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A conversation with vice president of the NCAA tournament, Dan Gavitt

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer
Dan Gavitt believes the game's gotten better and there's still a ways to go. (USATSI)
Dan Gavitt believes the game's gotten better and there's still a ways to go. (USATSI)

Dan Gavitt was named vice president of men's basketball championships on Aug. 18, 2012. He's now essentially the guy in charge of running the best American sports event -- in this author's humble opinion -- out there. We had a chance to talk with Dan late last week about how this season's going so far, how selection for this year's NCAA tournament will be different than any one from years prior, and what to expect for the future of the Big Dance. Enjoy.

CBSSports.com: What have you learned most in the past year? Biggest thing? Biggest takeaway?

Dan Gavitt: I'm still kind of pinching myself to have the opportunity to work with the NCAA tournament, March Madness. To be involved with basketball at so many levels. I'm on the board of USA Basketball, Hall of Fame. NABC Board of Directors. It's an awesome opportunity to possibly impact the game on so many levels.

CBSSports.com: What's your role with USA Basketball?

DG: USA Basketball has 11 board members and the NCAA has a couple of board seats, so myself and Mark Lewis, my boss, and Chris Plonsky from the University of Texas are the NCAA/college basketball representatives.

CBSSports.com: How often do you correspond with former NCAA men's basketball tournament chief Greg Shaheen?

DG: Greg's been really good and supportive and helpful to me. We probably don't talk as much as either one of us would like to, but he's very open and available any time I've needed him.

CBSSports.com: Regarding college hoops right now, I did a recent study on the scoring patterns, fouls, how officiating is affecting the game. To this point, what discussions have you had within the NCAA and what is your opinion/level of satisfaction right now?

DG: I personally feel like, and feel like many within the membership feel, very encouraged by the progress we've made with the new rules and enforcement. Some physicality has been taken out of the game. As far as a finished project, to get fully ingrained in the game could take two or three seasons. In talking with colleagues in the NBA, it did take two or three seasons. But to your point, I think the data backs up the fact that it's encouraging and there's less physicality and more freedom of movement in the perimeter in particular. Over the course of the year, even compared to last year, offense is up in every statistical category.

CBSSports.com: Are you the ready for the backlash? Meaning, college basketball will get more eyeballs and the games/fouls will be more scrutinized. Are you talking with John Adams frequently?

DG: Absolutely. John's done a great job working with the conference coordinators. And as you noted, it's a significant change and an important one for our game. But it has the potential for some controversy depending on the level of enforcement and the consistency of it. The basketball committee met in San Diego two weeks ago. We're very committed and prepared. The officials have done a good job adjusting, and more than anything, I think players and coaches and teams have done a good job adjusting. Going back to last May, when the rules committee made these changes, we had a meeting with the NABC Board of Directors and the men's basketball selection committee. Everyone's on the same page with the importance of this effort. Consistent enforcement of the rules throughout the season was very important. Fouls called in the last three weeks is up over 2 percent. There haven't been fewer called in the conference season; there's actually been a few more since December. That leads me to believe we're being consistent.

CBSSports: This was bound to happen, though, right? The talk and speculation about consistency with how fouls are called.

DG: There's so much talk about how many more fouls are being called, and obviously there's been some games where that was the case, but they were sort of outliers early the season. Here's an interesting stat: in the last 65 years in college basketball, the average number of fouls per game, per team, is 19.4. Last year's average was down to 17.7, a drastic departure over the recent history. This year, the average is back up around 19.4/19.5, so even though it seems like, "Man, they're calling so many fouls," really all that's happened this year is we're getting back to where we've been historically. We just weren't calling things that were fouls in the past few years; they just stopped blowing the whistle.

CBSSports.com: Regarding the NCAA tournament experience, what has been discussed about improving it?

DG: Several different things. This year, Turner takes a larger role in the tournament. Turner will broadcast, on TBS, two regional finals, those Saturday night of Elite Eight games. It's the first time they've broadcast games from that round of the tournament. They'll also broadcast the national semifinals. A really creative idea for the national semifinals. They're going to have three broadcasts available: a traditional broadcast on TBS, and on truTV and TNT, they'll broadcast from the perspective of the two teams playing. It'll be a specific bent for Arizona if it's Arizona and Wichita if it's Wichita State. With graphics and commentary that's specific to the teams. That should be exciting for fans to watch.

