The Division I Men's Basketball Committee will propose legislation in October to expand its membership from 10 to 12.
This committee is a distinguished, if not openly envied, group of men and women who annually (when a pandemic doesn't dictate otherwise) seed and select the 68-team NCAA Tournament.
"If it happens, and we're hopeful it will happen, it wouldn't become effective until the '21-22 season," NCAA Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt told CBS Sports.
Since Gavitt began overseeing the NCAA Tournament in 2012, protocols for building the bracket have improved. There's miles to go, but generally speaking Gavitt and others have more properly guided the process with veracious data. That's boosted the credibility of the committee.
Its newfound ambition to expand the table for two additional seats offers another opportunity to strengthen procedures.
Selection committee, please don't NCAA this. Don't do the boring, reductive thing.
Where the NCAA ought not look for its next two committee members is inside its ranks, or at least not explicitly. It needs to sidestep status quo and specifically not appoint two more college administrators.
Sure there are rules to this, but the NCAA adds clauses and amendments with abandon -- its rule book is 439 pages -- so creating another one to go along with the forthcoming increase from 10 to 12 shouldn't be difficult. There is no commandment dictating committee size and there shouldn't be a strict one for who can and can't serve. Judgment of the committee should suffice. The first selection committee for the tournament was formed in 1960 and consisted of five people; 142 nominations have been approved since, all of them athletic directors or conference commissioners.
Every single one.
It's time for new blood.
But first, here's the language the selection committee needs the NCAA to tweak before it can get there. Bylaw 21.7:
21.7.1 Eligibility for Membership. 22.214.171.124 "On the Staff." Individuals serving on Division I committees, or as Division I representatives on Association-wide or common committees shall be salaried on a regular basis by a Division I institution or conference and perform a regular staff function representing at least 50 percent of the normal workload for a staff member at that institution or conference, unless otherwise specified. In addition, a conference office staff member must be employed at a single or multisport conference that meets the requirements for automatic qualification and he or she must be nominated by a multisport conference set forth in Constitution 4.2.1. (Adopted: 1/14/97 effective 8/1/97, Revised: 10/31/02 effective 8/1/03, 1/8/07, 8/7/14)
That basically says if you want to be on a committee at the D-I level you have to be employed by an institution that makes money in part because it's affiliated with the NCAA. That needn't to be the case with the selection committee, though. Not when it's responsible for constructing the most important economic revenue producer by far in college athletics. The charge is to seed and select the 68 best and properly qualified teams in men's Division I basketball -- and to do it with a process that is as accurate as possible (while allowing for reasonable dispute).
I'll tell you what I don't accept: that the 10 people most appropriately qualified to do this all happen to hold high-ranking college-admin positions, with few having a background in data analysis, let alone extensive college basketball playing or coaching experience.
Look at the College Football Playoff selection committee: it's welcomed in university professors, distinguished citizens, former coaches and players, even a veteran media member. A diversity of voices. And that's just with a four-team playoff and an overall ranking of 25 teams. The task of seeding and selecting the men's basketball tournament is obviously more ornate -- why restrict who gets in the room? Yes, there's the usual coterie of ADs and commissioners on the CFP committee, but its roster of voters makes the Division I Men's Basketball Committee look antiquated.
It is a good thing that the committee believes two more voices in the room would benefit the operation. But if you're going to do it, look beyond bureaucratic borders and bring in smart folks who can identify analytical debate points while still being just one voting piece of the puzzle.
Gavitt told me potential names have not been identified. Good. There is plenty of time to consider outside candidates.
"We're in that feedback phase now from the membership," he said. "So, anything like that could come back and be incorporated into a legislative package and proposal, but that's not where it is at the moment. Right now it's just concepts."
The best concept is avoiding tradition for tradition's sake. Keep evolving. If and when this bracket-building brain trust swells to 12, the NCAA should be courting savvy, hoop-knowing minds to vary up the room. Putting two more ADs on the board doesn't make for a more efficient process. And if Gavitt's been about one thing in his time as VP of men's basketball, it's efficiency. Awarding two more seats to gray-haired athletic directors isn't efficient, it's sectarianism.
I'll lean in more: at first blush, going to 12 smells of classic college-executive favoritism.
For college administrators, serving on the selection committee is the NCAA equivalent to receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom. It's the badge of honor. Men and women who make comfortable six-figure salaries willingly take the gig for five-year terms and subject themselves to hundreds of hours of work, only to be inevitably criticized for their biases and blind spots ... and they do it for free. They do it for free while having to run their own conferences or athletic departments. Taking the assignment presents practical issues ADs and commissioners bump up against regularly, sometimes forcing them to bow out before their term is up. If anything, you could make a convincing argument that athletic directors and conference commissioners are just the kinds of people who shouldn't comprise the committee.
The NCAA is prone to take up the cudgels on this -- it still won't allow for transparency by allowing any media for even one moment to observe the process. But if there's a person with the power, perspective and persuasion to make it happen, it's Gavitt. He had a lucrative opportunity in his lap this spring to leave the NCAA and take over as head of the NABC. He passed because he loves the job and the tournament too much.
Gavitt also knows there are still many ways to upgrade the selection committee and its procedures. This is an easy one.
The committee met virtually last week and will continue to do so every three-to-four weeks going forward, Gavitt told me. That is because it can't be caught flatfooted, as it has a lot to prepare for in the next eight months, given that we don't know if a college basketball season will be held and if so, what kind of game inventory that would mean. There will be contingency after contingency.
For example, the committee is not yet sure if the NCAA's trademarked NET sorting tool will be reliable if a season is reduced to fewer than 20 games or only consists of intra-conference competition. If someone from a data-driven background or someone with a distinguished history in basketball was already holding a committee seat, these issues might not be as daunting.
"Those kinds of scenarios as it relates to metrics, and the NET in particular ... how you would make those tough decisions?" Gavitt said. "It would be hard, but again goes back to observation and the human part of this. If you don't have as much quantifiable data to work with, then it's gonna require much more game watching, film watching relying on outside experts to help evaluate teams."
Instead, bring those outside experts inside. Permanently.