Economy won't play larger role

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA promises not to bust a budget or a bracket when March Madness arrives.

NCCA tournament selection committee chairman Mike Slive said his group still will try to keep teams close to their home fans, as it has in the past, but not if it would result in unfair competition.

"We're concerned, as are all Americans, but I think our primary obligation is to provide the nation with a geographically and balanced national tournament," Slive said during Tuesday's conference call with reporters.

The recession has some schools scrambling to fill budget holes and seats.

Last month, The Associated Press reported Stanford University projects a $5 million shortfall over the next three years and is considering reducing its staff. At Indiana, athletic director Fred Glass has reduced ticket costs for balcony seating to $5, hoping to improve slipping attendance.

Other schools are concerned about rising travel costs, which sometimes escalate during the 65-team tournament.

In 2002, the NCAA adopted a system designed to keep schools close to home as possible, by ending the practice of having an entire eight-team section of the bracket play in one place.

But last year George Mason and Winthrop, Southern schools, went to Denver while Boise State, from Idaho, wound up playing in Birmingham, Ala.

"The bracketing principles are designed to place teams as geographically close to their home city as possible, and we certainly understand the economic times," Slive said. "But I don't think we're going to violate those principles."

Selection committee members consider each team's individual resume, regardless of conference affiliation. They use computer-generated rankings, nonconference strength of schedule ratings, head-to-head results, injuries, how teams fared in their final 12 games and even consider teams they've seen play.

They can also use a computer program to determine how many miles each school would travel.

It's a program the committee has used since 2002, and while it can sometimes help the committee decide whether to send a team to, say, Birmingham or Denver, Slive insists travel expenses will not play a more significant role in seeding and bracketing than they have in the past.

That leaves the committee back with its more customary debate about who's in and who's out.

One question Slive anticipates being asked between now and Selection Sunday, March 15, is how many teams can be chosen from one conference.

There is no limit, meaning the Big East, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences, which have a combined 16 teams in this week's Top 25, could have a huge presence in March.

"It's a good time to remind people that each team is chosen based on its own merit and being in a particular conference does not help or hurt your chances of making the tournament," he said. "It's the committee's job to pick the best of the best."