This is the first big surprise that strikes me upon arriving in Indianapolis to help 19 other members of the media select and seed the teams that will be part of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. There are games being played that will affect the outcome of our deliberations, but we will be watching only during breaks. There is no time for Lost and only a little for Duke vs. North Carolina. There is so much work to be done.
It is all for pretend, of course. You think you know what goes on in the room when members of the NCAA men's basketball committee work to compose the tournament field. You know those guys on ESPN think they know. However, only past and present members of the selection committee, and the NCAA staffers who serve them, really understand how the process works. They've been there. Without going so far as to focus a web cam on the committee's deliberations and broadcasting it all on the Internet, the NCAA would like you to be as aware as possible of what actually does take place.
Which is why I was sequestered in that room from 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to 1:15 a.m. Thursday, squeezing four days' worth of committee work into the shortest 12 hours of my life. It went by in a blur of RPI numbers, seeding lines, tie-breaking votes and peanut M&Ms.
In the end, we came up with a pretty fair bracket. Best I've ever seen, anyway. Getting there was a fascinating journey.
3:05 p.m.: The first 90 minutes of our gathering were devoted to explanations of procedure and policy, and to the fact that all these journalists could not get together without asking questions.
Finally, we are ready to play our roles as committee members and make our initial votes, using the laptops provided, for teams that will be placed in the field. We are asked to check off all teams we believe have fulfilled the qualifications for at-large berths in one column, and those that at least should be considered for berths in another. Each of the reporters here has a partner; mine is Kansas City Star college sports writer Blair Kerkhoff. We represent a designated member of the committee, Kent State athletic director Laing Kennedy.
Before the initial ballot, we receive a list of automatic qualifiers whose conference tournaments theoretically already had been completed. For instance, High Point was said to have won the Big South, forcing us to consider Winthrop as an at-large team. More automatic qualifiers will be announced as the night goes on.
So on that initial ballot, Kent State has no boxes in the two columns; we can't vote for our own team. We vote for 29 we believe have made it, from Air Force to Wisconsin. Our list of "under consideration" teams includes 41 names.
3:10 p.m.: Once everyone has cast a vote, the NCAA computer quickly tabulates which teams made it. Every team that receives all but two of the eligible votes is automatically placed into the field -- teams such as Florida and Butler cannot get votes from every single member, because journalists representing SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone are on the committee and are ineligible to vote for teams in their conferences.
Our vote produces 22 entrants and 50 teams for the "under consideration" list. How hard could it be from here?
3:25 p.m.: The next step is to vote for our choices as the "best" eight teams from those on the consideration list. Any that receive all but two eligible votes will join the 22 teams that already have made it as at-large selections. Greg Shaheen, the NCAA executive vice president who is running this meeting, calls it "the final express ride into the field." Arizona and Boston College hop that train and are in.
4:10 p.m.: The next four teams in the voting after the Wildcats and Eagles are Florida State, Georgetown, Stanford and Virginia Tech. They go on the next ballot automatically, and each of us votes for another eight teams; the four that receive the most votes will be placed on that ballot also.
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