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:
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.
“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.
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.