It is no secret that I am not a big fan of the NCAA basketball committee—and that’s putting it mildly.
There was a time, however, where there were always a couple of guys on the committee who understood that the whole veil of secrecy that exists around the selection process was ludicrous. Jack Kvancz, the Athletic Director at George Washington, used to joke about it all the time. He even went so far as to formally propose that the committee allow a member of the media to sit in on the proceedings.
“No chance,” he told me later. “They laughed me out of the room.”
Jack should have been the committee chairman in 2003. He was passed over for Bob Bowlsby, the classic pretentious, phony administrative type the NCAA so loves to promote. Jack was simply too much of a straight shooter to be chairman. He might have actually been caught in a truth.
So, it is hardly a shock Jack got shouted down quickly when he even suggested opening up the process to the public—which is what putting a media rep in the room would do. You see, when you are on the basketball committee, you are doing work that MUST be secret. Murder trials are on television; every vote in Congress is recorded so the public can pass judgment on it but the NCAA basketball committee does everything in secret.
The worst part of it though is they keep trying to tell the public that they aren’t being secretive. Nowadays, the committee chairman does conference calls with the media leading up to Selection Sunday and that night after the brackets are announced. Of course he NEVER says anything. Sunday night, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, who is the current chairman, simply wouldn’t answer any questions. At one point he told the CBS guys during their softball-fest that one of the criteria for getting in to the tournament was ‘style of play.’
Tracee Hamilton, one of The Washington Post’s columnists walked into the office where I was working and said to me, “did he really say style of play?”
Yup, he did. Next thing you know we’re going to have judges at courtside. The East German judge’s vote will no doubt be thrown out.
For years, I have pounded on the committee to let a member of the media sit in on their meetings. Not me—honestly, I’d rather watch a 0-0 soccer game for 120 minutes on a continuous loop than spend four days with those guys—but someone; perhaps the president of the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association or someone designated by the USBWA if the president has another assignment that weekend.
There are two reasons I think this should happen: 1. The public has a right to know how the teams are selected and seeded and who votes for and against certain teams and 2. It would be better for the committee to PROVE to the public that all their claims that there aren’t any politics in the process are true. NO ONE believes it. My guess is the reason they won’t let a reporter in is because there are politics involved.
Several years ago, in response to the constant questioning of the system by me and by others, the NCAA—always willing to stonewall at any turn—came up with what it calls the ‘mock selection,’ process. Reporters were invited to participate in a mock selection of a field in February so we could ‘truly understand,’ how the teams are selected.
I’m pretty sure this was the brainstorm of Greg Shaheen, who was brought in to the NCAA by then-president Myles Brand to, among other things, improve the NCAA’s image. Shaheen’s a smart guy and, until last April, we communicated regularly—sometimes in a friendly way; sometimes exchanging arguments on issues. That changed when I called him out during The NCAA’s pat-itself-on-the-back Final Four press conference when he tried to claim that a 96-team tournament would somehow involved LESS missed class time for ‘student-athletes.’
Now, Shaheen doesn’t respond when I send him e-mails. I even sent him an e-mail asking when he was going to get over what had happened in Indianapolis last spring and he didn’t respond to THAT. Which is fine; he’s not the first and won’t be the last.
That said, the ‘mock bracket,’ was and is Shaheen’s baby. He did everything but beg me to participate, figuring if he could get me to but what he was selling he could probably get almost anyone to buy in. He and the committee have done a great job selling it to a lot my colleagues who love to go around telling people how they now ‘understand,’ the process. Oh please. You think because you sit in a room and look at RPI’s and take mock votes that you understand the process? Do you understand that Ron Wellman, the Wake Forest Athletic Director who is on the committee now, completely blew it by allowing only four ACC teams to be selected—one of them sent to Dayton? Do you understand that Steve Orsini, the SMU Athletic Director should be Conference-USA’s man-of-the-year for somehow convincing the committee to give UAB an at-large bid?
No, you don’t, because you buy into the notion that Wellman left the room when ACC teams were being voted on and Orsini did the same when Conference-USA teams were being voted on. Maybe so but how many hours during the day were they in the same room with the other members discussing teams? What did Wellman say when whomever had responsibility for scouting the ACC this year, said Virginia Tech wasn’t good enough? Or when someone suggested that Penn State—which lost to Virginia Tech—was a better pick than the Hokies because they beat Michigan State on Saturday while Virginia Tech was losing to Duke?
On Monday I sent a note to David Worlock, who is the NCAA’s basketball PR person. Worlock is a really good guy. He works very hard, is incredibly responsive to requests and questions and extremely patient—especially with people like me who he knows are not going to be receiving any good guy awards from the NCAA any day soon.
I asked Dave to ask Gene Smith two questions: Who voted for and against Virginia Tech and which committee member was assigned to the ACC this season? I knew the answer to both questions—none of your business—but I wanted that answer on the record. Dave patiently wrote back to say that and then added a lengthy—and I mean LENGTHY explanation of various criteria—which told me absolutely nothing. He then suggested—again, as Shaheen has done repeatedly the last few years—that I would understand the process better if I attended a mock bracket session.
I give Worlock credit for trying but it’s not going to happen. I told him if he and the committee really wanted me to understand the process, invite me to the real thing. (Again, I’d prefer someone else go, but at this point I’d have to go if invited since I’ve been running my mouth for so long about it. That said, I think I’m pretty safe making plans for selection weekend next year that do not include a trip to Indy.)
Here’s one other problem: the committee doesn’t have enough basketball people on it. With the exception of Stan Morrison—who goes off the committee after this season—there are no ex-coaches on the committee. Nothing but administrators, each a bit more sanctimonious than the rest. My favorite is Lynn Hickey, the AD at Texas-San Antonio. Last year during the USBWA’s annual Final Four meeting with the committee, when we had made a couple of requests to try to speed the postgame process after late night games, Hickey told us, “you know, everything we do is for the student-athletes.”
It took all my self control at that moment not to say, “PLEASE, I’M BEGGING YOU; SHUT-UP.” Student-athletes? Right. Meanwhile, they’re flying all over the country this week and next week and the week after that and the games are played later and later at night and, by the way, how much class do you think those kids from The Big East schools went to last week?
Any time you hear someone from the NCAA use the phrase, ‘student-athletes,’ check your wallet.
My friend and former student Seth Davis once referred to the great high school scout Tom Konchalski as, “the only honest man in the gym,” while walking into a summer basketball camp. The basketball committee could use Konchalski in the room. That way, there would be one honest man in there too.