The NCAA Selection Committee Mostly Got It Right, But Process Needs More Transparency


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Here’s a take: College baseball’s selection committee largely got it right this year. I just last night argued it made a mistake in choosing East Carolina as a host over Dallas Baptist and I still believe that. But taken in totality, the committee did a good job.

Eleven bids for the SEC? The right decision. Leaving Charleston and Northeastern out, making the Coastal Athletic Association a one-bid league? The right decision. Indiana and Georgia Tech in? The right decision. Cal and Lamar out? The right decision. I would have taken TCU instead of Kansas State. Oklahoma State should be seeded higher than Oklahoma, a team the Cowboys went 4-1 against. But reasonable people can disagree about all of this.

The problem, however, is that the selection committee is taking a ton of heat right now because of a perception problem. The committee is composed of sitting college baseball administratorsthis year it’s 10 athletic directorsand, unluckily, this year a lot of those committee members had teams that fell on the bubble of somethingthe top-eight seeds, hosting or the tournament field. And just about every decision that involved one of those schools went in a favorable direction for those teams.

The NCAA sets rules and procedures that all of its selection committees have to follow in such cases. If a committee member’s school is ever up for discussion, that person must leave the room and they are not a part of any voting in the debate.

But what does that look like in practice? We don’t know. We don’t know a lot about the selection process and that’s a problem, even if it’s only a problem of perception and that, in fact, the procedures put in place to safeguard the system are working perfectly.

The process is inherently subjective. This is not professional sports, where teams are playing uniform, consistent schedules, meaning that it’s entirely reasonable to build a playoff field out of division winners and then a few more teams that had the best records. And when the selection committee leans too heavily on RPI – one of the most objective tools it has at its disposal (it might be flawed, but it’s literally just an algorithm that doesn’t care what conference you represent or how big your stadium is) – people get mad. When the selection committee deviates from RPI, people also get mad.

What this process needs more than anything is more transparency. Good luck even finding who is on the committee in any given year. The NCAA website is a nightmare to navigate and a lot of information is truly buried. Last month, a major conference head coach reached out to me to ask who was on the baseball committee. I’m always happy when coaches come to me for information, but in this case, that’s not a good sign.

College baseball is becoming too big of a deal for its current process. The basketball selection committee releases its full seed list, 1-68. Baseball won’t even tell us what team is No. 17 or No. 65. Every selection committee member I’ve ever talked to says the regional advisory committees (which are supposed to be their version of the eye test) are an important part of the process. I’d love to know how the RAC lined up the Big 12 teams. Is that why Kansas State was selected instead of TCU (which had better metrics) or Cincinnati or Kansas (which both had better aggregate conference records)? Show me the goods.

College football and basketball both have in-season releases of the committee rankings (football does a Top 25 weekly down the stretch, while basketball shows a release of the top four seeds in each region once). Those are both mostly just content made for the TV partners. But they do at least give some early insight into the committees’ thinking. Committee chairman Matt Hogue on Monday was asked if baseball had explored something similar. He said they hadn’t to this point, but believed it would help drive interest to baseball.

There are a number of ways the baseball committee could provide more clarity to the process. Instead, it remains largely a black box and that allows conspiracy theories to run rampant. Some, like the importance of having a team or league representative on the selection committee, have at least some correlating evidence, even if causality is impossible to prove. Others, like agendas for or against the SEC or Pac-12, appear to be essentially baseless. But they’re out there and they’re eroding confidence in the selection committee.

Maybe it’s unreasonable to think these are solvable problems. Again, this is an inherently subjective process that gets harder every year because of conference consolidation and the increasing attention and money in the sport. Missing the tournament is more likely to have consequences for programs and coaches today than it did even 10 years ago, let alone 25 years ago.

But bringing some sunshine into the committee room couldn’t hurt.

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