Since all the "bracketologists" are coming out of the woodwork, that must mean that March is right around the corner. And it is! In exactly 65 short and symbolic days, the NCAA Selection Committee will release the pairings for the 2010 field. And we're also nearly 11 months past the most popular post (pageview-wise) in this site's history, an excruciatingly long blow-by-blow account of an NCAA "mock selection" exercise held in Indianapolis last February. We thought it would be a good time to check in with the man who was so kind as to invite us. David Worlock, the Associate Director for the Division I Men's Basketball Championship, has been at the NCAA for just over eight years, starting in statistics management and eventually becoming the media coordinator for the Big Dance.Listen close as Mr. Worlock shares secrets from the NCAA Selection Committee war room, and speaks of "team sheets," the true meaning of RPI and the real process by which teams are slotted into the bracket (it's done last). We talked about the role of new technology in the NCAA war room, and we also asked him what place those newfangled nerd stats (the ones the bloggers are always going on about) have in the selection process. Because David's organization shares a capital city, we talked about Indianapolis a little, and he detailed the long and strange road he took to get there. Part of that journey included a long stint as the sports information director at a Division II school, which makes him King SID Emeritus now! He's also a new father, which is awesome too.TMM: I just wanted to thank you yet again for letting me be a part of last year's mock selection, but this time in public. After several years now, has the concept accomplished the kind of transparency into the process that you, Greg Shaheen and the rest of the staff were hoping for? And are you planning on doing it again this year? if so, are there any changes to your approach? DW:
One of our goals when we began the mock exercises with the media back in 2007 was to become more transparent, and the feedback we've received from participants clearly indicates that we have begun to accomplish that goal. Right from the beginning, we had the support from the men's basketball committee and our late president Dr. Myles Brand, and we had a high level of enthusiasm from media members invited to participate. We continue to get that support and the interest from writers, bloggers, television and radio personalities remains. We are conducting a session in February, with a slight change to our approach. Instead of having two sessions on back-to-back days, as we have the last couple of years, we are having one session over the course of two days. So our mock committee members will spend all day in the seminar, go sleep on what they have done, and come back in the morning refreshed with a chance to make sure that they're secure about what they've done to that point, and then to spend the rest of the day finishing the process. We feel as if that is more reflective of the actual process.
In addition, we are conducting a mock session at the NCAA national convention in Atlanta next week (Thursday, January 14), and we are doing one with executives and coaches with the NABC in May. Last February, Greg, Jeanne Boyd and I went to Bristol to conduct a session with ESPN executive and many of their on-air college basketball personalities. So, as you can see, we've taken our little show on the road.TMM: Last year was your first with a new computer system, which did things like automatically locking members' computer terminals for decisions involving their own teams and conferences. We were the guinea pigs for that, and got to see all the cool error screens before the techs perfected it. Did it work out as planned last March, and what kinds of technology are you adding to the mix in the future? DW:
Our IT staff is phenomenal and I can't imagine a group being more responsive to the requests of the men's basketball staff and committee. We continue to evolve in that area. One nice improvement we have this year is the ability for the committee members to log on to a secure site during the regular season, and view side-by-side results and multiple team sheets in the same on-screen format as they see during selection week. It's just an easier way for them to continuously evaluate teams during the course of the season.TMM: My favorite thing about the mock selection process was learning about that "team sheet" you just mentioned, which seems to be the point of departure for most conversations in the war room. You and Greg were so kind as to allow us to replicate it for Basketball State. The "Avg. RPI Win" and "Avg. RPI Loss" numbers in the upper left corner were a revelation, and these are numbers we never see anywhere in the media. But there they are, displayed far more prominently that a team's actual RPI. The impression this gave me was that the RPI is an index number in the truest sense, a reference number for opponents. Am I on the right track? DW:
Definitely, you are on the right track and the team sheet is a good snapshot of a team's schedule and performance over the course of the season. While the RPI is certainly a tool, and the one that generates as much buzz as any resource the committee uses, there are many factors that go in to determining what makes a quality team. A lot of them are numbers that you see on the team sheet that give you a gauge about a team's overall and non-conference strength of schedule, and their opponents' overall and non-conference strength of schedule, and so on.TMM: The mock selection's biggest busted myth, in my opinion, was the way that bracketing is handled. I, and many others, always imagined the Committee around a big whiteboard writing and erasing teams all weekend leading up to the announcement. The truth, as you know and we found out, is that the 65 teams are selected first and then slotted -- in fairly short order, on Sunday evening. Was it always like this, and how is technology speeding up that part of the process? How long did bracketing take in March 2009? DW:
As it relates to bracketing, technology's role is more to serve as a backup to make sure we are not going against our principles. Again, our IT staff has been remarkable in this regard. For example, if we place a team in the bracket, and it goes against our principles, we'll get a message stating something like, "Two Missouri Valley Conference teams are placed within the same region." In other words, the system knows that the first three teams from a league must be placed in separate regions. So if the second MVC team being placed into the bracket is put in the same region as the first one was assigned, and no one in the room catches it, the system will. It's a tremendous help. It also tells when we have a quirky thing such as a rematch from a recent year's first-round game. A recent example of this was an alert the system gave us last March about Texas A&M-BYU playing in the first round for the second year in a row. If there is an option to change that without compromising more pressing principles, the committee will do so.
