Committee is more business than basketball

John Clay
John Clay

Jay Bilas has made an issue of it, the ex-Dukie and current ESPN broadcaster lamenting that only four of the 10 sitting on the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee have any sort of basketball background.

But Southeastern Conference coaches are mixed on whether the committee make-up is a problem.

"I think it's important that those people have some sort of basketball background," said Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo on the SEC's teleconference Monday. "It's vital to understand, to have coached, to have played, have studied the game, can understand without just looking at numbers.

"Sometimes I think we just look at numbers and don't have a good feel for having been through it."

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings viewed it differently.

"I don't know that I see it as a problem," Stallings said. "I'm not sure that because Mike Slive doesn't have a 'basketball background,' that makes him a committee member who is less than worthy."

Slive is the SEC commissioner. He's also the chairman of the committee this year. Slive is a Virginia School of Law graduate, and a former athletic director at Cornell who served as commissioner of two other leagues before taking the reins at the SEC.

To help, Slive hired former coach and former University of Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton as a basketball consultant to the SEC. Newton is a past chairman of the selection committee. The two have traveled to many games together this year scouting teams.

At the UK-Tennessee game in Knoxville, Newton said he kidded Slive about the commissioner taking notes at games. Newton told him that as a coach, his rule of thumb was, "Would I want to play that team?"

But only four of Slive's colleagues on the committee could make that judgment from experience.

Tom O'Connor, the athletic director at George Mason and last year's chairman, was head coach at Dartmouth. Christopher Hill, the AD at Utah, lettered three years at Rutgers. Stanley Morrison, the AD at Cal-Riverside, played on an NCAA title team at California and was head coach at Southern California. Lynn Hickey, AD at Texas-San Antonio and the committee's lone female, was an All-American and a college head coach.

The other six (Slive; Daniel Guerrero, AD at UCLA; Laing Kennedy, AD at Kent State; Gene Smith, AD at Ohio State; Jeff Hathaway, AD at UConn; Mike Bobinski, AD at Xavier) don't boast strong basketball ties.

"I think in a perfect world," Louisiana State Coach Trent Johnson said, "all of us as coaches would like to have people on the committee that have an idea of what college basketball is like and had some basketball background."

Said Lebo, "You feel more comfortable as a coach having more people on there that have been through it."

Said Stallings, "I think a good mixture is very helpful to that committee and probably very necessary."

But the committee is made up of athletic directors, and fewer come from the coaching ranks. With millions being spent on athletics, school presidents want leaders with a business background.

Look at the SEC. Only one of the 11 athletic directors is a former coach. That's Mal Moore, a former Alabama football assistant now running the entire department.

So should the selection committee be opened up to former coaches, or former players, people who are not presently administrators?

"I think that's always helpful," Lebo said. "But I don't know how much (committee members) rely on those other people, because I'm not involved in it."

Other coaches felt like it's a tough job no matter who does it, and a job that most years is done well.

"I don't envy the position those guys are in," Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey said, "and to be honest with you, I think they do a pretty good job."

"It seems like they do the most thorough job you could possibly do," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. "I have always really been amazed at how well they do to pick the field. I would think that they have some very well-defined guidelines on what it takes to get into the tournament. ..."

Even if they aren't former players or coaches, Gillispie said, "they're still basketball people or they wouldn't be involved with the committee in the first place."