NCAA Mock Championship Selection Presentation

A year or so ago I had a couple of coaches told me about a presentation that Jan Gentry (NCAA Associate Directory of Championships and Alliances) gave at the convention that dealt with how teams are selected for the NCAA championships. I never got the coaches to send me a link to the presentation but I did recently stumble on the NCAA’s webinar site that contained (I think) the presentation. What was interesting at the time was that the coaches came away with the impression that the selection committees were being told not to simply go off of the criteria as a checklist but to look deeper into the teams. You can click HERE for the presentation, by the way. I don’t have the audio or transcript that went with the presentation but I did want to go through the information and provide my thoughts.

First off, the presentation is very clear about muting your phone and/or computer so please do that now.

Go ahead. I’m serious.

The presentation goes into the selection criteria and provides the 5 we’ve come to know and love so well:

  • Won-lost percentage
  • Head-to-head
  • Results versus common opponents
  • Results versus ranked teams
  • Strength of Schedules (SOS)

It also goes into the secondary criteria and then has a slide on the “Optional Selection Criteria”, which must be approved by the DIII Championship Committee. There is no mention when this must occur but I assume it should be done prior to the season. With that said, I know that people in the room (in the past) have told me that the first criterion (below) has been considered. The two optional criteria are:

  • Won-lost percentage against last 25% of the schedule
  • SOS multiplier

I’m not 100% sure what SOS multiplier is but I assume it’s a multiplier that reduces the value of a home win and increases the value of an away win.

The presentation then goes into Bracketing and Site Selection and frankly I’m not too concerned with Site Selection. Go look at the presentation if you differ in this opinion. For bracketing, the presentation makes clear that selected teams are grouped geographically. Teams and sites will then be matched up based on proximity and using the 500-mile rule. (The 500-mile rule basically means that flights are required for any travel outside of 500-miles so the NCAA really wants to keep teams within 500-miles of the host site.) There is another note that indicates that brackets (or regions) can be balanced as long as the 500-mile rule is not violated. This last note is the big bugaboo every year when we see brackets of death and then see brackets of void, which typically occur in the northeast.

A few slides later, the presentation against mentions assignment of teams and lists three factors and I assume these are in priority order:

  • Minimization of flights
  • Consideration of travel time/expenses and missed class time
  • Balancing of relative strength of brackets

Boy. Glad we snuck in that “missed class time” factor.

Again, it’s that third factor that tends to bother most people and ask why it’s not considered higher. I would probably insert a factor just ahead of that one, which would read “Can we be done because it’s really late.” (That’s not meant to be mean spirited because selection day/night/morning is very long, but I really think it’s easy to just be done instead of making some much-needed tweaks that may require buy-in from the offended region.)

The same slide talks about “additional considerations” that include:

  • Goal of not requiring teams to travel more than two time zones.
  • Goal to avoid teams driving past a site to reach their assigned site.
  • Consideration for travel/site assignment in previous years.

I’m not particularly thrilled with these because I believe they simply shield the northeast regions from balancing out brackets.

Seeding of the brackets is discussed and there is a note that says they may be seeded based on regional basis using selection criteria, but geographical proximity takes precedence over seeding. I don’t quite understand this because once the 8-teams are selected for a regional does it really matter about proximity? I guess maybe you ensure that a team that doesn’t have to drive as much play in an earlier match? There have been some weird seeds in the past and maybe this explains it, but I know there doesn’t seem to be an issue assigning west coast teams the earliest match in the central or eastern time zones.

What I found the most interesting was a section on their score reporting system. This system is basically the way the NCAA conveys team’s qualifications to the selection committee. The top-level screen shows the criteria in a very cut and dry approach meaning that there is no depth inside the numbers. You can select teams to compare but, again, the results seem to be just numbers. You can drill down where you can see a team’s opponents, but I don’t see where this screen can be compared against other teams. My biggest concern here is that there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to compare results against ranked opponents. This has been the big soapbox issue for Ricky Nelson and myself and, frankly, this presentation really leads me to believe that the selection committee doesn’t do this (without great difficulty).

The presentation continues with a mock ranking process and who doesn’t love a good mock?!? I’d really love to see the notes with this slide because I believe this is where the coaches got the warm feels. Some concerns I see are that there is a note that says there is no priority to any of the criteria so the committee can “hang their hat” on different criteria on different comparisons. So, in summary, I can favor one criteria if it helps me here and then change it up and favor another one when it helps there. If this is the case then it’s just ridiculous! The goal is to get the best teams into the tournament. If you, as a committee member, believe that SOS is the highest priority criterion then you should roll with that and not change up when it doesn’t suit you. It could be that the verbal notes with this slide say, “DON’T DO THIS!”, but it doesn’t look that way. The slide also talks about objective versus subjective evaluations but with nothing else on the slide, I really don’t know what was suggested. It also mentions that the committee shouldn’t “just count columns”, which is a great message to get across. However, if you can’t properly evaluate the ranked wins column, I’m not sure how that helps.

