No Excuses for Bonehead Committee Picks

Here’s Billy Reed’s logical suggestions for fixing the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It makes a lot of sense. So, of course, none of this will happen.

By Billy Reed

Ordinarily I’m not a critic of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament committee. I don’t always agree with their selections and seedings, but I can usually see their logic. This year, though, the committee did such a lousy job that it deserves the beating it has been taking in the media.

There was no justification whatsoever for Florida getting a No. 2 seed and Kentucky a No. 4; for the Big East to get 11 teams in the field; or for the Louisville-Morehead State game being played in Denver.

The committee spurned Alabama despite its regular-season West Division championship in the Southeastern Conference and it thumbed its nose yet again at Virginia Tech and Coach Seth Greenburg for reasons unclear. It made Virginia Commonwealth a play-in team but gave Villanova a No. 9 seed in the East.

The incompetence was unusual for a committee that once was headed by plugged-in basketball lifers like C.M. Newton, Dave Gavitt, and other former coaches who know the tournament intimately from first-hand experience.

So what went wrong?

Well, for openers, this was the first NCAA tournament since 1972 that didn’t have Tom Jernstedt in charge. During his 38-year tenure as the tournament’s czar, it grew from 25 teams to 65 (it went to 68 this year). It also evolved into a national sporting phenomenon that generates $700 million in revenue for the NCAA.

His duties included everything from managing events to overseeing branding to negotiating TV and corporate-sponsorship contracts. He forged business alliances with savvy sports entrepreneurs such as Jim Host, the guru of college sports marketing, and developed credibility within the basketball community by consulting with coaches, former players, and officials.

He was replaced by Greg Shaheen, who carries the imposing title of Interim Executive Vice-President for Championships and Alliances. With all due respect to Shaheen, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the tournament committee performed so poorly its first year without Jernstedt’s leadership and guidance.

The committee’s makeup needs to be revamped, the sooner the better. Of the 10 current members, eight are athletics directors and two are conference commissioners. The only member who has ever coached a D-I men’s team is Stan Morrison, who coached at Pacific, Southern Cal, and San Jose State on the road to being the A.D. at UC-Riverside.

The committee chairman is Eugene Smith, the athletics director at Ohio State. He’s a football guy, having played defensive end at Notre Dame in the 1980s. He might have been distracted from his committee duties by the scandal involving football coach Jim Tressel. At least, that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Besides Morrison, here are the other eight committee members:

• Jeffrey A. Hathaway, athletics director at Connecticut. It was on his watch that basketball coach Jim Calhoun’s program became embroiled in a recruiting scandal that led to NCAA sanctions for the Hall-of-Fame coach.

• Lynn Hickey, athletics director at Texas-San Antonio and the second female to serve on the men’s tournament committee. At least she’s a former D-I basketball coach, having worked at Kansas State and Texas A&M.

• Mike Bobinski, athletics director at Xavier University. He’s a former Notre Dame baseball player. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two Notre Dame guys, neither of which played basketball.

• Dan Beebe, commission of the Big 12 Conference.

• Doug Fullerton, commissioner of the Big Sky Conference.

• Steve Orsini, the A.D. at Southern Methodist University and the third Notre Dame graduate on the committee.

• Ron Wellman, the athletics director at Wake Forest and the second former baseball player on the committee (he played at Bowling Green University).

• Scott Barnes, athletics director at Utah State.

With all due respect to the committee members, there’s not a one of them who’s a household name to hoops fans. There’s not a one who has hoops credentials that are anywhere close to Newton (former coach at Transylvania, Alabama, and Vanderbilt) or Gavitt (former coach at Providence and founder of the Big East).

So I ask you: How can we possibly trust this group to grasp the nuances, complexities, and intricacies of D-I basketball when they have so little background with it?

It’s not as if qualified individuals aren’t available. If I were Jernstedt’s successor, I’d make sure the committee was loaded with former coaches who have vast experience with the tournament and impeccable NCAA compliance records.

You want names? O.K., how about Bob Knight for starters? I don’t care if he is an ESPN commentator. His reputation for integrity is unimpeachable and his knowledge of the tournament is second to none.

I’d also be delighted to see the following on the committee: Lee Rose, Lute Olson, John Thompson, Don Donoher, Denny Crum, Christian Laettner, Jamal Mashburn, Quinn Buckner, Tom Jurich, and Dave Odom.

Give me a few minutes and I can come up with 20 more names that are better qualified to be on the committee than any of its current members. I mean, give me a break with the athletics directors from Texas-San Antonio and Utah State. Those two schools are not exactly synonymous with March Madness.

While we’re at it, let’s make some fundamental changes in the tournament format. It has become far more complicated that it needs to be. So let’s simply it by doing the following:

• Eliminate the play-in games. Only 64 get in. Period.

• Do not allow any conference to have more than six teams in the field.

• Do not allow any tournament game to start later than 8:30 p.m., Eastern Time.

• Go back to the original names of the regions – East, Mideast, Midwest, and West – and drop the confusing practice of having teams from different regions playing at the same first-round sites.

• Guarantee that the regular-season champions of each conference with an automatic bid will be assigned to a “home” region. This will help fans make early travel plans and allow the regular-season champs to play as close to home as possible.

• Here are the “home” regions:

East (10) – America East, ACC, Atlantic Sun, Atlantic 10, Big East, Colonial Athletic, Ivy, MAAC, Northeast, Patriot..

Mideast (8) – SEC, , OVC, Mid-American, Big South,, MEAC, Southern, Southland, SWAC,

Midwest (7) – Big 12, Big 10, C-USA, Missouri Valley, Summit, Sun Belt, Horizon.

West (6) – Pac 10, Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, West Coast, WAC.

• The conference tournament winners, if they were different from the regular-season champions, would be sprinkled, along with the at-large picks, among the regions. The committee would strive for competitive balance first, but take geography into consideration.

• In the case of disputed calls, referees would be required to answer questions submitted by the media to “pool” reporters. If not that, then referees would be required to submit to an interview with the network doing the game. Like all other participants, officials must be accountable to the public through the media.

To summarize, I recommend that the NCAA tournament committee be disbanded and reformed to include members with documented basketball knowledge and experience; that the tournament format be changed to benefit student-athletes and fans; that referees be held more accountable; and that referees be held more accountable for their calls.

I also think the NCAA should retain Tom Jernstedt as a consultant for the D-I basketball committee.

Any questions?