The inaugural season of the College Football Playoff was a television ratings bonanza — stoked by the buzz that came with weekly standings announcements leading up to the final verdict.
Much of that committee’s work was modeled on the imprint set by the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee.
But while the basketball committee appreciates the ongoing call for more transparency into its own deliberations, don’t expect an incremental unveiling like that soon.
For one thing, there is a fundamental difference in the processes that makes it an unwieldy parallel: so many more teams and games and moving parts along the way.
Meanwhile, the CFP committee’s regular updates were essentially consistent with the historic culture of the sport in terms of weekly polls and, more recently, the BCS standings.
And even as the Division I women’s basketball committee just took the unprecedented step of releasing its current top 20 seeds, the men’s committee has one overriding notion holding it back until Selection Sunday.
One that’s hard to argue against.
“There are some traditions that are so good that we want to make sure we don’t adversely affect them. And the waiting until Selection Sunday afternoon/evening to find out who’s in the tournament and where they’re going, how they’re seeded, is part of the allure of this tournament,” said Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who will become the committee chair next season.
“I wasn’t the first to come up with this, but it’s akin to trying to open some of your Christmas presents on the 10th of December. You could do it, but …
“I could see perhaps something at the mid-point to give people insight, but we’d have to put all kinds of caveats on it: ‘This is not to lead anybody to believe it will work out this way.’”
So maybe next year we’ll see some sort of asterisk-riddled mid-term report that likely would closer resemble projections of an election than an election itself, because so few precincts would have been closed by then.
In the meantime, about the closest we can get to understanding how it all goes down is the mock bracket exercise the NCAA has conducted with media members since 2007.
Shepherded by infinitely patient and good-humored NCAA director of media coordination and statistics David Worlock, the latest version was Thursday and Friday.
After dozens of votes, hours of debate and eyes gone blurry staring at endless metrics on each school available by a keystroke, our process produced Kentucky, Virginia, Duke and Wisconsin as No. 1 seeds, Kansas as the No. 2 seed in the South and Wichita State as No. 6 in the East.
That all began with 17 teams immediately voted into the field and 45 others nominated for consideration for the other 19 at-large spots in the 68-team field that includes 32 automatic bids.
For the purpose of the exercise, Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated and I played the role of the affable Castiglione — who is seeking equal time to write a column for The Star.
More seriously, the role-playing made for a conversation Friday morning about how Castiglione views the remarkably time-consuming duty that chairman Scott Barnes figured consumes about a full year of a committee person’s life during the course of a five-year term.
Like all committee members, Castiglione watches dozens of men’s basketball games throughout the season, particularly those of the conferences he’s assigned to monitor: the Atlantic Sun, the Pac-12 and the Sun Belt.
“That’s the secret sauce, if you will — the fact that there are 10 different opinions, looking at all angles, like (holding) an inanimate object,” he said, later adding, “As you have witnessed, there’s a lot more complexity to it than most people realize.”
Start with the most obvious complexity of all — and maybe the most fundamental challenge: how to balance the so-called “eye test” with convenient raw data such as RPI, the Ratings Percentage Index?
In our exercise, that was at the crux of the question about Gonzaga. Some in the room believed it might be the second-best team in the nation, but it ultimately was a No. 2 seed (and No. 5 overall) because its schedule just wasn’t on a tier with the four No. 1 seeds.
Without commenting on that particular scenario, Castiglione said, “Sometimes, the eye test presents you a more compelling assessment than the numbers themselves. I think it’s important to keep all ways of analyzing a team in play, and yet at some point you still have to make the call.
“You still have to make a decision. We sweat the details, yes, but we still finally have to make the call.”
With the exception, that is, of when a team in any given committee person’s direct interests is involved.
In Castiglione’s case, that means he can’t even participate in a vote that includes Oklahoma and would be asked to leave the room for any substantial conversation involving the Sooners.
Between conference officials and athleic directors on the committee, that principle at one point in our fictionalized scenario led to five of the 10 members being unable to participate on one vote on a group of teams being considered for the field.
The exercise casts light on too many points to include here, but a few can’t be emphasized enough:
▪ The selecting is far more important, and time-intensive, than the seeding and bracketing. As the adage goes, you can play your way out of a bad seed but you can’t play your way into the tournament.
▪ Very little heed was paid RPI in itself, and not once in our entire two-day, 14-hour process did the matter of how many teams would or should be in the field from any given conference come up.
▪ Because of all the principles and procedures of bracketing, including rules for placing into the field multiple numbers of teams from the same conference, there is scant wiggle room to concoct specific matchups.
If it seems that way at times, it’s because college basketball is six degrees of separation in terms of coaching trees and history.
“You can already figure out somewhere in the future one of those kinds of matchups people think should happen when Kansas City hosts one of the regionals,” Castiglione, the former Missouri athletic director, said with a smile. “They’re going to think we made it intentionally occur like that, but it just doesn’t happen.”
In our exercise, diabolical, rogue voices prevailed in setting up No. 13 Valparaiso with No. 4 Baylor in a first-round matchup of brother coaches. But Worlock noted the committee never would have sent Valpo more than a thousand miles for that game when it had three options fewer than 250 miles away.
Not that the committee is against such meetings, but …
“It’s not like we’re sitting back as some mad scientists in the laboratory saying, ‘How can we get that to work?’” Castiglione said. “Because then in a strange way you’re compromising the integrity of the process. We’re talking hypothetically here, but think of the teams that may have a different matchup if a process like that took place.
“So just to be abundantly clear, it doesn’t happen.”
And that’s as clear as the committee’s work will be — for the time being, anyway.
“There is dialogue (about more access to the process), but there is certainly balance,” Castiglione said. “And we want to protect what Selection Sunday has become.”