Tag:Jeff Hathaway
Posted on: February 19, 2012 4:58 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 5:20 pm

Bracketing: the best part of the mock process

Bracketing and seeding took up about 20 percent of the process. The other 80 was spent on selecting teams and eating food supplied to us by the NCAA. In other words: 60 percent of it was spent on eating, which we believe also accurately replicates the real experience. (NCAA)

On Saturday, I wrote about the RPI and why it’s still, unfortunately, fully baked into the process of selecting and seeding teams into the NCAA tournament. Today, I address the importance and time paid to the three principles of the bracket: selection, seeding and bracketing.

By Matt Norlander

If you’re as adoringly and heavily invested in the NCAA tournament buildup and fruition as I, you no doubt would’ve had the same sort of fun all of us media folk lucky enough to get an invite to the NCAA mock selection process had. I’ve my issues with some of what goes on, but it’s undeniably a college basketball lover’s dream come true to dive right in, full force, and playfully argue with two dozen people about Davidson, Duke and Denver. That it was our "job" formally go through the process with other passionate people was never lost on me. Getting to do this after years and years of scribbling brackets and bubble teams on paper and punching results into Word documents for our own pleasure in the privacy of our homes and offices was a unique privilege.

Greg Anthony taking up a case on behalf of Tennessee is 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, but at least he was the first to show us why the committee is often quick to bring up teams that might not seem remotely worthy of discussion — and why that discussion is worthwhile and important to the process.

Now, here’s what I was most surprised about: the short amount of time we paid to seeding and bracketing. We didn’t begin the seeding process in earnest until 11 a.m. Friday morning — about 80 percent of the way into the process. The seeding and bracket is by far the most fun. It’s also the most critical. Chronologically, it goes: selecting, then seeding, then bracketing. The proper order, of course. But if time spent directly correlates to importance of each factor, then that's also clearly the hierarchy of importance for the committee.

There is a difference between the latter two phases. Seeding is the actual listing of teams 1 through 68. You do that, naturally, to have an order so each team gets preference of region and bracket over the ones listed below it. Bracketing is ticking off each team in order and placing them into regions in accordance with respect to geography and travel, as well as abiding by a few set-in-stone rules (i.e. BYU cannot play on a Sunday) and trying to respect other guidelines based on precedence (when possible avoid rematches in early rounds from games earlier this season or in the past few tournaments).

How we seeded: we’d vote four teams in at a time. A consensus of four teams would be tallied, and then we’d rank them, one to four. We do this piecemeal because you want to rank/seed teams with other teams of their ilk, as to avoid situations where the final 1-68 seed tally has glaring glitches throughout. It's Pavlovian in its repetition; you feel like you have to vote for a team 10 teams before it's formally in the bracket. That's intentional.

Once we had our overall ranking, we stepped back, looked at what we had and began to tweak. Some teams were too low, others too high. One team ranked 47 was behind another at 43 — or something like that — yet it was clear certain teams should leapfrog others. Voting was had for every proposed alteration to the seed list. Eight of the 10 members on the committee need to support a proposed change in order for it to happen. With our group, about half of the proposed changes went through successfully.

Greg Anthony was great -- except for that one time he lobbied for Tennessee. (NCAA)

Eventually, we went on to the bracketing, which was dictated by the executive vice president of all the NCAA championships, Greg Shaheen. He has the process memorized to an incredible degree; he could do this in his sleep, without question. We had to choose which teams go where, all the while keeping the regions as balanced as possible and avoiding all conflict of rules and guidelines. North Carolina staying in Kentucky's region, for travel purposes, instead of pairing UK and Duke was the most hotly debated bracket placement. Getting teams to certain cities, just listing them off and picking the closest locations was awesome. The program the NCAA uses has safeguards against breaking stipulations, and filling up the four yellow-and-white grids was a culmination.

This was, by far, the most enjoyable part of the weekend. It took less than 90 minutes.

