NCAA Tournament Selection Marked by Secrecy, Tension, Excitement
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ From the moment they enter until the moment they exit, visitors to the NCAA’s tightly sealed sanctuary atop a hotel this weekend are followed by two pairs of eyes. No one is trusted.
When the nine-man selection committee meets for 72 labor-intensive hours every March to set and seed the NCAA tournament, nothing is left to chance.
The entire 39th and 40th floors of the Hyatt Hotel are blocked off for the men’s and women’s selection committees, who work in separate areas on separate schedules and see each other only rarely in passing.
Downstairs, armed security guards keep an eye on elevators that won’t even go to the ``NCAA floors″ without a coded key.
``We’re highly sensitive,″ agreed Dave Cawood, an assistant NCAA executive director who’s been part of the selection process for more than 20 years. ``The committee leaves their reports and reference materials scattered all over the room. We want to make sure nobody’s going to be looking at it who doesn’t have any business looking at it.″
``It’s not that we have people at the end of the hall armed with machine guns,″ said Bruce Gehring, a Hyatt executive. ``But we certainly do have extra security procedures.″
``I wouldn’t be able to tell you that,″ Gehring said.
Throughout the weekend, maids bringing fresh towels and waiters delivering dinner are accompanied by a hotel executive.
They are met at the door by an NCAA staffer who shadows every move they make while in the room.
``Selection weekend″ officially begins when members gather at 3 p.m. on Thursday along with Tom Jernstedt, the NCAA’s chief operating officer and a few other handpicked NCAA staffers, including Cawood.
They always dine on Thursday night at the same Kansas City restaurant, which is kept secret.
After dinner, the committee is sequestered on the 39th and 40th floors like jurors in a high-profile trial.
One of the first orders of business is picking the 96 officials needed for a 64-team tournament. Then the committee pursues its most closely scrutinized chore: selecting and seeding the 34 at-large entries to go with the 30 teams that get automatic bids by winning conference championships or postseason tournaments.
Committee members have regional reports from coaches and commissioners and enough statistical material to clog a computer _ part of which, of course, is confidential.
``There is a pace to the entire weekend,″ said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, a former committee chairman. ``You can sense the tension and the excitement rising in the room.″
The field is separated into four 16-team regionals, each seeded 1 through 16. At least seven or eight teams can make good arguments to be No. 1 seeds this year.
``This may be the most difficult year we’ve ever had to pick the teams and seed them,″ said committee chairman Bob Frederick, who is athletic director of Kansas.
No. 1 UCLA seemed a good bet to be No. 1 in the West regional. No. 2 Kansas was a likely No. 1 in the Midwest, which already has created controversy. The Midwest regional finals will be in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, which even Kansas players recognize as a friendly home-away-from-home.
One no-brainer for the committee: Florida International will be a No. 16 seed. The Golden Panthers captured the Trans America Conference’s automatic entry by winning the league’s tournament and, at 11-18, will have the worst record of any tournament team since the bracket was expanded to 64 in 1985.
But if a Trans America official were on the committee, he’d leave the room when Florida International was considered. Committee members repair to smaller quarters across the hall whenever a school they have a direct interest in is dealt with. It’s one of the committee’s proudest traditions.
Often, two or three committee members are gone at the same time. One year when six Big Eight teams got into the tournament, Frederick was glad-handed by grateful coaches at the Big Eight meetings that summer.
``I told them I had nothing to do with it,″ Frederick said.
END ADV for Weekend Editions March 11-12