March Madness Selections: Let the Humans Prevail!

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What are these guys thinking? The selection committee for this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, cooped up in that Indianapolis hotel room for days, must have gone a bit stir-crazy. VCU made it over Colorado? UAB is in, but St. Mary’s isn’t? The committee turned in its worst effort since … 2010. And before that, gosh, those guys stunk in 2009. And 2008? Worst job ever.

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Bashing the selection committee has become an annual rite of March. And thanks to social media and blanket web and TV coverage of the NCAA tournament, the noise about these annual injustices has only grown louder. No doubt, this year’s selection committee had its shortcomings. Its leader, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, may be a bit distracted, given that his football coach just covered up player transgressions, a move that earned him a (soft) two-game suspension. Maybe Smith should have recused himself from the selection process. When you’re presiding over a scandal-plagued program, why should anyone have confidence in you?

St. Mary’s, a team that reached the Sweet 16 last year, has every right to be POd. So do teams like Virginia Tech – dissed for a fourth straight year – Alabama and others. But can we stop pretending it’s a federal offense that VCU was invited to the tournament? Sure, the Rams lost to Drexel, Georgia State, and Northeastern. That’s not cool. But for its non-conference schedule, VCU also had the guts to schedule major conference opponents like Wake Forest – who they beat, UCLA – who they also beat, and Tennessee. Colorado, on the other hand, played teams like Longwood, Alcorn State and Texas-Pan American. Dick Vitale has a term for this kind of schedule – “Cupcake city, baby!” Now Vitale is apoplectic on ESPN, acting like Colorado should file some kind of lawsuit?

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There are murky formulas, with names like the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), that supposedly quantify the quality of college basketball teams. Based on the computers, Harvard, which lost to Princeton on a buzzer-beater in the Ivy League playoff, should have gotten a bid. And if Harvard got that spot in March Madness, the Crimson would have deserved it.

But another post-season system relies on computers and formulas and such: that of college football. And the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is universally despised, for great reason. The college hoops selection system is imperfect. Perhaps, and many pundits have suggested, more “basketball people” – ex coaches and players – should be in the room making decisions. But no undefeated teams are being denied a chance at a national title because of a flawed system that relies on fuzzy math, an annual travesty that unfolds in football. When humans are involved, someone is going to feel left out, perhaps because of human error. And in basketball, if that wronged party is a middling major conference team like Colorado, which is a long shot to win the national title in the first place, so be it. You feel for the kids on that team, but everyone always moves on.

After being snubbed, St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, one of the best in the business, said: “As a coach, as players, all you want to know is that you’re given a fair deal,” Bennett said. “You need to go by the numbers, exactly like they do in the BCS.” Oh no, Randy. No. No. No. Suggesting that the BCS is better than the Big Dance? Let’s chalk that one up to emotions. That’s human. Just like the people making the picks.

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