with four new teams and the voting takes place again. The committee will continue this procedure until it has selected 34 at-large teams to join the 31 automatic qualifiers. But it doesn't end there. The committee goes through the same process over and over and over again with the new list of 65 teams to determine the rankings. Talk about a tedious process.
- A team can be moved up or down one seed from its original seeding. This means that if the committee ranks Missouri as a No. 9 seed, the Tigers could end up as a 10 seed or an eight seed. The move is done in order to avoid a matchup against a conference opponent, rematches from previous NCAA Tournaments or to give a better team a location closer to home. Kind of makes you question the importance of a team's seed.