CBSSports.com: Regarding transparency, or lack thereof, with the selection process for the NCAA tournament, is it going to be same ol' same ol' going forward? The process has grown and the public has learned more about the experience, but will there be more tweaks in transparency?

DG: I think it'll be very similar to the last couple of years. We constantly try to look for ways to increase the level of transparency and communicate as openly as we can while still protecting the integrity of the process. The one very different aspect is the new bracketing principles and procedures in place.

CBSSports.com: And what are those, specifically?

DG: Last summer the committee voted to essentially open up the bracketing principles to be a little more flexible in terms of permitting teams from the same conference to play each other earlier in the bracket, if they'd only played each other once or twice during the regular season and conference tournament. Before last year, teams from the same conference couldn't meet before regional finals. The committee thought what that had done over the years, is it had forced teams to be moved up or down a seed line frequently: an average of 10 times per bracket. So, in order to be able to protect that seeding process integrity, now, if teams in the conference only play once in the regular season or conference tournament, they could play as early as the third round (Round of 32), and if they play twice, they could play as early as the Sweet 16. What that will essentially do is allow the committee to keep teams on their seed lines and not have them be forced up or down.

CBSSports.com: It'll become a cliche in no time, but this is essentially about “bracket integrity.” It's vital to keep a team as a 10 when it is a 10, where in the past that team was easily slotted into a 12 only due to rules reasons.

DG: I think that's a good way to put it, definitely. As conferences have grown over the last 10-15 years, and more teams from larger conferences have populated the field, it's really restricted the bracket. You've been through the process, and bracketing, almost up unti this year, was like a process of elimination. It became somewhat restrictive.

CBSSports.com: What's the future for Dayton at the First Four?

DG: We're committed to Dayton through 2015. It's been a great site and they've done a phenomenal job with the First Four and the opening round even before that. We're looking to going back this year and in 2015.

CBSSports.com: There have been suggestions from some in the media to use the First Four in a different way going forward, to use historic college basketball arenas as host sites. Places like the Palestra, Cameron Indoor and Hinkle Fieldhouse. Has this been discussed in the NCAA ranks? What are the logistical and practical possibilities?

DG: Yeah, at some level we're always looking for ways to improve the NCAA tournament. We haven't spoken about that in particular yet because of our commitment to Dayton and the tournament. We will go through another preliminary round of discussion in this process this spring, and at that time will discuss 2016 through 2018. I'm sure at that time the committee will take a fresh look at everything as it always does when sites are selected.

CBSSports.com: What date will the committee meet to begin selecting and seeding for this year's NCAA tournament?

DG: They'll come in Tuesday night, March 11, and meet for the first time on March 12.

CBSSports.com: Is this a short-term job for you or something you hope to do for at least a decade?

DG: I hope to be here for as long as they'll have me. It's a great opportunity and the people I get to work with at the NCAA as well as on the committee are some of the best people I've had a chance to work with.

CBSSports.com: What's a common criticism against college basketball or college sports that you think is off-the-mark?

DG: My perspective is currently on men's basketball -- I was an AD many years ago -- but in men's basketball I think not enough credit is given to coaches and the experience and opportunity they're providing the student-athletes. Just the life experiences, the basketball experiences, the education experiences. As I get around to games and be around beforehand or afterward, kids are having a great experience playing college basketball. I don't think enough credit is given, given all the attention is given to their future opportunities professionally and everything else. I was at the Kansas-Baylor game at Allen Fieldhouse a couple weeks ago, and both teams have a lot of talent and kids who will have a long career after their time in college is over, but those kids are having a great time right now.

CBSSports.com: Do you believe it's inevitable that, at some point, opting to pay college basketball players and college athletes will be part of the fabric of college athletics, given the momentum that's picked up over the past five years?

DG: No, I don't think it's inevitable and I don't think it would be a wise decision to enter into an employer-employee relationship with student-athletes. I think it would diminish their experience and experience the fans have following our great game. But I do think we're certainly in for a change, a change will come and should come. This in terms of additional support, a full cost-of-attendance, possibly a stipend that many institutions can afford now and are anxious to offer. The health coverage and long-term educational benefits after their college careers are over. Things like that. But strict pay-for-play? I don't see that coming and I don't think it would be healthy.

 
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