Selection committee to start earlier in hopes of streamlining process

INDIANAPOLIS -- NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Tom O'Connor understands how chaotic those last few minutes before the 65-team field is finalized can be on Selection Sunday.

So when he became chairman of the NCAA's highest-profile committee this year, O'Connor wanted to give his colleagues a break.

The 10 committee members who will select the tournament teams are scheduled to arrive one day earlier than usual during selection week, a move intended to provide more time for debate and less tension in the frantic finish leading up to the announcement in Indianapolis.

"First, we're doing it so we can have more discussion on the selections," O'Connor said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "That's the most important part of the process because you can't be seeded or bracketed if you're not selected."

Publicly, fans will see little change.

The committee will still spend 12-hour days deciphering numbers, schedules, good victories, bad losses and how injuries or player suspensions may have affected a team's performance throughout the season. Committee members will just have an one more day to sift through all of the information and make their decisions.

But behind the scenes, the procedure will be vastly different.

O'Connor, the athletic director at George Mason, and his colleagues will spend the next month using conference calls to get familiar with the selection process, discuss referees' assignments and even debate their initial choices.

By taking care of those procedural matters before coming to Indy, O'Connor believes committee members can spend more time debating and perfecting the pairings.

"The second point of all this is that we've been a little rushed in the bracketing process, and it gives us a little more time to really go through the nuances," he said. "So if we pick up more time in the bracketing, it gives us a little more time to look back and see what we've done."

The last-minute rush has led to past mistakes, such as the year Brigham Young was scheduled to play on a Sunday in the regional finals -- something the school prohibits because of its religious values. Eventually, the committee corrected the problem by moving Brigham Young to a regional that played on a Saturday.

There will be other modifications, too.

Traditionally, the committee has used a team's record in its last 10 games as one factor in determining which teams make the field. This year, the committee will look at a team's record over the final 12 games because of the increase in exempt games typically played outside the continental U.S.

"We just thought this year that it would give a clearer picture of what's happening," O'Connor said. "It's a fair point to look at because you're looking at teams that are getting hot or jelling at the right time and might be playing their best basketball of the season. If you're losing, that will tell you something as well."

One element that remains unchanged is how the committee views conference tournaments.

O'Connor acknowledged he wants to avoid the temptation of "impulse-buying" based on those results while the committee debates who gets in and who is left out.

"It's not a change at all," O'Connor said. "If two teams played during the regular season and split and then play again, my rule from the playground days say if you win then you continue to play. It could affect your seed, but you'd still have to go back and look at the whole picture because you'd be putting more emphasis on that one game."

Otherwise, the committee will be looking at all the usual barometers to fill those precious few final spots.

And adding a few hours to the process, O'Connor believes, could make a big difference.

"We think if we pick up a half hour here or an hour there, we can come up with a better product," he said. "Our goal is to select the 34 best teams, and it is of the utmost importance to get that right for the student-athletes."