Why so short? That’s my question. Because over the years, my objections to the bracket — which are seldom on the level of intensity and outrage as Jay Bilas or Dick Vitale — almost never, ever have to do with inclusion into the field. It’s normally seed-related. Almost every year we get squads seeded onto lines that seem completely off-base. (New Mexico as a three in 2010 serves as a recent miscalculation.)

I now can understand why this happens, though. The committee convenes on the Wednesday before Selection Sunday. It spends most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday poring over resumes and debating inclusion into the field. If possible, the committee does not go to bed Saturday night until the field of 68 has been completed. There are seed listings and subsequential seed scrubbings that take place from Thursday through Sunday, but you can check right here, the actual bracketing process does not begin until less than 90 minutes before the world gets to see it.

The seed list also slowly builds. First the no-brainer teams are put into the field, with the auto qualifiers from small conferences stapled to the bottom portion of the seed list. (Note: we spent no time on low-major AQs, and given the seeding inconsistencies with 14s, 15s and 16s, I wonder how much time is truly spent on these teams in five days. I'd guess it's less than 30 minutes, which is a minor but legitimate issue.)

If there was one thing we truly duplicated in our mock session, it was the bracketing procedure. It was a thrill, but it was also flawed because it was so rushed. This came on the heels of going through the seeding process at relative breakneck pace. You can scope our bracket here. That alignment was picked as if the season ended Wednesday night, so keep that in mind. Still: flaws abound. Regions are lacking in balance, but that’s primarily because schools, coaches, ADs would rather have less travel and more fans than be matched up in a tougher region. Seeding does not lead to uneven brackets -- bracketing does, and it's inevitable, particularly because we have so few good teams west of the Rockies.

The Selection Committee has more time than we did to seed-scrub and go back again and again to look and make sure the final 1-68 list is in an agreed-upon order. I can't help but think the committee goes through the same mental jungle gym we did, though. So much energy and research and effort goes into just picking the teams, that by the time the seeding comes — the final seeding, that is — there's a bit of a wear-and-tear effect. You've been scrutinizing over and over, and it's hard not to wear on the brain. Largely, seeding isn't an issue, but when we get inconsistencies, I think the lack of time given to that amounts to perceived mistakes in the process.

So when the field is released three weeks from today and you see a four seed that's really more like a six, or a team in the 8/9 game that feels like an 11, know there are reasons for that. Bracketing could play a part, but if it does, it's purely from a logistical, not a matchup or television, mindset. It could be they've been put there because of geography or conference conflicts that absolutely mandated it. If not though, then it's very possible an oversight came in the seeding process. Seeding and selection are two very different processes that should should carry equal weight. As of now, it seems getting 68 in takes priority over absolute accurate placement of those 68 once they're pushed through.
Posted on: February 18, 2012 1:30 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 1:52 pm

RPI still hovers over, cloaks selection process

The room where it all went down Thursday and Friday. We were secluded in secrecy, soft drinks and statistics. (NCAA)

By Matt Norlander

No matter how emphatically and repeatedly the NCAA Selection Committee insists the RPI isn’t a major factor in picking and seeding 68 teams into the greatest sporting event the universe has ever known, that’s simply not the case. The RPI, as flawed a tool as any mainstream collective ranking metric we have in college basketball, still stenches up the process like burnt popcorn.

(If you’re still not sure why the RPI is built like a Popsicle-stick castle, I’ll promptly point you in the direction of this and this and this. Get to learnin'.)

I had the luxury and pleasure of attending the NCAA mock selection meetings in Indianapolis Thursday and Friday, at the Conrad Hilton. My hope was to file a couple of quick blog updates/entries during the process. That’s nearly impossible. We started at 1 p.m. on Thursday, worked until about 11, then were at it again at 8 a.m. Friday morning and went until 2:30, and then it was off to the airport. It was a beautiful, dream-come-true of a grind. So here I am, frothing to share with you the events of the past 48 hours. On Sunday, I'll have a piece on seeding and bracketing, my loves and laments.

