Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Embrace the Selection Committee

They are an oft-maligned group. The chair of the men's basketball selection committee takes on that high position knowing that s/he will be skewered and spat upon by Billy Packer, Dick Vitale, and Digger Phelps. They know that there are millions of fans incapable of removing their bias for their school that will screech about being left out, underseeded, or misplaced in the bracket. Tens of thousands more will question their motives and their integrity. Hundreds of us bracketologists will nitpick their every move and spend hours and not a small amount of bandwith trying to read their minds. The hardiest of us are the kind of people who read the selection criteria for fun and occasionally do find legitimate flaws in their work.

But, it is time to admit that in the grand scheme of things, the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee does a pretty good job. This is helped by the fact that the bracket is the fairest, most democratic, and expansive championship in major sports. What makes men's hoops the best championship is that the quibbling occurs about who missed out on a 12-seed and not about who got left out of the title game (welcome, college football fans!). Further, the only way a team with a .500 record gets in is by winning their post-season tournament (welcome, most pro sports fans!).

The committee's job is basically this: pick the most deserving 34 at-large teams to go with the 30 teams who actually won their league tournament and the Ivy League regular season champ. So, in essence, the committee combs through teams that have already been "eliminated" once in the post-season in their conference tourney. That should help folks sleep at night in case their "deserving" team (who could not win their conference tourney) gets left at home.

So, this is my yearly call to read the selection criteria (which is NOT as conspicuous on the NCAA website as it once was) and watch as many games as possible. As much as we like to yell about how our teams get screwed on Selection Sunday (it truly is a Spring rite of passage) the reality is that most years the committee does a good job. I have been doing bracketology for nearly 10 years and we usually disagree on only one or two teams. And, those teams are usually deeply flawed anyway. With the exception of the 2006 stinkeroo, the committee has done a pretty good job at following the selection criteria.

Now, whether the criteria itself is fair or not is another post for another day.