By Graham Hays
Page 2 staff

Fire up the in-room movies and stash the complimentary bathrobes, the NCAA Selection Committee is back in town.

Bob Knigh
Two things the General doesn't want to see: A bad seeding and a line at the salad bar.

The nine men and one woman charged with crafting this year's 65-team bracket, and slowing next week's nationwide office productivity to a crawl, gather today at a hotel near NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to begin their four-day quest. While 31 teams gain entry through automatic berth, these hardy souls must not only determine the 34 at-large bids, but also seed the field while attempting to balance all four regions.

And Paul Bremer thought he had a tough task rebuilding Iraq.

The proceedings are off limits to the media, but Page 2 has a few ideas on how things would go if the NCAA opened up the process and jumped on the reality-television gravy train. Call it "Real World: Bracketville." First, our cast of characters.

    Bob Bowlsby, University of Iowa; Gerald Myers, Texas Tech; Karl Benson, Western Athletic Conference; Floyd Kerr, Southern University; Jon LeCrone, Horizon League; Craig Littlepage, University of Virginia; Jim Livengood, University of Arizona; Les Robinson, The Citadel; Judy Rose, University of North Carolina-Charlotte; Gary Walters, Princeton.

Jon's Bracket Confessional: It started out really great. Gerald and I were the first ones there, and we couldn't believe how big we scored with the hotel suite. It was top-notch, all sorts of sofas and tables. And great data ports, not those sketchy ones you get in the Holiday Inns. Anyway, we hit it off like we were brothers. It turns out we both like watching basketball and running athletic departments, so we had a lot in common. I thought the whole weekend was going to be a blast. But things started to get tense when Bob arrived. He came in and just started acting like he ran the operation. The guy has control issues.

Bob: All right, is everyone here? Where is Gerald? I thought his flight got in last night. Jim: He called and said he had to catch a morning flight. Something about a lunch meeting with Bobby Knight running long.

Bob: Well, we'll have to just start without him. Anyone have a problem sending Texas Tech to Buffalo? It's still supposed to snow there next week, right? Anyway, you all should have gotten two ballots on Monday with the top 105 teams as ranked by the RPI. The first ballot is to identify the top 34 teams who haven't already gained automatic qualification, and the second is to rank all other teams you feel deserve at-large consideration. We need to get both of those done by the end of the day.

Gary: Shouldn't we worry about finding food and fresh water first? I saw some fish swimming around in the lobby fountain, do we have a spear?

Bob: Uh, I think we'll be fine with room service. Or maybe we can go get some steaks if we get done with these rankings early enough.

Craig: What about sleeping arrangements? It looked like there was a big storm on the way when I flew in this morning. We should figure out where to sleep.

Bob: Again, I think we're pretty safe from the elements here ... inside the hotel. Look, I realize it's Thursday, and we're all worried about Amber's fate on tonight's "Survivor," but I'm not sensing a lot of focus in the room right now. This is how mistakes happen. Remember BYU's draw last year? Everyone got a little excited about a new "Newlyweds" episode and forgot those folks can't play on Sundays? So let's get on the same page. We're here to choose the best 64 teams ...

Jim: 65 teams

Bob: Right, right, how could I forget. The best 65 teams to participate in this year's tournament. We should treat this room as a citadel against outside distractions, our refuge from ...

Les: Sorry, should I leave the room now?

Bob: What?

Les: Well, it's just that you said citadel, and I thought we were supposed to leave the room when our schools were discussed.

Bob: No, look, I meant citadel in the generic sense, our fortress against other influences. Why would I talk about The Citadel in respect to the field of 65?

Les: Well, we did beat Army by 24. UConn only beat them by 28.

Bob: All right, now you need to leave the room.

Les: Just because I pointed out you might be wrong?

Nate Robinson
Floyd's attitude towards Washington won't help him get an invite to next season's Inferno.

Bob: No! Because now we're talking about your school's bracket credentials.

