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College basketball: NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Gene Smith explains process

March 10, 2011 |  9:58 am

Smith_240 NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Gene Smith, who also happens to the athletic director of Ohio State University, held court with reporters Wednesday in Indianapolis, where the Division I Men's Basketball Committee is in town to settle the business of which 68 teams will be dancing later this month. 

Smith didn't take any questions about the recent shenanigans involving his school's football program, but he did provide some interesting insight into the tournament selection process. (Great column about that right here.)   

Here's a transcript of the question-and-answer session:  

Question: I was wondering if you could restate your committee's policy on whether more emphasis is placed on the last 10 or 12 games a team plays, or if all of the season has equal emphasis? 

Smith: As you know, most people know, for a period of time we had the last 10 or the last 12 on nitty-gritty sheets. We decided a couple years ago to eliminate that consideration. We leave that to each individual committee member to determine if that's an important criteria for them. 

It's not an important criteria for the entire committee that we focus on like we did for that short period of time. Each committee member takes it into consideration in their own way. 

Q: You are wearing two hats. Could you talk about the logistics for you, what it's been like for you to shift gears, and how has it affected your role on the committee. 

Smith: I am so lucky. As you know, I'm blessed with an outstanding staff at the Ohio State University. This committee is made up of a great deal of experience in this industry. They're very close, cohesive. We work well together. Then we're supported by a great NCAA staff. 

We have two committee members who were having personal family challenges that we talked about on Saturday morning in our conference call, tried to help them feel comfortable with their personal issues that are significantly greater than mine. They had to go through some challenges. Things worked out well. 

Logistically, the NCAA worked with me to handle my travel in a great way. I'm ready to roll, get this responsibility going. 

Q: A couple teams out there, including Florida State and Georgetown, that don't have key players, at least at this point, haven't had them for the last couple of weeks. Georgetown specifically has lost some games. We don't know yet if Chris is going to be able to play at all in the Big East tournament. How do you approach that? Also with Florida State, considering they have won some games without Singleton, how do you approach looking at those teams as you sit down and decide?

Smith: We take missing players and coaches into consideration as we look at the teams. We rely on information from the schools. We rely on information from the conference relative to their status. 
But we still look at how those teams performed at the end of the day. We look at how those teams responded to the adversity they faced, whether they lost a player early, got them back, were able to sustain. We kind of take it into consideration based upon the situation. 

So we've had a chance to see different teams with injured players, with players who became injured, without. We always take it into consideration. 

Q: With so much attention being given to the first four, how sensitive is the committee to the scrutiny you're sure to receive on which teams are selected, if they're from mid-majors, power conferences? Do you think that will go into consideration at all? My second question is, what are you doing to make sure that the experience in Dayton is a true NCAA tournament experience for all the participants? 

Smith: I'll answer your second question first. 

The reason we went to Dayton is because Dayton demonstrated historically the ability to attract fans and provide a quality experience for the student-athletes, the coaches and the fans. They came to Dayton.

We feel very confident with Dayton as a host, how they operate, that these people will have a great experience.

We're prepared to manage the travel issues they will encounter, try to make it as seamless a transition for them as we possibly can. 

We have a first-class television crew in Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr. The awareness to the exposure these young people will receive is at the highest level. 

We will go through our normal process of selecting, seeding and bracketing. We will go through 1 through 68. We're very confident in the 35th, 36th, 37th slots that the at-large teams going to Dayton will be excited to go. 

This is March Madness. Whether it's the first four or the first eight at the top of the bracket, people are going to analyze, they're going to debate, be excited, disagree. That's part of what this is, part of what we're blessed to serve, is that excitement that comes with March Madness. 

The first four, relative to your question, is new. Every single year we evaluate what we did the previous year. In May and in June, when we have our meetings to look back at the tournament, the first four will go under its first scrutiny with the committee. Anything that we feel we need to modify based on that experience, we'll modify. 

So we're excited about it. Our biggest emphasis is what you talked about, making sure that the teams and the coaches and the fans that follow them come and just have a great experience in Dayton. We're really excited about it. 

Q: I wanted to ask you about teams that are kind of out there, maybe not even quite on the bubble, how much a team can do in a conference tournament, short of winning it, to get a bid? How many teams out there are in that mode where they can still play their way in? 

Smith: I really can't tell you and speculate how many teams are like that. We will submit our first ballots this afternoon, probably around 4:00, after we do administrative work, talk about teams. 

Certainly a team or teams have an opportunity to get some quality wins to add to their resume. But really there's 5,000 games played throughout the season. The tournament is very small compared to the number of games that are played during the gauntlet, which is the regular season. 

Really, you might be able to have an impact in your first game, depending when your tournament is, maybe your second game. The reality is that most teams that will be advantaged by the tournament are those who come through and win it and become automatic qualifiers. 

A team can enhance their resume a little bit. 

Q: How committed is the committee to putting the first four participants into a second- and third-round site nearby Dayton? Is there one predominant challenge in dealing with this whole 'first four' concept this year? 

Smith: We will do everything we can to pay close attention to geography and respect travel. We try to do that every year. But we won't sacrifice the integrity of the seeding process to do that. 

So it's likely that we could have a team coming from an out-of-market distance to Dayton. We have prepared. We've done our pre-planning to be able to on Sunday help those institutions with travel. 

We're really lucky because we have sites in D.C., Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland that are options, reasonable options, for those teams to advance to. We have things set up for us in a good way when we face that moment. 

Hopefully, we can respect geography. Again, so everybody is aware, we will not sacrifice seed for that. We go through a tough process to seed teams appropriately and with respect to the competition nationally. So we won't step out of that in order to address the geography issues. 

As it is, we'll do the best we can. 

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo: Gene Smith. Credit: Terry Gilliam / Associated Press.