|Bracketing and seeding took up about 20 percent of the process. The other 80 was spent on selecting teams and eating food supplied to us by the NCAA. In other words: 60 percent of it was spent on eating, which we believe also accurately replicates the real experience. (NCAA)|
On Saturday, I wrote about the RPI and why it’s still, unfortunately, fully baked into the process of selecting and seeding teams into the NCAA tournament. Today, I address the importance and time paid to the three principles of the bracket: selection, seeding and bracketing.
If you’re as adoringly and heavily invested in the NCAA tournament buildup and fruition as I, you no doubt would’ve had the same sort of fun all of us media folk lucky enough to get an invite to the NCAA mock selection process had. I’ve my issues with some of what goes on, but it’s undeniably a college basketball lover’s dream come true to dive right in, full force, and playfully argue with two dozen people about Davidson, Duke and Denver. That it was our "job" formally go through the process with other passionate people was never lost on me. Getting to do this after years and years of scribbling brackets and bubble teams on paper and punching results into Word documents for our own pleasure in the privacy of our homes and offices was a unique privilege.
Greg Anthony taking up a case on behalf of Tennessee is 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, but at least he was the first to show us why the committee is often quick to bring up teams that might not seem remotely worthy of discussion — and why that discussion is worthwhile and important to the process.
Now, here’s what I was most surprised about: the short amount of time we paid to seeding and bracketing. We didn’t begin the seeding process in earnest until 11 a.m. Friday morning — about 80 percent of the way into the process. The seeding and bracket is by far the most fun. It’s also the most critical. Chronologically, it goes: selecting, then seeding, then bracketing. The proper order, of course. But if time spent directly correlates to importance of each factor, then that's also clearly the hierarchy of importance for the committee.
There is a difference between the latter two phases. Seeding is the actual listing of teams 1 through 68. You do that, naturally, to have an order so each team gets preference of region and bracket over the ones listed below it. Bracketing is ticking off each team in order and placing them into regions in accordance with respect to geography and travel, as well as abiding by a few set-in-stone rules (i.e. BYU cannot play on a Sunday) and trying to respect other guidelines based on precedence (when possible avoid rematches in early rounds from games earlier this season or in the past few tournaments).
How we seeded: we’d vote four teams in at a time. A consensus of four teams would be tallied, and then we’d rank them, one to four. We do this piecemeal because you want to rank/seed teams with other teams of their ilk, as to avoid situations where the final 1-68 seed tally has glaring glitches throughout. It's Pavlovian in its repetition; you feel like you have to vote for a team 10 teams before it's formally in the bracket. That's intentional.
Once we had our overall ranking, we stepped back, looked at what we had and began to tweak. Some teams were too low, others too high. One team ranked 47 was behind another at 43 — or something like that — yet it was clear certain teams should leapfrog others. Voting was had for every proposed alteration to the seed list. Eight of the 10 members on the committee need to support a proposed change in order for it to happen. With our group, about half of the proposed changes went through successfully.
|Greg Anthony was great -- except for that one time he lobbied for Tennessee. (NCAA)|
Eventually, we went on to the bracketing, which was dictated by the executive vice president of all the NCAA championships, Greg Shaheen. He has the process memorized to an incredible degree; he could do this in his sleep, without question. We had to choose which teams go where, all the while keeping the regions as balanced as possible and avoiding all conflict of rules and guidelines. North Carolina staying in Kentucky's region, for travel purposes, instead of pairing UK and Duke was the most hotly debated bracket placement. Getting teams to certain cities, just listing them off and picking the closest locations was awesome. The program the NCAA uses has safeguards against breaking stipulations, and filling up the four yellow-and-white grids was a culmination.
This was, by far, the most enjoyable part of the weekend. It took less than 90 minutes.
Why so short? That’s my question. Because over the years, my objections to the bracket — which are seldom on the level of intensity and outrage as Jay Bilas or Dick Vitale — almost never, ever have to do with inclusion into the field. It’s normally seed-related. Almost every year we get squads seeded onto lines that seem completely off-base. (New Mexico as a three in 2010 serves as a recent miscalculation.)
I now can understand why this happens, though. The committee convenes on the Wednesday before Selection Sunday. It spends most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday poring over resumes and debating inclusion into the field. If possible, the committee does not go to bed Saturday night until the field of 68 has been completed. There are seed listings and subsequential seed scrubbings that take place from Thursday through Sunday, but you can check right here, the actual bracketing process does not begin until less than 90 minutes before the world gets to see it.
The seed list also slowly builds. First the no-brainer teams are put into the field, with the auto qualifiers from small conferences stapled to the bottom portion of the seed list. (Note: we spent no time on low-major AQs, and given the seeding inconsistencies with 14s, 15s and 16s, I wonder how much time is truly spent on these teams in five days. I'd guess it's less than 30 minutes, which is a minor but legitimate issue.)
If there was one thing we truly duplicated in our mock session, it was the bracketing procedure. It was a thrill, but it was also flawed because it was so rushed. This came on the heels of going through the seeding process at relative breakneck pace. You can scope our bracket here. That alignment was picked as if the season ended Wednesday night, so keep that in mind. Still: flaws abound. Regions are lacking in balance, but that’s primarily because schools, coaches, ADs would rather have less travel and more fans than be matched up in a tougher region. Seeding does not lead to uneven brackets -- bracketing does, and it's inevitable, particularly because we have so few good teams west of the Rockies.
The Selection Committee has more time than we did to seed-scrub and go back again and again to look and make sure the final 1-68 list is in an agreed-upon order. I can't help but think the committee goes through the same mental jungle gym we did, though. So much energy and research and effort goes into just picking the teams, that by the time the seeding comes — the final seeding, that is — there's a bit of a wear-and-tear effect. You've been scrutinizing over and over, and it's hard not to wear on the brain. Largely, seeding isn't an issue, but when we get inconsistencies, I think the lack of time given to that amounts to perceived mistakes in the process.So when the field is released three weeks from today and you see a four seed that's really more like a six, or a team in the 8/9 game that feels like an 11, know there are reasons for that. Bracketing could play a part, but if it does, it's purely from a logistical, not a matchup or television, mindset. It could be they've been put there because of geography or conference conflicts that absolutely mandated it. If not though, then it's very possible an oversight came in the seeding process. Seeding and selection are two very different processes that should should carry equal weight. As of now, it seems getting 68 in takes priority over absolute accurate placement of those 68 once they're pushed through.