By the way, here's the field of 68 we concluded on, as if the season ended Wednesday night. I'll have more on this in tomorrow's piece. The irrational responses -- some of them tongue-in-cheek -- on Twitter made the entire process worthwhile. If only Jay Bilas had backlashed at us, then it truly would have been a Selection Sunday simulation.

Off camera, NCAA director of media relations David Worlock spellbinds us with his humor and deflection of the issues. (NCAA)

Now, let’s return to the RPI. Here’s my thing. I don’t have an issue with it being in the tool belt. It’s probably always going to be something that factors in, and I’m just going to have to live with that like I live with the cowlicks that command my hairstyle. The RPI generally organizes teams in a reasonable way when it comes to clustered arrangement of the best-to-worst tiers of teams. That said, why can’t the RPI get treated like every other rankings system: equally? Right now, it’s not. Right now, as it's been for the past 30 years, despite semi-annual adjustments to the bare-bones formula (that's what makes it bad and manipulable),  the Ratings Percentage Index remains the favorite flavor to savor for picking the "best" teams into the field.

The NCAA allows (but from what I interpreted, does not heartily endorse) any Selection Committee member to use Sagarin, KenPom, LRMC, Massey or any type of ratings system (including — WHAT — the Coaches’ Poll? It’s true, unfortunately). Those systems are not brought up on the big screen, unless by request, which never happened at our mock.

I'm guessing its seldom a Pomeroy team page will get clicked to the projector screen this year, too, especially since it's now subscription-based, and that $20 annual fee might be a touch too much.  

The RPI is the peanut butter that keeps the primary data smudged together for the Selection Committee. It still permeates the process. And the NCAA still wants to deny that. The NCAA likes to say bringing up a team’s specific RPI ranking doesn’t often come up when debating two teams’ inclusion or seeding. While that’s true, from the outset, the organization, presentation and general data on a team is dressed up in an RPI shirt with an RPI hat and a cute pair of RPI gloves.

On a few occasions, NCAA tournament Poobah Greg Shaheen (who, along with 2012 Selection Committee chair Jeff Hathaway, was awesome) would say, “OK, how many times did you find yourself talking about RPI in the past 10 minutes?” or something to that effect. No one responded with:




"A halfway decent amount!"

But that's not the point, because, as if you're being hypnotized into a train of reason and deduction, the RPI is placed right in front of the committee members’ faces from the start of the process, and I sincerely doubt they deviate from the materials and data given to them by the NCAA and its computer sorting/ranking/bracketing/filterin
g system (which is a slick, impressive computer program). This year, the NCAA has made public for the first time its Nitty Gritty (yes, that’s a capital N and G) sheets. These sheets rank teams by RPI. Immediately, you’re sorting teams in accordance with a flawed system.  Within the Nitty Gritty you’ll see nine of the 16 columned categories are RPI-dictated.

It doesn’t stop there. On team sheets and in side-by-side comparisons, the only metric numbers available are RPI. It's very easy to use the data baked into the NCAA's team sheets and use that in addition to eye test discussion to draw conclusions. In such a scenario, which is one that occurred over and over and over at the mock, you're being unfair and myopic to the process. And more than inclusion to the field, you're jeopardizing fair and realistic seeding -- something, again, I'll get to in Sunday's post.

Why not rank teams with a median of four, five or six respected, mainstream rankings systems, such as the ones listed above? The reason the NCAA doesn't is because some of the systems account for future results, and they don't want any predictive measures entering into the process. I say: the RPI is only one net, and so you've got many holes. The more nets you throw on top of it, the more reasonable general conclusion you can come to, and so fewer and fewer holes are possible in the rankings system. Keep the Nitty Gritty, but tweak:

  • An average ranking tally from RPI, Sagarain, LRMC, KenPom, Massey, and maybe even the brand-new BPI. This will be your master ranking.
  • A neutral-court record. It's glaringly absent from the Nitty Gritty, yet it's part what the NCAA tournament is all about: winning games on neutral courts. 
  • Get rid of conference record. Those are on team sheets and are not paramount to the grand overview the Nitty Gritty aspires to be.
  • Instead of "Record against RPI 1-25, 1-50" etc., give a record against the conglomerate. More inclusion from all systems eliminates the RPI's influence over the Nitty Gritty and general impression committee members glean when absorbing all this information.

