Selection Sunday with Greg Shaheen
No one knows the process or the nuances of Selection Sunday better than Greg Shaheen. Among his many duties as the former NCAA executive vice president for championships and alliances, Shaheen worked frequently alongside the NCAA tournament selection committee and was privy to their sequestered bracketing.
On Sunday, the committee will gather for their final conclave, if you will, convening in an Indianapolis hotel. By 6 p.m., there will be their version of a white puff of smoke -- an NCAA tournament bracket.
Shaheen offered some insight on how the day will go.
ESPN.com: So just describe the mood of Selection Sunday.
Shaheen: It's different than any other day. You wake up and, from my 12 years, I never needed the alarm clock. The adrenaline is different. For the first time, there's a finite deadline. You know that we have to get this right.
It's more serious, not somber, because there's not only work to do but a finality.
It's controlled chaos. You know what the end of the day is going to bring, so it's a question of managing the time between now and then.
ESPN.com: What exactly has been accomplished and what needs to be done?
Shaheen: The night before, the at-large decisions are made and have been finalized, so you're waiting on Sunday games to play out for the final seeding and, in some cases, to determine what the field will look like.
After 2000, the committee instituted a rule that it would not go to bed Saturday night until the at-large field was completed. That's when a certain orange team [Syracuse] didn't get in.
So it's about seeding and then bracketing.
ESPN.com: What are some of the scenarios that can make Selection Sunday especially difficult for the committee?
Shaheen: The disaster scenario is when games are close on Sunday and both teams are relevant. I remember a few years ago, Kansas played Texas in the Big 12 tournament final, and we had built all these contingencies. Kansas went up big, but it wound up being a really tight game.
We'll build contingency brackets depending on how many teams playing on Sunday can impact things.
The Sunday games are not on in the committee room. There are no TVs on there. They are down the hall or in an adjoining room.
ESPN.com: Could this season, with so many upsets and unclear résumés, be especially difficult?
Shaheen: In the room, it's always difficult because the committee takes this seriously. Yeah, this year there will be more review and a greater review of more teams that are in the mix to get in the field.
After a certain period of time, they all look the same. They all have assets and liabilities, so you have to be careful not to just say, "Yeah we're fine here." It will be hard, but they are up to the task.
ESPN.com: So how does the committee stay on track with that deadline looming?
Shaheen: Getting off trail doesn't help, getting outside of the process. You can't say, "Hey let's go back to the selections." You have to keep things under control as you're going through the scrubbing of the seed list from top to bottom.
The conversation points are in order. You have to realize we have to be efficient, because the whole thing is: When do we start bracketing? When is enough enough?
It's more about keeping the room under control and focused than it is about yelling and screaming, and wild animals running through the room.
ESPN.com: When does bracketing start?
Shaheen: Every year is different. Back when Mike Slive was chair [in 2009], he insisted that we start bracketing earlier than ever. We needed it that year, because of the storms at the SEC championships. I believe we built seven brackets that day as I recall.
There's no science to it. It's started as early as Sunday morning and as late as Sunday afternoon. Usually at least it's by 4:30.
Bracketing is complicated. You've got the rules to contend with: BYU can't play on a Friday-Sunday, for example. When teams in the same conference can play one another.
But one of the funnier things lately is how realignment has led to some of the funnier moments. You'll just stop and someone will say, "Wait, what conference are they in again?"
ESPN.com: When it's done and the bracket is produced, is everyone generally happy?
Shaheen: There's always going to be a kind of buyer's remorse. You go into this knowing someone will be unhappy.
There's so much invested in the process. It's a group decision and you accept that, but that means some teams are not going to get in that are expected to get in or even that some committee members might have thought should get in. It can be a very emotional thing.
ESPN.com: What happens when it's over? Champagne popping?
Shaheen: You're so tired, but the ironic part is, it's just starting. It's the ending of that process and the beginning of another one. Some of them might fly home to their day jobs for one day before they go to a site.
Whatever time they may have left, they'll be disciplined in helping the chair answer questions, to think through the bracket so he's prepared. Some might leave immediately, others will stay and watch the selection show and then go to dinner.
ESPN.com: How did you and how does the committee reconcile the fact that they can't please everyone?
Shaheen: I used to talk to Dave Gavitt every year the day or so after the bracket came out. He had such a great overarching philosophy. He studied it, asked questions, but he was always so reassuring because he'd point out that you have to understand it's in the eye the beholder. You could argue so many sides of every team.
He'd say the beauty is in the process. Don't let anything take away from that and that the fulfillment is to be part of the process. It's fun.
When the games start, no one remembers there is a bracket. It becomes incidental.
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