There is nothing "wrong" with the selection committee or the selection process. It is just fine, thank you, despite the occasional reasonable disagreements. But that is not the standard. We can and should make the committee and the process better. Like the teams, players and coaches who participate in the NCAA tournament, we should strive for excellence in the process and make it the best it can be. Here are four things we should do to make the selection process better.
1. Split up the committee
The "selection committee" is really called the Men's Division I Basketball Committee and is currently made up of 10 conference commissioners or athletic directors. The committee is charged with staging and conducting the entire NCAA tournament. It is, as Hall of Fame coach and ESPN analyst Bob Knight put it, a "plum job" within the NCAA structure and a prestigious one. But in order to get the best field possible, the NCAA should split the duties over two committees -- one to plan and stage the tournament, the other made up of "basketball people" in charge of selection and seeding only.
Some people hear "basketball people" and recoil and feel like it is basketball snobbery. It is not. A basketball person is not necessarily someone who has played or coached at a high level. If you have diligently studied the game and devoted much of your adult life to understanding the game and how it works, you are a basketball person.
For years, selection committee members have told people that the input and experience of members like Dave Gavitt, Carroll Williams and C.M. Newton have been invaluable. If that is true, why not have a committee of 10 people with that kind of experience? If we had 10 people with basketball experience who were dedicated only to selection and seeding, the process would be improved.
2. Move Selection Sunday
We need to move Selection Sunday up one week to the Sunday before Championship Week begins. By doing that, we would make selection about the regular season and not about performance over one weekend in a conference tournament. The growth of the NCAA tournament and the conference tournaments has devalued the regular season.
Moving Selection Sunday up a week would dictate that the committee select the 68 best teams based upon the regular season's body of work, without concern for automatic qualifiers. It would also make conference tournaments about the automatic bids and conference pride only, rather than earning late brownie points.
Right now, conference tournament play is skewed to the majors and hurts the mid-majors. Missouri State could not help its at-large bid profile in the Missouri Valley tournament, but Penn State could really help itself in the Big Ten tournament with a few big wins over top RPI teams. That is not the right way to do it.
Move Selection Sunday, select the best teams and rank them on the S-Curve, and then the automatic qualifiers would knock out the lowest-ranked teams on the curve, one by one. It would be tremendous, and we would have more interest and more weight on the regular season.
3. Improve the metrics
The RPI is a useless metric in basketball. That seems to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We need to take the best metrics out there, including Kenpom.com and Sagarin, and come up with metrics that will benefit the process the most.
We have been told that the RPI is an organizational tool. We have also been told that the RPI is a blunt instrument and not a precision tool. Well, why do we have a blunt instrument organizing important information? Shouldn't we have a precision tool to organize the data?
Of course we should. It is beyond discussing. Too many smart people have made the case against the RPI. It needs to go, and we need better metrics. We have them, so let's use them.
4. Add transparency
The committee needs to be more transparent. To its great credit, the veil is being lifted, and the NCAA has done a marvelous job of letting people understand the process. But we need more.
Starting in January, the committee should put out its rankings of the teams at least every two weeks. Instead of the RPI, we should know where teams stand as we approach Selection Sunday. It would increase interest, be a great exercise for the committee and let the teams and the fans in on the process.