Caught up at the West Coast Conference tournament with its commissioner, Jamie Zaninovich, who flew Tuesday from Las Vegas to Indianapolis to culminate his first year on the 10-person Division 1 basketball committee.
Of course, that means an intense, numbers-crunching next five days, as the committee sorts out the field, the seedings and the sites for the tournament, which will be revealed Sunday.
Zaninovich noted that not every committee person puts the same weight on all the factors that go into the selections. Maybe one values road wins (that’s his pet metric), maybe another puts a premium on strength of schedule. Maybe a third puts a finer microscope on the breakdown of a team’s performance against teams in the RPI (computer) quadrants.
Collectively, that isn’t likely to produce different results, but it just says that each member is an individual.
“We’re not supposed to be robots,” said Zaninovich. “We’re supposed to apply our lens.”
Still, the overarching metric is: Whom you play, whom you beat, and where you played – as Zaninovich puts it, “The whole culture of everything we do.”
Wednesday, the committee will gather and one of its first functions will be the initial ballot of the process. They vote on tournament “locks” – the teams that should be in the tournament, no matter what. It yields a roster of about 20-25.
That’s the easy part. As the week goes along, they have additional ballots, eventually coming up with the 37 at-large teams that join the 31 automatic qualifiers.
I asked him about the so-called “eyeball test.” There are some who voice the concern that the process has become too sterile and numbers-oriented – that there ought to be an element simply reflecting gut feeling on how a basketball team looks. (That’s often associated with how many people on the committee have coached, and this committee looks low on that representation, although a few have played or had close ties to basketball.)
Problem with the eyeball test is, there’s no way to quantify.
“I think the eyeball test has to be something on the margin for us,” says Zaninovich. “There’s this whole philosophical debate about the best versus the most deserving. I mean, we’re asking teams to build resumes, and they’re getting signals from us about how they should schedule.
“We’re really trying to find the 37 most deserving teams.”
So what’s the in-season life of a committee person like?
Zaninovich says he tries to DVR about 10 games per day.
“I always try to watch the first five minutes of a game, the last five minutes of the first half, the first five minutes of the second half, and the last five minutes of the game,” he said. “I think those are sort of the key parts of the game.”
Imagine a job that allows you to watch basketball games on TV during the day. That’s what Zaninovich has spent part of his winter doing.
“I TiVo everything I can in the office,” he says. “I’ll work a half-day, watch a little bit of games in the office, pick up my kids from school, go home, have dinner, put them to bed around 8, and then go back to the DVR and watch from like 8 to midnight or past midnight.
“Yeah, it’s been a hectic year. I’ve got a young family, too, so I’m trying to stay married. (But) for somebody who really likes basketball, it’s hard to complain. I’m going to have a crazy schedule this month, but I get paid to travel around and watch basketball. It’s not such a bad deal.”
The committee already has had four meetings in person this year. The last was in February in Indianapolis, the day before the NCAA staged its annual media mock-selection procedure.
Members are on board for five-year terms. You begin to understand how great the annual time commitment for 3-4 months, and Zaninovich credits WCC associate commissioners Colleen Lim and Scott Leykam for shoring up operations while he’s consumed with the committee.
“It used to be four years, now it’s five,” Zaninovich said. “I can see why. The first year is kind of a blur.”
If you’re into conspiracy theories, and it seems like a lot of people are, a Pac-12 fan won’t like the makeup of the committee. There’s no representation from the Pac-12. The three Western representatives are from the WCC, Big Sky and WAC (but Scott Barnes, Utah State athletic director, is a former associate athletic director at Washington).
Personally, I don’t think that makes any difference. When WCC teams are discussed, for instance, Zaninovich must leave the room, so then it’s essentially a nine-man committee at that point.
Here’s the committee makeup:
Jeff Hathaway, Big East Conference consultant (chair)
Mike Bobinski, Xavier AD
Joe Alleva, LSU AD
Scott Barnes, Utah State AD
Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma AD
Doug Fullerton, Big Sky commissioner
Lynn Hickey, Texas-San Antonio AD
Jamie Zaninovich, West Coast Conference commissioner
Steve Orsini, Southern Methodist AD
Ron Wellman, Wake Forest AD