Selection Sunday kicks off March Madness

By JeffGraveline

With conference tournaments underway or completed, the collective eyes of the men’s college basketball world have turned to March 14, Selection Sunday. On that day, the National Collegiate Athletic Association selection committee will announce the field of 65 teams that will compete for the title of NCAA men’s basketball champion in the

2009-10 season.

“March Madness,” as the NCAA basketball tournament is commonly called, is a single elimination tournament that pits the best 65 teams in division 1 of the NCAA against each other. The tournament takes place over the span of a month and is divided into four regions: Midwest, South, East and West.

Sixteen colleges play in each region at selected host sites. As a team wins, it advances to the next game and if the team continues to win, it can advance to Indianapolis, where the men’s Final Four will be held this year.

Of the 65 teams in the tournament, only 34 are actually chosen by the Selection Committee because there are 31 automatic berths in the tournament. These automatic berths come from the 30 conference champions and the winner of the Ivy League regular season title.

The at-large selection process begins at the start of the NCAA season, according to Bill Hancock, former NCAA Selection Committee staff liaison for 16 years and current executive director of the Bowl Championship Series. The 10 committee members are assigned two or three conferences and are entrusted with gathering data on teams in those conferences to present to the committee during the selection process. Committee members are not placed in charge of their own conference.

“If the athletic director at Cincinnati was on the committee, he would not be the one studying the Big East,” Hancock said.

The 10-member committee and a few NCAA staff members meet in Indianapolis, home of NCAA headquarters, on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Selection Sunday. Once in Indianapolis, the members and staff begin the arduous process of narrowing down the 80 to 100 teams that are under consideration for the 34 at-large bids in that year’s tournament.

“Basically [the committee and staff] are ensconced on the upper floors in a hotel in downtown Indianapolis,” Hancock said. “They work out of suite in the hotel and they work long hours every day going through a very rigorous and stringent set of policies that ultimately allow them to produce the bracket on Sunday afternoon.”

While the selection process is a season-long activity for the committee, their work is not done, once the bracket is announced on Selection Sunday, Hancock continued. Once the group leaves Indianapolis, the members go to regional locations to oversee the tournament process first hand.

“Most of the committee members aren’t home during the month of March; they’re only home two or three days, maybe four,” Hancock said. “Because they go to the first and second rounds, then they go home and do their laundry. Then they go back out and they work on the regional. Then after that, they go home, do their laundry again and work on the Final Four. It’s a very demanding position.”

While the Selection Committee goes through its season-long process of picking the 34 at-large bids, certain NCAA basketball power schools make their job easier.

For major basketball power schools in the NCAA division 1, Selection Sunday is more of a day to find out where they will be heading to play their next game. Teams that spent the season in the top 25 of the coach or media polls, such as the KansasUniversity Jayhawks, are assured a spot in the big dance and all the pressure that comes with being a top seed.

“I know what the students are expecting, they’re expecting a National Championship, as are our fans,” said Kansas University Associate Athletic Director Jim Marchiony. “The coaching staff and the members of the team are focused on being the best team they can be, every single day in practice and in games. And we know that if we do that, then the sky is the limit.”

There is another side to the NCAA brackets though, for the non-power basketball colleges.

Smaller colleges from smaller conferences, hoping for a chance to make their mark in the big dance.

Universities such as Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S. C., of the Big South Conference, were on the bubble of getting into the tournament, even though they had posted a 27-5 regular season record, as of press time.

“[The upcoming tournament and Selection Sunday] is a huge deal,” said Coastal Carolina Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek. “Coach Ellis, our head coach, that’s been his pledge to the team [‘Make it to March’]. From the start of the season, we’re playing for March.”

Teams playing for March, for a chance to represent their college on a national stage and earn a trip to the pinnacle of the college basketball world, held this year in Indianapolis.

Once the tournament begins, all bets are off and college basketball will take center stage once again.

To find out which teams made the cut into the field of 65, tune into CBS for live coverage of the announcement at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 14.