Long hours decide field

USC’s Eric Hyman lets us peek behind the closed doors of the NCAA selection committee

05/29/2012 12:00 AM

05/28/2012 9:11 PM

DO NOT CREDIT Eric Hyman for South Carolina earning a top-eight national seed in the upcoming NCAA baseball tournament.

At the same time, do not blame the USC athletics director for Clemson and Coastal Carolina being sent to the Columbia regional.

Hyman served on the 10-person NCAA selection committee over the weekend in Indianapolis. But when it came to discussion about the Gamecocks seeding or the placement of teams in Columbia, Hyman might as well have been, well, back in Columbia.

It was all part of what Hyman called a “fascinating experience,” one in which he will be a participant for three more years. He said he left Indianapolis impressed with the integrity and seriousness with which the committee took its responsibilities.

“I felt like it was a Rubik’s Cube trying to get it all to work,” Hyman said. “I felt the people in the room were really trying to do the right thing.”

The task at hand was selecting the field of 64 teams, determining the 16 regional host sites, the top eight national seeds and then slotting all remaining teams in one of the regionals. The duty began sometime during basketball season when each committee member was assigned three conferences to follow, study and eventually represent in front of the committee.

Hyman’s responsibility included weekly region committee conference calls where he gathered information and gained input on teams from the SEC, Atlantic Sun and Sun Belt conferences. One of his most valuable contributors was Ray Tanner, who provided scouting reports on the teams USC played.

Finally, the committee gathered at The Westin Indianapolis on Friday. Buffet meals were provided as committee members hunkered down for 72 hours, oblivious to the outside world. Mitt Romney could have dropped out of the presidential race and the committee would not have known.

The committee convened until 10 p.m. Friday, went strong from 7:30 to 7:30 on Saturday with a mid-day break, hashed out most of the details from 7:30 to nearly midnight on Sunday and made certain the brackets were in order prior to their release on ESPU at noon Monday.

An NCAA support staff provided the members with every conceivable fact about candidates for the field, from strength of schedule to non-conference strength of schedule to a team’s ratings performance index to the cumulative RPI of a team’s opponents.

“They’ve got it down to a fine science,” Hyman said, “but it’s never going to be perfect.”

He said the most difficult decisions were determining the last three or four teams into the field, the last of the 16 host sites and the last of the eight national seeds.

Hyman reiterated what Kyle Kallandar, the committee chairman said, that there were a group of teams who made the final cut as at-large entries and a group who fell short. The last few into the field included College of Charleston and Mississippi, and the last ones out included Wake Forest and Texas.

Kentucky was the surprise omission for a host site while Miami slid into one of the 16 slots. Then, according to Hyman, seven of the top eight national seeds became clear, and the discussion came down to the eighth seed.

USC fell into that “gray area” along with N.C. State, Purdue and Stanford. At that point, Hyman was permitted to state his case for USC and occasionally texted Andrew Kitick, USC’s sports information director for baseball, seeking further statistical information.

Once discussion began to determine the eighth seed, Hyman was asked to leave the room. He said USC’s 9-11 record against other top 25 RPI teams was a deciding factor in the Gamecocks receiving their fifth national seed.

After the field and the seedings were determined, the teams were slotted in regionals. Again, Hyman was asked to leave the room along with Larry Gallo, the senior associate athletics director at North Carolina, because their respective schools were hosting regionals.

“I made a comment about (Clemson being sent to Columbia), about this being an intense rivalry, and if (Clemson) went some place else, I would be fine with that,” Hyman said. “When I came back in (to the meeting) I was surprised.”

Hyman said fans long have believed that money can buy a team a host site. He said the subject of bids never came to the table. Money was never mentioned in any facet of determining the field, hosting or seeding.

It is probably for that reason the NCAA selection committee has done an outstanding job over the years. Of the 104 nationally seeded teams since 1999, an astonishing 86 teams — 83 percent — have advanced to the Super Regionals. Of the 104 national seeds, 63 — 61 percent — have reached the College World Series.

While some teams and their fans might quibble about the brackets, the host sites and the seedings, the numbers clearly prove that the selection committee knows what it is doing. Hyman and his fellow members should be proud of that.

About Ron Morris

Ron Morris

Ron Morris

Morris has been employed at The State newspaper for 15 years, the last 11 as sports columnist. He is an Oklahoma native who was reared in Wyoming and graduated from UNC Charlotte. He previously worked for the Durham (N.C.) Morning Herald and the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat.Along the way, Morris has written a book, "An Illustrated History of ACC Basketball" and won numerous national and state awards for sports column writing, enterprise reporting and feature stories. He is a five-time sportswriter of the year winner in South Carolina by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Morris has run a marathon, hitch-hiked across the country and appeared in Sports Illustrated for counting the number of times the ball bounced in a men's basketball game between Catawba College and Appalachian State. Email Ron at rmorris@thestate.com or call him at (803) 771-8432.

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