You may remember Shaheen from the press conference at last year’s Final Four, where John Feinstein wanted to know how much time players on winning teams would have to spend outside the classroom if the NCAA tournament expanded to 96 teams. It was a fair question, though at the time I did think the writers around Feinstein missed the forest for the trees. (And, anyway, the whole thing turned out to be a moot point. Thank goodness.)
Fast forward to last night and the Twitter feed of the esteemed Dan Wolken, columnist for the new tablet-only newspaper, The Daily. While I was busy giving Dan well-deserved grief for being the only observer on the planet to talk about last night’s Alabama-Vanderbilt game without using the words “Tim” and “Higgins,” Mr. Shaheen politely interrupted. Dan, sounding really Ken Pomeroy-like, had said there shouldn’t be any “eye test” in determining which teams make the field of 68. Shaheen clarified how the process actually works. And then Dan was all like “no way,” and Shaheen was all like “way,” and, well, just go look for yourself.
Dan and I share a dream: to be in the room with the selection committee while they’re doing what they do. Dan wants to be there so he can report on the process and make it transparent. I want to be there so that once the committee has selected 68 teams and is taking a coffee break I can seed the field correctly while they’re all out in the hallway.
Shaheen modestly says he is merely “here to serve,” and it bears repeating what a thankless task the committee has. So I’ll repeat:
Awarding the final at-large bid will always come down to drawing a highly subjective line between two teams possessing more or less equal merit. Therefore selection’s a perfect task for a committee, the broader and more respected the better. When the team that just missed the tournament wants an explanation, the best we can hope for is that a group of hard-working and candid people will say to that team: You know, we deliberated on this at length and it was a really tough call, but at the end of the day we thought this was the best decision.
From my chair the tournament just keeps getting better. And the next step in this continuous improvement will be better seeding. I’m just trying to speed the plow.