Nothing Dan Guerrero does during his tenure as UCLA's athletic director may compare to his past year as chairman of the men's basketball selection committee.
Guerrero has managed the machine that is UCLA athletics quite well. The football and men's basketball teams (the top two revenue-producing sports) are on solid footing. The baseball team lost the national title in the 11th inning at the College World Series, while the softball team won the CWS championship, and the women's basketball team finished second in a strong Pac-10.
AP Photo/Ric FrancisNo previous chair had to deal with as much upheaval as Dan Guerrero did in the past year.
Guerrero doesn't have to sweat much at UCLA. He did as the committee chairman. No previous chair had to deal with as much upheaval as he did in the past year.
He was fortunate that last season's NCAA tournament ended up having epic moments with upsets like Northern Iowa over Kansas and Butler's near-miss in the final possession to possibly shock the sport and take down Duke in the national title game.
But Guerrero had to lead the committee toward a decision of opting out of its television contract with CBS, securing a new 14-year, $10.8 billion deal from a combined CBS/Turner bid and figuring out a format that would appease all parties -- the automatic qualifying one-bid conference members, the power-six conferences that are essentially gaining three more at-large schools and the new television partners looking for a splash to tip off the deal. That's why the "First Four" compromise, announced Monday, of two games between the last four at-large teams and two games between the last four automatic qualifiers was probably the best-case scenario.
Guerrero said Tuesday that the toughest part of the past year was deciding to opt out of the CBS contract with three years remaining and toss out the bids to new suitors. Ultimately, CBS partnered up with Turner to secure a contract, and the decision to expand the field was folded into the television deal.
"The expansion was a byproduct of the negotiation itself," Guerrero said. "We were looking at the long-range future of the association and membership and whether this was the time or if we should wait. The circumstances were for us to move forward. We danced around different options and field size, and in the end, we were able to get a deal that preserved the future of the association and membership and allowed us to expand."
Guerrero and new NCAA tournament committee chairman Gene Smith, the athletic director of Ohio State, were two committee members, along with others, who weren't in favor of 96 teams. Expanding by three at-large teams from 34 to 37 helped power-six conferences who might have been pushing for more access to the tournament. Ultimately, it allowed the new television contract to be enhanced with more name teams in the field.
Guerrero said you can't ignore the role of television in tipping off the tournament with some at-large schools in a first-round game. But putting the last eight at-large schools in the first round wouldn't have been prudent since four at-large schools would be gone before Thursday.
"This just made a lot of sense," Guerrero said. "You've got three more at-large teams in the field that won't be in the NIT. They have an opportunity to be in the tournament, win a game against a like team and advance. It will be great for us to watch. They will be slotted where they should be against their next opponent and move forward. I believe the integrity of the bracket still exists. There is now more drama on the front end."
Guerrero technically doesn't turn over the committee to Smith until September, and with a few details still to be worked out on the new 68-team format, he will be fixture throughout the summer.
Guerrero and Smith said Tuesday they expect more discussions in coming weeks with NCAA staff about when -- and where -- the First Four games will be played. The most likely scenario is to play two doubleheaders on Tuesday and Wednesday, having one of the 16 seeded first-round games and one of the at-large first-round games on a Tuesday with the other two on Wednesday. This would allow the NCAA tournament to be on from Tuesday to Sunday instead of the opening round being on an island on a Tuesday night as it has been in the past. Smith said he is pushing for both days to remain in Dayton, saying the Flyers athletic department can handle it. However, Turner and CBS will have to weigh in on the format as well. The First Four games will be televised on truTV.
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyOhio State AD Gene Smith will take over the duties as committee chairman in September.
Smith said there were some "light bulb" moments when the committee met in Chicago the last week in June, coming to a consensus on the model.
"Quite frankly, I was just glad we weren't sitting there talking about 96," Smith said. "Dan did a great job of talking about all the issues. That's what a chair should do. Now I'll just be like the previous chairs like Mike Slive [SEC commissioner] and Tom O'Connor [George Mason athletic director] that come in and collaborate."
O'Connor said Guerrero was an excellent chairman.
"He used common sense in all decisions that were made during the past year," O'Connor said. "He was honest and straight with the media and former committee members. He is not a tunnel-vision person, and he truly cares about doing the right thing with all of the issues that came up this year. Gene will be the same as the incoming chair."
Princeton athletic director and former chair, Gary Walters, added: "Dan and the committee have balanced merit [the last four at-large teams selected] with opportunity [the last four AQs], hitting the sweet spot that makes the tournament great and American society just. Whatever the committee did or did not do was going to have its supporters and/or detractors, but I believe they acted wisely in the interests of all constituencies. The committee members clearly left their respective institutional affiliations at the door and acted with great integrity."
Smith will help in administering the new tournament, so he's not out of the heat. He'll have to handle questions if there are issues on where the at-large teams are slotted. But the hard work is already done.
Smith will spend August working with his fellow Big Ten athletic directors on how to put the new 12-team Big Ten into two divisions and schedule for football and men's and women's basketball after the league added Nebraska. He said the league will meet in August on the subject of formats in scheduling and divisional alignment. He will have his hands full with his own conference, which is a good thing considering the format for the NCAA tournament has already been decided. That might have been too much on one plate.
Guerrero, along with NCAA Vice President Greg Shaheen, had to coordinate the efforts at a time when the NCAA was going through a vacuum of leadership after the death of the previous NCAA President Myles Brand in September 2009.
"He has been the steadying hand of a leader during remarkable times," Shaheen said of Guerrero. "Between the tournament structure, media contracts and continuing evolution of the championship, Dan's combination of common sense leadership and genuine care for the history and importance of the championship was ideally suited for these times. And throughout, he made it look effortless."
Guerrero said he was simply fortunate to be the chairman at the time all of the change was occurring. He's right. But he easily could have led the committee down the wrong path.
He does have a calming sense about him. He is a listener and has made himself quite accessible. Guerrero tends to be a consensus builder and doesn't make rash decisions, which was needed during this past year. There are 10 members of the committee, fellow conference athletic directors and other friends in the business that could have pulled the chairman in various directions.
You must be able to find common ground. He did.
"We're gamers, and I had to be the face of the committee during this time," Guerrero said. "Now it's life back to normal."