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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

The only certainty is that NCAA selection committee will hear complaints

The group has a lot to consider as it puts together the 65-team tournament.

March 15, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

How come our school has to fly to its first-round tournament game, but our rival gets to take a bus?

Why did UCLA have to leave California once in three years en route to three Final Fours?

What is a "pod," and why are we in one?

Is it just me, or is the bracket set up only for Duke to survive and advance?

How come our conference is in the "play-in" game? Why is there a play-in game? Why are there 65 schools in the tournament instead of 64?

The NCAA selection committee will unveil its tournament bracket this afternoon, to the joy of most and the consternation of some.

It's easy -- and fun! -- to pick apart the committee's decision-making process until you flip through the "General Principles for Selection, Seeding and Bracketing" and realize you'd rather be reading the U.S. Tax Code.

After a cursory review of the "so-forths" and addendums, it's a wonder there aren't more goofs and gaffes. The 10-person selection committee, chaired this year by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, takes extensive steps in trying to produce a fair field that this year, unfortunately, won't include Fairfield (Siena snagged the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference bid).

"It's a balancing act," Slive said last week of adhering to all these principles. "We've just got a lot of eyes on it."

Conference tournament finals held today give the committee little time to make last-minute adjustments.

No bracket is perfect.

In 2006, George Mason, an at-large school from the Colonial Athletic Assn., was seeded No. 11 and slotted in the East Regional.

After shocking Michigan State and North Carolina at early-round games in Dayton, Ohio, George Mason advanced to the regional final in what turned out to be a virtual home-court setting in Washington.

Connecticut, the top-seeded team, was put at a geographical disadvantage and ended up losing to George Mason in the regional final.

What happened?

Short answer: The committee never imagined George Mason making it that far.

The NCAA knows that mess-ups, even minor ones, can undermine the integrity of the entire bracket.

Nothing was more embarrassing than 2003, when Brigham Young, seeded No. 15, was put into a Friday-Sunday bracket for first- and second-round games.

Problem: Brigham Young, for religious reasons, does not allow its teams to play on Sundays. The mistake was compounded by the fact that Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood, the chairman of the selection committee, was a BYU graduate.

The committee was left in the uncomfortable position of hoping second-seeded Connecticut would take care of first-round business and beat BYU, which would avoid having to move the Cougars to a region with a second-round game on Saturday.

Luckily, for the NCAA, Connecticut won.

The BYU blunder has been on the mind of every selection committee that has since entered hotel doors in Indianapolis.

"We have a bracketing mantra," Slive said. "You remember the old saying: 'Remember the Alamo.' Here, instead of the Alamo, it's 'Remember BYU.' "

Before we all pounce on today's bracket injustices, consider some of the mandates in selecting and bracketing:

* The first three teams selected from a conference must be put in different regions.

* There shall not be more than two teams from a conference in one region unless a ninth team is selected from a conference.

* Conference schools can't meet prior to the regional final unless a ninth team is selected from a conference.

* The committee shall not put teams seeded on the first five lines (of the bracket) at a potential "home-crowd disadvantage" in the first round. Hypothetical: You don't want Memphis set up to play Kansas in a first-weekend game in Kansas City, Mo.

* A team cannot play in an arena in which it has played more than three games during the season, not including conference postseason tournaments.

* A team can't play at the site where the institution is hosting. This year, for instance, Memphis can't be in the South because that regional is in Memphis.

* The committee ranks each team with a points system, 1 through 65. If North Carolina is the top No. 1, it receives one point and will try to be matched in the same region with the worst No. 2 team, which receives eight points. The committee tries to keep the points total in each region as balanced as possible.

* If possible, rematches of regular-season games should be avoided in first and second rounds.

* If possible, rematches of previous years' tournament games should be avoided in the first and second rounds.

* The winner of the play-in game between No. 64 and No. 65 on Tuesday in Dayton cannot be in a Thursday-Saturday first-round bracket. The "opening-round" game was implemented in 2001 after the Western Athletic Conference splintered and the Mountain West was formed, moving the number of automatic bids from 30 to 31. The NCAA wanted to keep the at-large bids at 34, necessitating an extra game pitting two champions of lower-ranked conferences.

* The committee tries to keep schools close to their national geographic area, as Slive explained, "to the greatest extent possible." The top five seedings are given preference in the first and second rounds. A "pod" system was implemented in 2002 to help keep more schools closer to home on the first weekend. Washington and UCLA, slotted in different regions, can play opening-round games in geographically convenient Portland, Ore., or Boise, Idaho.

How do they keep it all straight?

Slive said Greg Shaheen of the NCAA office plays a large role in monitoring all the bracket do's and don'ts.

Remember, the process isn't perfect and the committee can't please everybody.

You can bet, though, Slive won't forget to "Remember the Alamo," as BYU is a lock to make this year's field and open the tournament next . . . Thursday.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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