Pulling Back the Curtain on the NCAA Tournament Selection Process

Ryan ReschContributor IIIFebruary 17, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies holds the trophy as he and his team celebrate after defeating the Butler Bulldogs to win the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament by a score of 53-41 at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NCAA tournament may be one of the most anticipated events in American sports, but each year scores of people wonder how the 68 best teams in the country are chosen.

On Thursday, the NCAA released the process by which the men’s college basketball selection committee determines who gets to participate in March Madness.

To start, 31 teams will earn automatic bids by winning their conference. 30 of those 31 teams will earn their places upon claiming the championship of their respective conference tournament. Only the Ivy League conference will submit its regular season champion.

After that, most people have no idea how the other 37 teams are chosen.

The NCAA wanted to put an end to the myth that only a team’s RPI (rating percentage index) and high poll ranking were factored into a team’s selection.

Jeff Hathaway, chairman of the NCAA Basketball Committee, told the media via teleconference, “The bottom line is, we review each individual team sheet and each team is ‘an independent [team]’. We don’t look at conference RPI. We don’t look at what conference teams are affiliated with. We’re looking at the team’s individual merit.”

As such, the committee hoped to dispel rumors that certain teams are given advantages when it comes to tournament selection or that certain conferences are allotted a certain number of spaces each season.

The NCAA website even went so far as to publish, “Common Myth No. 1: The NCAA tournament selection committee gives Duke an easy road every year,” and attached a video further dispelling stories of this sort.

The commission, which is headed by Hathaway and comprised of seven university athletic directors and two conference commissioners, also takes into account personal viewings of each team.

“We need to go beyond the numbers,” Hathaway, the Big East conference advisor and former Connecticut athletic director, said, “… you need to watch teams play and I think the majority of us see teams play on multiple occasions. That gives you some further insight. How a team looks is crucial and we get out and see games throughout the season.”

The process the committee goes through begins back in November, when the group gathers and members begin to focus on their assigned teams. Upon completion of non-conference play in January, the members meet again to share what they have seen from each of their respective teams. In February the committee gathers again to run through a mock selection and then convene one last time, the Tuesday before Selection Sunday, to determine the final bracket.

Fans and sports analysts who are still interested in learning more about the NCAA tournament selection process can attend “Selection 101” at the NCAA’s website. Here viewers can interact with bracket templates, go further into how statistics are involved and take a “pop quiz” to determine if they are ready to be a part of the selection committee.