Karl's Bracket Confessional: Filling out the rankings sheets was pretty tedious work, especially with Bob harping on us incessantly about all these little rules, like "don't answer anything but factual questions about the team you represent," "only answer questions about other teams in your conference when asked," and "don't take the pecans out of the mini-bar." But we finally got through them and came out with a list of 24 teams on the at-large board that got votes from eight of the 10 committee members. Then it was time to sort through the teams that received fewer than eight votes, which we put on the at-large nomination board.

Judy: So that takes care of that ballot. Next up we have votes for Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, Kansas State ... hold on a minute. Look, I know these are supposed to be secret ballots, but whoever filled out this one, I'm pretty sure you want the Women's Selection Committee meeting. You're in room 1245, this is room 1425.

Bob: And whoever the other person is who voted for Penn State, quit copying off your neighbor.

Craig's Bracket Confessional: Once that mess was sorted out, it seemed like a good time to take a break. A bunch of us were thinking about hitting the clubs downtown, but Bob put the kibosh on that, saying we had to sort out the at-large situation.

Bob: Does anyone have the nitty-gritty reports for Washington and Florida State?

Les: I've got your nitty-gritty report right here, you twerp.

Bob: I heard that, don't think I didn't hear that.

Floyd: I'm just concerned about Washington's non-conference RPI, especially on the road against teams from conferences with more than six schools ranked below 200 by the RPI over their last 10 games.

Craig: But they just drilled Stanford and have won 12 of their last 14 games.

Floyd: Well sure, if you want to be a simpleton about it. If we were going to hand out at-large bids based strictly on things like "playing well" and "beating the No. 1 team" then any fan with internet access could put this field together. That's why we have all these numbers, to get to the real truth.

Gary: Fine, so what's your vote on Washington?

Floyd: Well, I voted to add them to the at-large field, but only because they have a good record on Thursdays against teams ranked 51-100 by the RPI. Not because they beat Stanford.

Judy's Bracket Confessional: It was becoming apparent to me that alliances were forming with each vote on moving teams to the at-large board or dismissing them from the at-large nomination board. I talked to Craig when we were out having a smoke, and he had no problem with UTEP. But then I saw Bob and Karl corner him while we were all supposed to be watching the Conference USA semifinals, and all of a sudden he's voting for Michigan instead. I mean, I just didn't know who to trust anymore. They were all out to protect their own voting interests. By the time we got down to seeding and setting the regions, I just wanted to go home.

Bob: The top four vote-getters for the No. 1 seeds are St. Joseph's, Duke, Stanford and Mississippi State. And very funny, whoever voted for Troy from "The Apprentice."

Gary: Now we just need to figure out where to place everyone.

Judy: We're agreed Wisconsin should be in Milwaukee for the first and second round, right?

Florida State
With the Real World playing on the Jumbotron, Florida State just can't take it anymore.

Bob: Right, they didn't play more than three games there, and they aren't the host school.

Craig: But I thought we already put Wisconsin in the South, setting up a Sweet 16 meeting with Wake Forest?

Bob: Right, assuming Wake Forest gets out of Denver with two victories.

Craig: So the road to the South brackets runs through Milwaukee and Denver? Shouldn't Orlando be involved here?

Bob: Can't do it. Orlando is in the West.

Craig: The West?

Bob: Yep, and the Midwest. For Mississippi State.

Floyd: My head is starting to hurt. Anyone else feel like we're in the middle of a "Dogs Playing Poker" painting? Who came up with the pod system, anyway?

Bob: I think the research was contracted out to one of the cable companies. Those guys do some wonderful things with tier packages. By the way, did you know you can't get CNN without also ordering the Style Network and Outdoor Life?

Anyway, I think we've just about got this thing nailed down. Does anyone have any issues with the regions?

Judy: Uh oh, Oklahoma just won the Big 12 Tournament, and Indiana just won the Big Ten Tournament.

Bob: Screw it, someone call the BCS guys and let the computers handle this. I'm going to the bar.

Graham Hays writes "Out of the Box" five days a week in--between moonlighting for Page 2. He can be reached at graham.hays@espn3.com.




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