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What goes into selecting the NCAA tournament field? Here’s a glimpse


Dave Ommen is in Indianapolis with 19 other members of the media for a mock NCAA tournament selection session. Their final bracket will be posted Friday, but here’s an early glimpse at their work.

My initial reaction to Day 1 of the Mock Selection process in Indianapolis: the NCAA team does a remarkable job of creating an educational and entertaining experience. Committee Chair Jeff Hathaway shared a few opening remarks and interacted with the group throughout the day. Those of us in the room were able to ask questions and receive candid answers about the process and how the real Selection Committee works together to select and seed teams. Friday, we will continue with final selections, seeding, and bracketing.

Here are a few key takeaways from Thursday ...

Hathaway emphasized the incredible prep work done by committee members. Each member is assigned various conferences and provides detailed reports to the entire committee about such things as injuries, travel issues (that could affect outcomes), etc. All committee members are provided a DirectTV package that enables them to watch as many games as possible. Hathaway stressed the importance of watching games and not simply relying on computer data. Hathaway said he often spends an hour each morning reviewing data from games the night before.

He also stressed that the committee values a team’s non-conference schedule. These are games a team chooses to play. They have options as to who they play and where. They want to teams to challenge themselves.

Hathaway wrapped up the evening by talking about the amount of discussion that takes place inside the actual selection room. He described it as “exhaustive” and “extensive.” What we spent 15-20 minutes discussing (because of time), the committee might discuss for an hour or more - breaking down the nuances of a team’s schedule, its wins and losses, where its games were played, and whether the team passes the “eye” test.

The RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and other rankings are primarily used as a method to organize information. Although available team pages categorize wins and losses in RPI groups, we rarely referenced a team’s specific RPI during group discussions and/or voting. There was not one time during the day when someone said Team A should be included because of its RPI ranking.

The amount of information available to the committee is incredible. NCAA staff members put a variety of reports together at a moment’s notice - available for members to view on a big screen and on a series of three computer monitors available in front of each member. Someone can ask to compare two or three teams side-by-side and within a minute those team’s individual pages, results, and “nitty-gritty” data appear. If you’re so inclined, this information is available at

Our 20 media participants were paired in groups of two so that we represented the 10 actual committee members. Each group of two had a single vote when it came to selecting teams for inclusion and seeding. During the real process, each committee member has one vote. Committee members leave the room if a team they represent is being discussed. Also, if a commissioner of a league is on the committee, he or she cannot vote for any team from their league. The voting software prevents this from occurring. Several times on Thursday one or more our participants could not vote.

Each group submitted an initial ballot. On that ballot, up to 37 teams could be chosen as AL (at-large), which would automatically place them into the Field of 68. During the actual process, this initial ballot is cast on Wednesday afternoon. The ballot also includes teams listed as “under consideration.” These are teams the committee member believes should be considered for inclusion but need further evaluation. After the initial ballot was collected on Thursday, our group placed 20 teams into the field: (alphabetical order) ... Baylor, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Marquette, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio State, San Diego State, Syracuse, UNLV, and Wisconsin. Another 49 teams were added to the at-large board for consideration.

During the process to add at-large teams, each member selected eight (8) teams out of the remaining at-large field. Votes were tallied and the eight (8) teams with the most votes were moved forward. The teams were discussed and various aspects of each team’s profile were reviewed. We then ranked the teams 1 to 8. The top four teams (by vote) were moved into the at-large field. The remaining were held over for the next vote. This process continued over and over.

We ended the day by starting to seed teams. Again, this was done by a series of votes. Each member voted for eight (8) teams at a time. Once those eight teams were identified, we ranked the teams in order 1-8. The top four were placed onto the s-curve. Note: The final s-curve can be adjusted before bracketing begins. According to Greg Shaheen of the NCAA, this initial seeding process usually begins Thursday morning.

Greg Anthony and Steve Smith of CBS and Turner Sports interacted with the group throughout the day. They offered some unique perspectives as former college players. Anthony was particularly interested in how our group viewed a team like Murray State. We talked a lot about Murray’s overall strength of schedule versus its impressive win total against just one loss. Ultimately, Murray easily made it into our Field of 68.

Friday, we begin the process of “scrubbing” teams during the s-curve development. The NCAA staff said this is a very critical process and it helps set the stage for bracketing. Teams are ranked 1-68 on the curve prior to being placed in the bracket. In some years, Shaheen said the committee has had to develop several brackets to accommodate late-ending conference tournaments.

As a final note ... we ended Thursday with between 3 to 5 at-large spots remaining, depending on how the mock tournaments end. Here is the list of remaining teams on the at-large board that have not yet made the field: Arizona, Arkansas, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Dayton, Illinois, Kansas State, Miami-FL, Middle Tennessee, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Ole Miss, Oral Roberts, Oregon, South Florida, Tennessee, Texas, UCF, Washington, and Xavier.