I’ve been talking in geek speak for a few grafs here, so let me stop for a second and emphasize that I are pretty much everyone else relied heavily on instinct and eye tests, too. That’s a large part of the discussion. Recalling when a team won or lost and what those circumstances came down to. Debating a team’s merit based on its body of work, its best wins and worst losses: all of those things were a backdrop to the shirts vs. skins question.

Beyond all else, right now, who do you take on a neutral court in a shirts against skins game. Go with your hunch if data is too overwhelming and inconclusive.

Another scenario/question the NCAA said gets brought up frequently during the real selection process: Which team would you rather face in the tournament if it started tomorrow? Whatever team looks more appealing, the other one should be the pick. I liked this. Pragmatism helps, and it's good to glance away from the computer screens and go eye to eye with others when breaking down the bracket.

During the process, my partner, Rush the Court founder and EIC Randy McClure (that's him in the indie-rock glasses in the photo above) found ourselves constantly discussing a team’s merit, but also referencing Pom, Sag, LRMC and the NCAA-organized team sheets. We compared rankings and looked for outliers in the process. It was meticulous. We were frequently the last ones to submit our votes for teams as we whittled down the field (this became fodder for Shaheen to tease us), and the reason was we wanted to be thorough.

From that, here’s my conclusion: I don’t think NCAA Selection Committee members are using all available, valuable tools when picking and seeding teams. I think it’s too much information; there’s too much discussion, and the ease of the NCAA team sheets and the debates that come with it are too easy to cling to/subconsciously rely on. You have to open separate web browsers and constantly click band and forth between rankings systems. Why do that when you’ve got basic — and flawed — data in front of you that’s brought up simply by asking, “Can we get a side-by-side of Cincinnati and Middle Tennessee State?”

The process is tedious, because it needs to be, but it's still not completely all-inclusive. We'll know the NCAA truly respects other rankings systems and isn't subjective to the RPI before all else when it takes the initiative to include other credible, established rankings systems into its team sheets, computer program and debates. 

I happily admit, though, for me, whenever it's too close to call, I'll always go back to shirts vs. skins. Who you got?

Posted on: January 6, 2012 3:19 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 3:58 pm

NCAA still not showing enough transparency

By Matt Norlander

We'll never stop second-guessing the NCAA tournament  Selection Committee the Monday morning following Selection Sunday. It's masochistic American tradition to harangue the 10 earnest, knowledgeable members in charge of selecting and seeding the world's greatest sporting event.

But the NCAA is somewhat determined to mute the cries and complaints. In what it thinks amounts to a big step forward in transparency, earlier this week the NCAA announced it would "lift the curtain" on the process of selecting 68 basketball teams each March.

It's a noble effort, but one that falls well short of what most are asking the outfit to do. I applaud the NCAA for wanting to let more people see how the sausage gets made, but the real decisions behind how and where teams are placed will remain cloaked. (Part of that is OK. Again, we'll never settle the debate, even if the Committee was completely honest and forthright afterward.)

The crux of the matter here is, the NCAA thinks you want to and should care about the RPI. Here we go again with the RPI, which is worse than snow in September. The RPI is part of nitty-gritty reports, which house some essential information, but also glean a lot of their data off the RPI, like strength of schedule and records against top-25 -50 and -100 teams. Again, all of that data is per the RPI system, which is worse than stubbing your toe in the dark.

If you'd like to see what a nitty-gritty report is, have at it. Here's more from the NCAA:

“The bottom line is that the more we can do to enhance and further inform that discussion and debate through transparency, the more you can have thorough discussion,” said Division I Men’s Basketball chair Jeff Hathaway. “When the field is announced, everybody will have had the opportunity throughout the regular season to go back and look at the information, just as if they were sitting on the committee.”

