WKU Director Of Athletics Experiences First NCAA Basketball Tourney As Committee Member

Bowling Green, Ky. — While most fans of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments know that the committee for each sport meets in Indianapolis the weekend prior to the event to select and seed the field, many don’t realize that the 10 members of each group put in far more time than the general public sees to make “March Madness” the annual phenomenon that it has become.

Western Kentucky University Director of Athletics Dr. Wood Selig learned that firsthand this year after being appointed to serve a five-year term on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee in November on the eve of the 2006-07 campaign.

Each member of the committee is assigned multiple conferences in which he or she must be knowledgable of each school, and they serve as secondary liaisons for several other leagues. In Selig’s case, he was the representative for the Big 12, Mountain West, and Southland Conferences and was the secondary liaison for the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun and Southern Conferences, as well as Conference USA. Other than viewing Lady Topper games against schools from those conferences, there was only one way for him to prepare for his responsibilities.

“I literally watched all or lengthy pieces of over 100 games — either in person, on TV, or on DVD/tape — this season,” he said. “Members of the committee receive from the NCAA a six-month Direct TV comprehensive sports package with TIVO so we can follow as many games as possible. Many conferences and schools broadcast over the Internet. Our coaches also capture hundreds of games on video.

“There were no shortage of games available — only a shortage of hours to view all the games.”

The issue, then, was when to watch after fulfilling his day-to-day duties — which aren’t the usual 40-hour-per-week duties that most people face. Selig would use late nights, usually from 10 p.m.-2 a.m., and weekend mornings to accomplish the task. Actually, he used his research as an opportunity to further bond with his two sons, Lex (age 9) and Nick (7), as they would join him for the morning “film sessions.”

“One of my two boys actually became a quick study of overall team competitiveness,” said Selig. “He would offer his opinion of who was the better team and if they were as good as other teams we had watched. In general, he was correct.

“Now, I am not saying that even a seven-year-old could do this job. It was, however, a neat experience and a fun chance to share work experiences with a child. Maybe he has a better future in this business than I have.”

In taking advantage of the NCAA’s offer of Direct TV’s package, Selig actually was able to save himself some time by not having to travel to watch contests, although he does admit that some other committee members did hit the road and that it offers a different feel than one may get from viewing a game on television. Another aspect of committee work that goes unnoticed is the time spent on the phone, particularly as a part of teleconferences. The group was on the phone together several times each month, whether it was talking with coaches to discuss teams in a certain region or to handle regular business such as updating team performances and specific injuries that may affect the makeup of the field in March.

Selig’s first trip to Indianapolis, where the NCAA is headquartered, came in early February when a mock selection weekend was held to prepare the committee members for what they were about to face. For a group that included three first-year members and only one person with more than two years experience, it was well worth the time spent away from home. “That was a valuable experience and went a long way toward preparing me for the actual selection weekend,” he said.

For selection weekend, Selig arrived in Indianapolis on the evening of Thursday, March 8, with his preliminary bracket, team research and DVDs. The committee’s first official meeting began Friday at 8 a.m., with the group bunkering down until the women’s bracket was announced early Monday evening — that included working until 1-2 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, while Selig did not leave the hotel once after the session began.

The men’s and women’s committees were situated in the same downtown hotel, with each group taking up a floor (the men were on the 15th while the women were on the third).

“Pretty awesome,” is how Selig describes the feeling of walking into his first meeting. “I felt a tremendous obligation to the game, and the participants and fans of the game.”

With an early start and late finish each day, there were several breaks throughout the sessions including meal breaks. The committee would also take advantage when the opportunity arose to catch important conference tournament match-ups, where Selig said he was aided being able to hear other members talk openly about the teams and comparing them to other candidates.

While spending so much time together over the four-day period, and coming in with different thoughts and ideas as representatives from different schools and leagues, Selig said that there was not a lot of tension during the meetings — he considered the atmosphere professional, focused and serious. “There were plenty of spirited discussions. Nothing was ever personal,” he recalled. “There was great camaraderie in the room, an esprit de corps, that carried the group. It was all very professional.”

In fact, he thought that the entire process of selecting and seeding was actually very efficient.

“It was very relaxed throughout. The process is so thorough, there was much time for discussion and debate,” said Selig. “The pressure does mount toward the end when so many viable teams are being considered for the remaining handful of slots. Those were gut-wrenching decisions knowing what was at stake for everyone impacted, positively and negatively.

“In the end you just do the best job you can and make the best, most-informed decisions you can given your resources. You are one of 10 committee members charged with selecting and seeding the best field possible given all the variables.”

After completing that task, which included choosing 33 at-large candidates after 31 automatic bids were awards to conference champions, the group then had to seed the field to create the first-round contests and determine the sites where each school would be playing. That was a job that was almost as difficult as picking the field in Selig’s estimation.

“Both had their challenges,” he said. “You want to get the seeds correct, especially as they may feed into other games down the line. Still, you want to make sure you have the best, most deserving teams, especially at-large, represented in the tournament knowing all along many outstanding and well-deserving teams may not make the field. I am sure that will be the feeling every year.”

When asked to assess his first selection weekend, relief and the absence of pressure are not what Selig recalled. Neither was there a celebration among the 10 people in the room.

So how could the experience be described?

“It was a sense of accomplishment. Ownership. Our stamp was on the field of 64 based upon how all 334 teams had competed all year,” he stated. “It was a rewarding experience. I remember thinking after we voted on the final bracket, ‘Wow, so this is what we have all been working toward for almost six months.’

“I did pause long enough to not let the moment and feeling escape me.”