I’ve heard from committee members that RPI is a player in selection and have often been confused by this. It’s not a criterion and the presentation actually makes this point. The problem comes in with the fact that the score reporting system provides RPI with the team sheets! I assume it does this as a way for the committee to gain depth (understanding) into the wins and losses but the issue is that it basically doubles up the SOS criterion. The committee is already considering SOS and now you are going to insert SOS via RPI into the other criterion. This simply doesn’t seem right especially when you consider that SOS will vary based on the regions simply because of the number of teams and conferences that are in a drivable distance. The more teams a school can select from when scheduling means they can pick and choose the traditional regional powers and improve their SOS. In addition, if you have a number of poor conferences in a region it means you can schedule the typical champion and be assured this team will have a good won/lost record. This simply can’t be done in the West Region, for instance.

Overall, just looking at the presentation, and I can see more clearly why the committee seems to overlook really good teams when it comes to selection. The apparent lack of a way to compare two or more teams ranked wins is a killer. The insertion of RPI as basically the approved way to determine the quality of won/lost and ranked wins means SOS is a player in three of the five criteria. The committee can do whatever they want but, again, they are pressed for time. If the tool they use to determine the selection is biased then it’s not surprising that the final selections can reflect that bias.

Again, I didn’t hear the words behind the presentation and the coaches I talked with liked the message that was delivered. The selections this past season were also pretty on point so maybe all is good but I definitely see problems. My suggestions would be to make the criteria the criteria and provide a priority so schools know what the rules are going to be. Don’t add in optional criteria unless you want to make it primary and while you are at it get rid of the secondary criteria. The secondary criteria are pointless as it relies on non-DIII results that most schools don’t have. To split a tie between teams on this basis is just unfair. Get rid of your goals for bracketing. They are there simply to help the northeast. Figure out how to properly evaluate ranked wins or get rid of it as a criterion. The tool has to support this process or what’s the use of the tool? You want to think outside the box? Why not consider past history when making selections? Make regions and teams earn their at-large bids. You have a team with good criteria from a region that has never won a championship and didn’t travel out of their area to really compete and show their worth? Why reward them with a bid? Just a thought. Finally, you can have SOS or you can have RPI, but you can’t have both. The committee is going to like it because it gives them an easy way out when evaluating teams. Here’s the thing to remember; the beauty of selection is not in the easy but in the difficult.

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12 thoughts on “NCAA Mock Championship Selection Presentation

  1. Love the point about past history. The West can win the title 2 out of 3 years, and then lose their regional? I watched teams in the SCIAC beat up on each other for 4 years, and then get only 2 out of 4 deserving teams into the tournament because the Northeast has all the ranked teams, and they stay in the area to play each other. The West region is generally the toughest region to get out of, and to force the top teams in the West to start out on the East Coast is head scratching at best.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m encouraged by the directive to not count columns. I’d be fine of that were the only slide in the presentation because everything improves if that basic tenet is applied. Differences of opinion will happen, but the process is the important piece.

    Not sure if everyone saw the news awhile back, but the pilot program that prohibits conference teams from meeting during the first round of the NCAA postseason is being paused.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw that note but thought it wasn’t a pilot program for volleyball? Been doing that for awhile. Thought it applied to other sports where that was just started?

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    1. I can’t think of the last time conference members met in the first round in volleyball. I know the 2016 UTA Regional had their seeding up ended to avoid conference matches.

      I honestly thought it was a thing since 2013. Maybe just a goal?

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      1. The pilot program certainly started because of football in the South and West regions, especially as a mandate to prohibit Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor from meeting in the first round each year. Most other sports avoided those matchups either by coincidence or out of courtesy.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I mentioned it because the West Region would probably be the likeliest to have conference teams meet in the first round now that it isn’t specifically prohibited.

    Oshkosh and Platteville meeting in the 2007 first round was a bummer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sorry to have to bring up bad news but the new 10 region ranking formula for D3 was announced earlier today (media center has article). I am going to do a volleytalk post on it.
    As you know i am a NE region person, but this is just a mistake for volleyball.

    Liked by 1 person

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