The RPI is just one of the tools both committees use to select, seed and bracket the Division I basketball championships.

It also might be the worst one. I will get the chance to confirm that when I travel to Indianapolis for the mock selection process in mid-February (an opportunity I'm thrilled to finally get to take advantage of). What's harrowing to me -- the NCAA revealed in its release that it uses the RPI to select and seed in everything from field hockey to women's lacrosse to water polo. Not water polo, no! The RPI should be pretty much eliminated from the deduction and selection process. Until that happens, the field of 68 will be, in part, influenced by a flawed measuring tool.

Elsewhere, Seth Davis suggested the committee go for something that would be a lot of fun to see, but cause so much more arguing than we need: a full 1-through-68 seeding list. We already get a general idea of the order; duh, it's there in the seeding. I don't think we need to know which team just failed to miss the cut of being a 6 or a 7 seed, even if that is a critical distinction in the bracket. I'd love to know it, but you're inviting that many more petty arguments to squeeze into a 48-hour window.

More from Hathaway: “Our work isn’t simply based on numerical information. If it was, anyone could just put it in a computer and look at the results. Committee members are watching hundreds of games on television and in person throughout the season. Any committee member past or present will tell you the value of the eyeball test is a key part of the evaluation process.”

The nebulous "feel" people have for teams probably amounts to the most fun, and frustration, in the process. We'd all love to be a fly on the wall when those debates are happening. Then we'd love to mutate from a fly into the Hulk and scream at these lucky SOBs who are ruining everything for the 30th year in a row, am I right, people? We could do it so much better.

Which leads to the other problem that doesn't get addressed by the NCAA. Everyone involved comes from the same asylum (I say it endearingly). The committee is comprised of eight athletic directors and two conference commissioners. Let's spice up the pot and get two more voices in there, two people who don't work for the NCAA or any member institution. A variance of backgrounds, so long as they're related to the sport and people who clearly have the credentials, would be a good thing.

The NCAA tournament is equal parts fun, critical, monetarily vital and essential to the college sports experience. So it's then wrong that there's still too much haze around how teams get selected and who goes where. For something this big, we should have more insight. The NCAA earns a dose of credit for letting us put our ear against the door with this initiative, but it's past time to let us get in the room, the real room, when the final slashes, additions and subtractions are being done and examine the process.

Until then we'll be here, complaining in the hallway.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:34 pm

Hathaway focused on chairman duties

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Jeff Hathaway was sitting a few rows back, watching Missouri pull away from Villanova at Madison Square Garden.

The NCAA men's basketball committee chairman began his season with the game aboard the aircraft carrier in San Diego, was in New York for Coach K's record-setting 903rd victory, went to Kansas City for the CBE Classic, back to Madison Square Garden to the Preseason NIT and was back in New York again on Tuesday.

I joked with him that he should be the best committee chair in the history of the position.

"That's serious pressure," he laughed.

But this is Hathaway's full-time job these days, after basically being forced to resign from his AD duties at UConn. The Big East basically created a position for him -- a consultant to commissioner John Marinatto -- so that he could serve out his spot as committee chair.

"I really wanted to finish my term and my fifth year," Hathaway said. "It's an incredible experience, a labor of love."

"I'm glad and fortunate it all worked out," he added.

Hathaway said he'll watch plenty of games this season, whether it's in-person or at home on DirecTV.

"You can't go to too many games because you can get more done at home watching," he said. "So you have to find a good balance."

Hathaway said he misses being on campus and the interaction with faculty and students -- and his goal is to get another athletic director position in the future.

But for now?

"I'm just focused on this," he said.