As a first-year committee member, Selig felt he benefitted from the assistance of every committee and NCAA staff member who had been through the process previously. Not just from the insight they were able to offer all weekend, but from their technological assistance with the research and data available to each member at their seat. All 10 individuals in the room not only had print outs with information in front of them, but computers to call up additional data.

“Our new committee members have an opportunity to go through a very, very good orientation process,” said Judy Southard, Senior Woman’s Administrator and Senior Associate Athletic Director at Louisiana State who is the chair of the committee. “They are invited to join us at our summer meeting, which is one of our more intense and all-encompassing meetings, technically the year before they rotate onto the committee. The caveat there was that Wood was a late appointee to our committee.”

That assistance didn’t just come in February and March during meetings, though, because of Selig’s extenuating circumstances. “Once Wood received the appointment our senior women’s basketball staff drove down to Bowling Green and spent the day on campus with him,” added NCAA Vice President for Division I Women’s Basketball Sue Donohoe. “We probably spent six or seven hours going through everything he would be doing throughout the season, talking to him about our conference monitoring program and what his responsibility was with that, as well as all the things he would need to do to get himself ready for the selection process.

“Then, we spent time educating him about what was expected of him once the selection process began, and what happens when you go out on the road during the tournament.

“You can talk and hopefully prepare, but until the committee member really goes through it themselves for the first time it’s hard to explain the whole process.”

Most may believe that once the field is announced on Monday that the committee’s work is done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Each member of the group travelled throughout the country to tournament sites, coordinating the event with the host(s) and NCAA representatives. They are the on-site liaison with the NCAA to ensure that the event is conducted within all the guidelines previously established. For Selig, that meant week-long trips to Minnesota (for first- and second-round games in Minneapolis), Fresno (for the Sweet 16 and regional finals) and Cleveland (at the Final Four), where he helped run those sites and worked with the teams and schools at each location.

As a result, Selig was in Bowling Green just four days in March, and six days during a six-week stretch.

“The most difficult aspect of the committee work was the sacrifice of being away from home and away from family,” he recalled. “That was very difficult on three young children and my wife. During one 18-hour home stop, I went to my son’s baseball practice having not seen him in two weeks, and he started crying in the outfield when I walked up. That was pretty gut-wrenching and told me I had been away perhaps a little too long.

“Those are days I will never get back with him or my family.”

So, while the general public would have reason to believe that the men’s and women’s basketball committees meet one weekend a year, it’s clear to see that much more is required for the volunteer position.

In the end, that’s something that Selig enjoyed about the journey.

“The fellow committee members were great,” he said. “Meeting so many student-athletes, coaches, fellow administrators and local organizing members was all very rewarding. The sense of accomplishment as the tournament played out grew each week.”

And, perhaps with a year of experience under his belt, the process will be even easier come next November. “There are so many things I will not repeat,” he claimed. “I have learned how to keep notes, how to organize my thoughts and information, when to watch games, how to access information and what information is most pertinent — the learning curve was huge.

“Year two should be considerably more efficient for me.”

“I think Wood did a good job jumping in with both feet,” added Donohoe. “He came into the selection process at tournament time really prepared — when it came time to talk about teams, he and the other first-year members were ready to make the right decisions about those schools. But, I think that he would probably tell you that having gone through it one time, he’ll be even better at it next year.

“Experience is the greatest teacher in this process.”

“I found Wood to be very prepared, and he needs to be commended for that with the fact that he started so late,” Southard said. “The adjustment period your first year is really understanding what the expectations are — the meetings, the time frame, and the concentration level.”

As for next season — and the years beyond that — she believes that if Selig’s path mirrors her own, he will begin to feel more comfortable with the position.

“It gets easier each year, certainly by the time you get into your third year there’s a certain comfort level,” said Southard. “I had someone suggest to me that they thought the committee appointment should be shorter, that more people should be rotated in and out. My response to that was until you have entrenched yourself in the process, you have no idea how long it takes to become totally comfortable with it.

“I certainly believe that the third, fourth and fifth years of the appointment are by far the most effective that you can be as a committee member.”

While it’s obvious that the new responsibility on his rsum consumed more time than most imagined, there were some benefits of the job for the Selig household. In early February with snow falling, he planned to watch five games. His 15-year old television — the one which he had hooked Direct TV to — had a different idea, however, dying that morning.

“It was crunch time with the season winding down and some great conference match-ups being played. I was in a huge bind,” said Selig. “I rushed to Best Buy, and within an hour I had a delivery truck at the door of my house installing a brand new wide-screen HDTV, so I did not miss a minute of action. My kids did like that aspect of the committee work. And, no, the NCAA did not cover that expense.

“But, I do have a new 50-inch HD TV that should help me monitor games next season. I am actually already looking forward to it.”

All kidding aside, what gets lost in the arguments over who should have been in the field and who should not have made it, or where a team was seeded and who they are matched up against, is the amount of time and effort that 10 people sacrifice in order to make those discussions happen. It only took the first year in a five-year commitment for Selig to see that.

“I am still repaying the bank at home for time away during the basketball season,” he said. “I was heavily in debt and way overdrawn.”

He’ll have plenty of time to repay that during the spring and summer — well, except when the committee meets again for a week in late June to begin preparing for the 2007-08 season. Then again in August for a day-and-a-half seminar with first- and second-round and regional tournament hosts. And in October when the group gets together in Tampa — host of the 2008 Final Four — for four days.

After all, an event the magnitude of the NCAA basketball tournament takes more than one weekend to put together.

— WKU —