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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    NCAA provides a glimpse into the process of choosing the teams for March Madness

    UConn coach Dan Hurley yells to his team during the first half of Tuesday’s men’s college basketball game at Creighton. (Rebecca S. Gratz/AP Photo)

    Phoenix — Selection Sunday also happens to be the biggest complaint day on the sports calendar.

    How could they leave my team out? Why is mine playing that far away? You seriously gave (my favorite team) a No. 8 seed instead of 6?

    Settle down.

    Selecting, seeding and bracketing the 68 teams for the NCAA tournament is not an exact science, yet it is rooted in methods developed through years of building brackets.

    Twelve people in a room, all with proven track records in the world of college athletics, make the decisions that shape March Madness in a meticulous process that would send the average person searching for an exit.

    "At the end of the day, it’s 12 opinions and their collective votes that determine all this and reasonable people can disagree about how it turns out,” said David Worlock, the NCAA's director of media coordination and statistics.

    The NCAA offered insight into the selection process less than two months before the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, a three-hour crash course in what the selection committee does over a five-day period prior to the bracket release.

    The process consists of multiple votes, discussions, side-by-side comparisons, scrubbing, team sheets, holding lists, cross-country lists and rules — lots of rules.

    The selection committee used to sort through all the teams with enough paper to kill a forest, as the NCAA's L.J. Wright put it, building brackets on large posterboards with Velcro that would have to constantly be replaced from swapping teams around.

    Technology has streamlined the process, including a spreadsheet with color-coded boxes that immediately determine whether a team can play at a certain site or not. It even provides a school's distance to each site and which ones will need charter flights.

    The process starts before the season, when committee members are assigned conferences to monitor during the season. Each conference has primary and secondary monitors who have monthly calls with the leagues for updates on statistics, injuries, suspensions — anything that could impact a school's performance.

    The committee gave a sneak peak at the current top-16 seeds last week and will begin the process of setting the field the Wednesday before Selection Sunday.

    The days are long as the committee works through what feels like a 10,000-piece puzzle where some of the pieces don't seem to fit.

    “It's a national tournament, so you want to get it right,” Worlock said.

    The first step in building a bracket is determining which teams are locks to make the bracket at large, regardless of whether it could eventually represent its conference as an automatic qualifier. The bracket has 32 automatic qualifiers, leaving 36 at-large spots.

    In the initial vote, committee members select no more than 24 teams they think should be an at-large selection and an unlimited number that should be under consideration to make the field. Any team that receives all but three votes in the at-large category is immediately moved into the tournament field.

    Another series of votes — many, many votes — is held as the committee adds and subtracts from the at-large board. At various points, committee members rank the teams in the at-large board with the top four moving into the field.

    Throughout the process are discussions about the teams — facts only, no opinions — and occasional comparisons of team sheets, which have everything from overall record to strength of schedule. The NCAA Evaluation Tool breaks down teams' records in four quadrants based on opponents' NET ranking and where a game is played.

    Once the teams are selected, the committee “scrubs” the list, going line by line. If a member believes a team should be moved up to a higher seed, a majority vote is held — often after a discussion — and the process is continued until everyone is in agreement on the seedings.

    The comes bracketing.

    The top priority is keeping a team as close to its area as possible. The process is complicated by rules that prevent teams from the same conference playing at certain points in the NCAA tournament depending on how many times they played during the regular season — three times and they can't play until the regional final, for example.

    The color-coded spreadsheet streamlines the process, immediately determining any conflicts that would preclude a school from playing at a certain site or region. Even with it, more conflicts still arise, like when the Big East had 11 teams in the 2011 field or BYU not wanting to play on Sundays.

    Because five conferences don't play their tournament title games until Selection Sunday, the committee has to build contingency brackets to be ready for the reveal.

    "The bracketing is very mechanical," Worlock said. “Conference affiliation and geography drive the decisions. Until you run into a conflict, that's what determines who goes to what region and the first and second sites are. It's very turnkey.”

    No matter how meticulous a process, certain fans are going to be unhappy. It's also part of the appeal for this unpredictable sporting event.

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