My guess is he'll be far more prepared for that Sunday interview in March than Gene Smith was last year.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: August 20, 2011 11:32 am
Edited on: August 20, 2011 12:06 pm

NCAA responds to Hathaway leaving UConn

By Matt Norlander

Jeff Hathaway did in fact end up "retiring" Friday, shortly after news reports surfaced that he was done at UConn.

"It has been incredibly rewarding to have collaborated with so many exceptional individuals during this proud period of academic and athletic excellence," Hathaway by way of a statement. "After 20 years of being associated with UConn, I felt the time was right for me to pursue new challenges. I wish the very best to all those associated with UConn athletics, and to this great university, now and long into the future."

A little surprised by the kind words, considering Hathaway was effectively shoved out the door? That's because his agreement to leave includes a clause that states he can't turn heel on his former employer, a school that he worked at for nearly two decades.

Hathaway's departure presents a new opportunity for UConn, but that can be addressed later. What about the NCAA? Hathaway is the chair of the 2011-12 Selection Committee. He's the guy who has to deal with media and fan scrutiny in the seconds, hours and days after the brackets are revealed for the NCAA tournament.

And now he's no longer affiliated with a member institution of the NCAA. This situation, I believe, is unprecedented. The chairman suddenly no longer working for anyone. On one hand, it's a good thing -- he'll have all the time in the world to watch as many games as possible! But on the other, you've got a somewhat-disgraced former athletic director out on the street and simultaneously being the face of your most publicly known committee.

This was the NCAA's response to this transgression, per VP of communications Bob Williams:

“Earlier today, Jeff Hathaway informed Greg Shaheen, NCAA Interim Executive Vice-President of Championships and Alliances, of this evening’s announcement of his retirement from the University of Connecticut.

Mr. Hathaway is concluding the fourth of his five-year term on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.

In the near future, our staff will work with Mr. Hathaway to determine the best approach regarding the balance of his term, including the status of his service as chair the committee during the 2011-12 academic year."

Ominous. I've put in further questions to the NCAA regarding Hathaway's status, and if there's currently any legislation that prohibits someone from participating on the Selection Committee if they're not employed by a member institution. This post will be updated when I can get a response.

Update: I have spoke with a source at the NCAA. There is a rule in place that states a non-employed member of the NCAA can't be on the Selection Committee. But the NCAA isn't quite sure how they're going to tackle this delicate situation right now, as it's never occurred before. My completely speculative guess: Hathaway won't be on your TV screen the night of Selection Sunday, 2012.

Photo: AP

Posted on: July 27, 2011 10:43 am
Edited on: July 27, 2011 11:22 am

Calhoun could stop all this, but he won't

By Gary Parrish

I don't know whether Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has explicitly told the president of his university that he wants his athletic director fired. How could I? But I do know this: If Calhoun -- the most powerful man on campus, by far -- wanted to stop what appears to be the imminent buyout of Jeff Hathaway, he could. But Calhoun doesn't want to do that. So he won't. And that's why the quote he delivered to ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil seems silly and insincere.

"I don’t want to see anybody lose a job."

Really, Jim?

If that were true, Hathaway's job would be safe.

But the reality is that most believe the only reason Hathaway's job is in jeopardy is because Calhoun, for lack of a better word, hates Hathaway. That's the picture painted by almost everybody close to the Connecticut program -- including Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs, who described Hathaway as a "dead AD walking" while adding that Hathaway "never had a chance against the baddest man in Connecticut."

"I have nothing against anybody."

That's another quote Calhoun delivered to O'Neil.

It's also unbelievable.

But can you really blame Calhoun for thinking he can say something so absurd?

The man, just last season, basically got away with using a booster turned agent to buy a prospect, and then he won the national championship, too. So I completely understand why Calhoun thinks he can use his power to remove his athletic director while simultaneously claiming he has no interest in doing so. What I don't understand, though, is why anybody would believe Calhoun when he says he has "nothing against anybody" and doesn't "want to see anybody lose a job."

If that were true, Calhoun could stop this.

But I bet you all the money Josh Nochimson gave Nate Miles that he won't.

Photo: AP
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com