We have to be prepared to get bracketing done in an hour or so, just in case we run into trouble, particularly with the conference championship games taking place on Selection Sunday. So when something happens such as Georgia or Mississippi State reaching the finals of the SEC tournament, we have to be prepared to make a bracket with one 65-team field in mine, and others with a completely different field...and a completely different seed list. It's not as simple as knocking out the final at-large team and plugging in Georgia in that teams' slot. We have to make a true seed list, 1 to 65, and we have to place a team like Georgia accordingly. And as you saw during the mock selection exercise last year, we place teams in the bracket, one at a time, 1 through 65. One alteration to that seed list changes where teams get sent for their first-round game, and obviously that alters the entire bracket.
?TMM: The "new" stats -- "tempo free," "tempo-neutral," whatever you want to call them -- are increasingly part of the college basketball discussion now. Terms like "points per possession" and "rebound percentage" are coming up on national TV broadcasts at an increasing rate. Do they have any place in the selection process? What I'm trying to say is, do you think the Committee will be using the Pomeroy Ratings anytime soon? DW:
Our committee members all bring a unique perspective to the selection room. We provide them with all kinds of numbers, and not just our own RPI. They have a handful of different ratings systems besides our RPI, they're provided the media and coach's polls, and we have a Regional Advisory Committee consisting one head coach representing each of the 31 conferences. They submit their top 15 teams from the region they represent three times during the course of the season, and the committee has access to those polls as well. Then, of course, we have our conference monitoring system in which each committee member is either the primary or secondary contact for about six or seven leagues. Right from the start of the season, the committee members are closely watching teams from their leagues, having conversations with conference officials and other people whose insight they consider valuable.TMM: We have always loved and admired sports information directors here at TMM, but we gained a whole new level of respect for them when we got to be an assistant SID for a night last month at IUPUI. You were an SID for many years at D-II Henderson State before joining the NCAA. How did the SID prepare you for your current responsibilities? DW:
I am proud to be a Henderson State graduate and to have been the school's SID for eight years before coming to the NCAA as a member of the statistics staff and now as a member of the men's basketball staff. I didn't have the experience of being an SID at a high profile school such as Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina or UCLA so admittedly I ask myself all the time, 'What in the world am I doing here?' But going to a smaller school like Henderson State allowed me to get more hands-on experience as a student. I was an assistant SID, more or less, by my fourth semester of college. I was paid for a 12-hour work study position but many times worked three times that amount...and didn't care because I loved it. A dear friend, Steve Eddington, was the SID at the time, and I learned so much from him about hard work, dedication and how to treat people. Certainly, those are attributes one can apply to any position. TMM: If there's anything that the NCAA and The Mid-Majority have in common, it's that our home offices are both in the Circle City of Indianapolis; you guys are downtown in those nice new buildings, and our launching point is the Crowne Plaza out near the old airport terminal. As a transplant to the area, what do you love about Indy? DW:
I think I have a unique perspective because I am originally from upstate New York and still go there to see extended members of my family. I was a military brat so spent nearly all of my adolescence in Augsburg, Germany, where I became friends with kids who were from all over this great country. Then I went to school in Arkansas and lived there for 13 years. That is home for my wife, Andrea, and I absolutely love that state. Now I have been in Indianapolis for a little more than eight. I've liked every place I've lived because people are great, regardless of where you live. The accents and the climate are different, no doubt. But I judge everything by people -- a neighborhood, a restaurant, a place of employment - and I find that there are good, caring and hospitable people everywhere you go.
Measured against other places I've lived, Indianapolis is a big city. But it has a small-town charm that my wife and I truly love about it, but with the luxuries of having big-city restaurants, shopping and other things to do. It's a great place to live.TMM: As everybody on Facebook knows, you and your wife had a handsome son last September. How's that going? Has fatherhood changed your perspective on sports? DW:
Thank you. I hear several times every day that how cute Nicholas is, and that he looks like me. And that begs the question, 'Well, which is it? Is he cute, or does he look like me?' He is doing very well, growing up and making his parents laugh every day with his infectious giggle. I've always had a warped perspective on sports, putting far too much value on how my favorite teams perform and how that affects my mood. It's not exactly my best attribute. But being a dad shows one what truly is important in the world. Then again, my Yankees won the World Series this year and the Sabres are in first place, so I haven't been really tested yet. I kid, of course.TMM: Lastly, I want to get your thoughts on a certain number. It's a controversial idea that's been in the news lately, and it's inflamed passion for casual fans and bracket purists alike. I'm going to say it, and then I'm going to get out of the way. OK, ready? 96.DW:
Expansion is a topic that has been on the Division I Men's Basketball Committee's radar for some time. It has become a hot topic in recent weeks, in part, because of the opt-out we have with our current contract that ends in 2012-13. It's an opt-out that we can take this summer, and our goal right now is to do our due diligence during this period. I can assure you that it will be an informed decision when it is time for it to be made, as will be the decision as to whether or not we should expand our tournament field. The great thing is that millions of people care so much, and there are strong feelings either way. Many want the field to remain at 65 teams, many want to expand it by just a few teams, and many want to see a more substantial expansion. We're confident that we'll get the best possible result.You can catch Mr. Worlock's work on Selection Sunday, or earlier if you're lucky enough to be going to that two-day mock selection session. Wait a second, the Sabres!?