Preview To March Madness
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Flip through the channels this weekend and you are bound to see some college students dribbling basketballs. It is March after all. And the final lay-ups, jump shots and dunks are taking place before the madness officially begins next week. NCAA conference championships wrap up on Sunday and then comes the selection of teams for their respective NCAA tournaments. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now as he does most Fridays. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And, Stefan, the process of the selection, which teams get to play in the NCAAs, has always been shrouded in secrecy, and I gather that's changing this year.
FATSIS: Yeah. The NCAA has always treated this as if it was a matter of national security, but they're finally lightening up a little bit. The chairman and the vice chairman of the 10-member men's selection committee are going to talk about the process on an hour long cable show, of course. It's called "Hardcore Brackets." It'll be on Sunday evening, immediately after the teams and the seedings are announced. The website, Deadspin, this week called it a methadone chaser for bracketology addicts.
I think it's a good thing. The NCAA, for the first time, is also making public a seven page document that lists principals and procedures for picking and seeding and scheduling teams in the tournament, and for the first time, it's going to reveal the rank order of the men's tournament teams from one to 68. And you remember, we moved to 68 teams last year.
SIEGEL: So glasnost comes to March Madness.
FATSIS: Yeah. It's amazing that it's taken this long. This stuff is kind of inside information, will heighten the attention to the tournament even more, if that's possible, and it also will insulate the NCAA from this annual barrage of criticism about which schools were picked, which schools were left out. You read the guidelines and you see that the process is meticulous and it's pretty interesting.
SIEGEL: So who's in and who is likely out at this moment?
FATSIS: Well, among the men, 13 conferences have completed their postseason tournaments and picked a champion and that team automatically qualifies for the NCAAs and those are mostly smaller conferences: Creighton, Lehigh, LIU Brooklyn - they're in. Montana, Murray State, which has a 30 and one record and is ranked ninth nationally, they're in. Virginia Commonwealth, which last year made that shocking run to the Final Four, they won their conference tournament.
Seventeen more conference tournaments will finish by Sunday. Only one conference doesn't hold a postseason tourney and you know which one that is, Robert: the Ivy League. Harvard won the regular season title. It'll play in the NCAAs for the first time since 1946.
SIEGEL: Now, one elite school that has never played in the NCAAs looked like it was finally on the road into the tournament, but it didn't work out so well for Northwestern.
FATSIS: No, it didn't. They blew a late lead, lost in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament last night to Minnesota. It was Northwestern's third overtime loss of the year. The team's hoping that those close calls elicit some sympathy from the selection committee, but Northwestern won just once in 11 tries against teams that are ranked in the top 50. You never know, but the 73-year drought for Northwestern looks likely to continue.
SIEGEL: One school that won't be making the NCAAs is Auburn and we're only mentioning that here because of allegations of point-shaving involving a member of the team.
FATSIS: Yeah. Yahoo! Sports reported yesterday that the FBI is investigating. The allegations involve one player, two games that Auburn lost in February to Alabama and Arkansas. The NCAA has confirmed the investigation. Yahoo's story said that an Auburn player told an assistant coach that he had concerns about a player. The published reports say that the player, point guard Varez Ward, denied the allegations to the FBI. Some online analysis of betting lines for the games shows that they're inconsistent with point-shaving. That doesn't necessarily mean that something wasn't going on, though.
Historically, there have been cases of point shaving in college basketball: CCNY in the 1950s, Boston College in the '70s, Tulane in the '80s, Northwestern and Arizona State more recently in the 1990s.
SIEGEL: Well, have a good weekend, Stefan. I think I know what you'll be doing.
FATSIS: You are correct, Robert.
SIEGEL: OK. Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate.com's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.