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Sunday, March 16, 2003
Updated: March 17, 11:02 AM ET

Committee betting against BYU

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

It was looking like one of the NCAA Tournament selection committee's better days on Sunday. Then somebody noticed where BYU had been slotted in the field of 65.

The folks in Indianapolis had committed a major BYU snafu, seeding the Cougars 12th in the South Region, which plays its Sweet 16 games on Friday and regional final on Sunday. The Mormon Church-run school doesn't play on Sundays. Everyone in the NCAA knows this to be true in all sports.

Steve Cleveland
Kevin Woodberry and Steve Cleveland's BYU squad could cause bracket havoc with two wins.

And, no matter what excuses it uses, or how the NCAA spins its decision to not rework the first two rounds of the tournament, the BYU problem can't be dismissed. The committee should have had someone looking at the entire bracket for a procedural error such has noticing BYU can't feed into a Friday-Sunday regional. This is Bracketology 101.

If BYU advances to the Sweet 16 -- and the committee better hope the Cougars lose to either Connecticut in the first round or the Stanford/San Diego winner in the second round -- then the committee will have have solved any issues it has with gambling on the NCAA Tournament.

Why?

Everyone's bracket in America would be wrong.

There would be no office pool winners.

By not switching BYU with Weber State before any games are played, the committee has put a scenario in place that requires changing the bracket a week into the tournament.

There is no way BYU is going to San Antonio -- win or lose this week in Spokane. But two wins by BYU -- which has 23 victories and beat NCAA teams Arizona State and (gasp!) San Diego during the regular season -- and suddenly the Cougars must be moved out of the South Region. BYU's institutional beliefs would force the committee to move BYU to a Thursday/Saturday Sweet 16 region.

And, rather than switch BYU to Midwest pod in Spokane now -- where Dayton, Tulsa, Wisconsin or No. 12 Weber State feeds into Thursday's Midwest Sweet 16 in Minneapolis, the committee is basically gambling that BYU will lose long before then.

If BYU proves the committee wrong, the winner of the Midwest pod (no matter what seed) would then switch and potentially play No. 1 seed Texas instead of No. 1 seed Kentucky. The Wildcats would get No. 12 BYU in the Sweet 16, instead of possibly No. 4 Dayton.

Got that? That's the committee's solution.

No, they couldn't switch the dates of the South Regional to Thursday/Saturday because of logistical nightmare. The Alamodome is already booked on Thursday-Saturday, so are hotels, airplane tickets, game tickets and everything else associated with running a major event on specific dates. But aren't they bringing in worse possibilities by leaving BYU where it mistakenly placed the Cougars in the bracket?

So, that was mistake No. 1.

By not switching BYU with Weber State before any games are played, the committee has put a scenario in place that requires changing the bracket a week into the tournament.

No. 2?

Explain why the committee had to put Kentucky on the same side of the Final Four semifinals as Arizona, should the two top teams in the country meet in New Orleans. This is a potential matchup made for the national title game. But the committee won't re-seed in the Final Four, so if the seedings hold form (which is no given considering the West Region), Saturday's semifinal in the Big Easy will be the marquee matchup most had hoped for in Monday's title game.

So, what did the committee do right? Plenty.

It rewarded the winners of the top mid-major conferences and that should be applauded. The committee put credence in Gonzaga's regular-season title in the West Coast Conference. The same is true with Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley and Butler's in the Horizon League. This was a great day for the mid-majors, while the high majors might plan a revolt.

If former chair and present Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese was still on the committee, he might have had his way in the selection process. Instead, the Big East didn't get two teams in the field that had 10 league wins (Boston College and Seton Hall). This shows that the committee did do its homework.

The committee didn't just go on how many wins a team had out of a major conference, but rather looked closer at who a team played in the regular season. Boston College had one win in the top 50. Seton Hall had two. It's debatable as to whether Auburn should have been in the field over both, but neither helped itself by bowing out badly in the Big East tournament.

The committee also took a deserving team with a sub-.500 conference record in Alabama. The Tide won only seven SEC games, but they took care of business in their non-conference schedule. Alabama went 5-7 against the top 50 in the RPI and that was good enough for the committee. Texas Tech didn't get in with a sub .500 record out of the Big 12. The Red Raiders probably had a strong case with three top 50 wins, but the committee didn't reward Texas Tech with one fewer win in the Big 12, compared to Alabama's seven SEC wins.

The committee did do its homework in looking at the No. 1 seeds. Oklahoma and Texas got No. 1s over Kansas because who each team played within the Big 12. The Big 12 plays its unbalanced schedule based on a football North-South Divisional formula. That means Kansas played six games against the bottom teams (Nebraska, Iowa State and Kansas State). Texas and Oklahoma played those schools once each, and had to play each other twice, as well as Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas A&M. Kansas played all of those schools just once.

Conference commissioners should take notice and realize that the way their conference schedules are done is a disservice to some teams. There is no way to get a true conference champion with the way the schedules break down. Kansas won the Big 12 regular-season title, but clearly the Jayhawks didn't play as tough a league schedule as Oklahoma and Texas.

The committee also did put some more weight on conference tournaments. Auburn won an elimination game against Tennessee in the SEC tournament. If the Tigers had lost that game, it's impossible to think the committee wouldn't have been able to put them in the field over the Volunteers -- or anyone else.

The committee adjusted on the fly late Sunday night with the BYU mishap. There are likely more hurdles for this group with war with Iraq possible by the end of the week. Trying to remember putting BYU in a Friday-Sunday regional could seem like a trivial problem by the second round.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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