March 17, 2017
In one nail-biting, nerve-racking hour, students discover if they have achieved one of their lifelong goals: participating in March Madness. A time and a place filled with magical moments, pure excitement, and brings closure to the end of the season by deciding which team ultimately reigns supreme. This is where coveted high school recruits morph into college champs and permanently etch their names into the college basketball storybook.
Each year 68 teams garner approval from the selection committee to go dancing. 32 of the teams don’t have to wait in pure anxiety, the conference tournament champions, but the rest of the at-large pool watches the whole one hour special to see if their team has been included in the field of 68. After the field is divulged, fans, coaches, and players either celebrate or mourn the news, depending if they were selected. Each year, around the month of the selection show and tournament itself, speculation and criticism arises about the methodology the selection committee uses and whether it is the optimal way.
Today, the NCAA selection committee is viewed as selecting its teams through both computer based stats and “eye test”. A prime example of the committee jockeying seed-lines based off computerized metrics was when the committee put Florida State as a 3 seed. Not every year does an 8-loss team earn such a high seed, but since they played in such a rigorous conference, they earned it. Florida State has the 13th highest rated RPI, a measure of a team’s strength of record. With the 13th highest RPI and playing in what many pundits labeled the most difficult conference of all time, it was well-earned, but if the committee looked just at their record, they would have been docked for their numerous losses and plunged to around a 6 seed. This is why a majority of teams are fond of the computer based system.
On the other hand, some teams are not lucky that it is on computer based statistics, like Florida Gulf Coast. Although they are a mid major school and expect to be in the 14,15 or 16 seed range, they are a very good team. They has proven themselves year after year since the 2013 run as a 15 seed. This year, they were handed a 14 seed and has potential for an upset. Their record is 26-7, and those 26 wins were not close games at all. They obliterated their conference with wide win margins sometimes reaching 30 points. It is disappointing that Florida Gulf Coast did not get a chance to prove themselves over the course of the regular season due to their easy schedule. Using the “eye test” on this team, they would be a 3 or 4 seed, a huge difference from the current 14 seed.
The way the committee chooses effects unranked bubble teams even more, and a lot of the time, bubble teams like the computer stat a lot more. Wake Forest, for example, is on the bubble and looking in. At first glance this team is not deserving at all, with a 15-11 record. If you look deeper into the team, you can see why the should get in and be considered. Wake Forest belongs in what is being called, “the best and most depth conference of all time.” Being in such a hard conference, the last three quarters of the schedule is going to be against teams in this conference, which leads to Wake Forest having the 11th hardest schedule in the nation. That puts them at 32nd according to RPI. In this case, computer stats should take triumph over deservingness. Wake has no bad losses and a plethora of great wins. When the 68 teams were announced, they were put into the field as an 11 seed with a play in game.
But, would any avid fan of college basketball like a team with that low of a winning percentage in the tournament (excluding conference tournament champions). The answer is no and that is why the committee uses both methods incase once is an outlier. The way it should be picked is definitely computerized stats. Having the committee choose teams based off stats that include everything from offensive efficiency to strength of record does not let any team get off the hook with an easy schedule. The NCAA already does this though, last year, Grand Canyon University finished the season with a record of 30-5, and came in 2nd in their conference. The team played one tournament team the whole year, leading to a 255th hardest schedule in the nation… That’s not good. Would any fan like to watch this team get completely obliterated by any of the 68 teams in the tournament, yes, but only the team getting a free win off them. This is why the NCAA can not, and does not just use the simple “eye test” for teams. To see what team truly deserves a spot in the field, extensive research through many statistical rankings must be done.
Any power 5 conference team can be placed into a mid major conference and have a winning percentage as high as them, and that is why those teams in those conferences don’t get in, and to do that the committee needs to stick with computerized statistics.