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March 12, 2006

Craig Littlepage

DAVE WORLOCK: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Welcome to the Selection Sunday conference call with the director of athletics at the University of Virginia and chairman of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee, Craig Littlepage. We're going to go for about 40 minutes tonight. We have a lot of people on the call, as well as some people here in attendance, so we'll get as many as possible and also remind you we'll have another call at 3 p.m. eastern tomorrow afternoon if you don't get in this evening.
We'll get started right away. The selection seeding and bracketing is behind us now. There are 65 teams in the tournament. Reflect on what it's been like over the last few days as the committee attempted to put this field into place.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: First of all, I think it would be worthwhile congratulating each of the 65 teams that have earned their way into the 2006 tournament. This has been a fun year in college basketball. This weekend it's been exciting and exhilarating in terms of watching teams and watching games, watching the excitement that has led us to a point we've been able to establish the 65-team field.
In terms of what it's been like, the last time I felt like this, particularly the last time I felt like I did today, was when I was completing my taxes on April 15th at 11:35 p.m. It was that kind of pressure, that kind of urgency, to get this done at a date certain and at a time certain.
I think with the cooperation, with the input and the contributions of the nine other committee members, we put together what I think is a really solid and diverse field for this year's championships.
At this time I'd be happy to answer your questions.
Q. Cal Berkeley, how much of a bubble team were they prior to the PAC-10 tournament?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: That would be hard to quantify. But certainly they had a good year in the PAC-10 in the regular season. They advanced to the championship game. They presented a very, very solid resume. I think the committee overall looked favorably upon the work they did both in the regular-season and the post-season tournament.
Q. How much of the committee's time went into discussing teams from Missouri Valley, Colonial Athletic Association, and got bids over teams from larger conferences?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I think that was really the new path we had to go down, was to evaluate a number of schools, the types of conferences to which you refer, and contrast those with power -- those teams from the supposed power conferences, and how to differentiate such a wide range of teams, for example, from the Missouri Valley and Colonial, et cetera, from the at-large candidates that were in the larger conferences. We just had many, many more teams with great seasons, but with very differing paths to get them to the point we were evaluating them.
We took more time than in the previous three selection weekends looking at those teams, looking at their schedules, looking at the different quantitative measurements. And I think as well, most importantly, watching games. We were here watching games over the course of the weekend, staying up until 1:00 in the morning, 1:30 a.m., over the last couple days.
On the basis of all the things that we considered, both on paper, in terms of conference monitoring reports, information we get from coaches, we spent probably more time than we ever had in previous selection weekends.
Q. Choosing George Mason over Hofstra, when Hofstra had beat Mason twice in the last couple of weeks, (indiscernible) suspended for the first round.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, I think the first thing is that George Mason and the University of North Carolina Wilmington tied for the regular-season championship. They weren't tied -- George Mason wasn't tied with Hofstra, so we didn't look at that as a situation we needed to look at a tiebreaker. We looked at George Mason as a team that was a regular-season co-champion. On the basis of the work they did with their non-conference schedule, we felt they put together a solid package in terms of those games, and they won a fair share of those games. But they were a very good team for us.
Now, we didn't look at this in terms of do we invite George Mason or do we invite Hofstra or do we invite another at-large team. Typically what happens is we're looking at these teams in the context of comparison with other groupings of teams. So when George Mason came through the queue and as we looked at them and compared them to other teams, at that point we were making that review, we felt very good about what they had done and what they would present us with.
Q. (Indiscernible)?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, it was a contingency. We felt as though we had the No. 1 line pretty well-established and we felt comfortable with that. But there might have been circumstances that could have evolved in the ACC championship game that might have at least had us go through the conversation as to whether or not a team should move from that two line. Again, we would have been looking potentially at two teams from these conferences that would have been regular-season champions or co-champions as well as their tournament champions. So we would have looked at that, but we had a pretty solid No. 1 line for the better part of yesterday and today.
Q. Was the North Carolina regular-season finish in its conference standings what lent it the greater weight to its seeding over Boston College, which beat Carolina twice this season, both on the road and at a "neutral site, Greensboro? And also was there any thought to giving them a Friday/Sunday site trying to place them there because of the fact they played in the tournament championship game today?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, we looked at North Carolina again, in its comparison to a number of schools, and not North Carolina versus Boston College. I think it's important to keep coming back to that.
Many times when people have issues or they have questions, they like to frame it in terms of either/or. This is not a zero-sum game that we do in the course of our deliberations.
When we looked at Carolina, yes, we looked at the strong finish to the regular season. We also looked at the strong non-conference resume that they put together - not specifically compared to Boston College, but compared to the field.
As it relates to the assignment of the Thursday/Saturday first and second round, at the time that we were putting the field together, unfortunately we're not always able to take that into consideration to be able to place a team that played on Sunday by virtue of its conference's decision to play its championship game on Sunday.
We can't always make those decisions quite as precisely to say that they automatically would play on a Thursday. When we look at our policies and procedures, and we're going through that S-curve, it's about 3:30 p.m., we know we're up against a deadline, we're doing the very best job that we can to seed this field, to bracket it, make sure that we're taking into consideration all the policies and procedures.
Unfortunately, we don't look at it in terms of whether teams that play on Sunday should be moved automatically to Friday/Sunday. Maybe that's something that we could look at in the future, but it wasn't a part of our deliberations this weekend or in weekends in the past.
Q. (Indiscernible)?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: It's something that evolved and it's something that I think we are feeling very good about. Again, I go back to the statement made with CBS, that what we found out in these discussions we had about, again, mid-majors, bigger programs, the power conferences, in listening to conference monitoring reports, listening to the input that we got from coaches, conference commissioners, ADs and other experts in the field, that is there is great basketball played throughout the country, and sometimes that's not going to be reflected necessarily in hard numbers.
I think we all want to latch onto something very definitive in terms of why someone was selected or why someone was not selected. We feel as though the teams we reviewed, the teams we evaluated had very good seasons, put together the kind of resumes that we feel as though merit their inclusion in this tournament. I think the results will be seen over the next couple weeks.
Q. Did the committee consider the establishment of a separate bracket in the event of Ohio State rising to the 1 line, given the number of Big-10 teams in the field?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Yes. Again, we were -- as we had planned to do anyway, we were looking at the contingencies. As the semifinal games in many of these conferences unfolded on Saturday, we did realize that we were going to have our work cut out for us in terms of looking at the possibility that, again, a team that was a regular-season either champion or co-champion in both the Big-10 and the Big 12 might present to us for consideration as a No. 1 seed.
We also looked at that in terms of what else was taking place with regard to Duke, for example. But we felt as though we had a solid first line. We proceeded with our work early today with the understanding that we had a first line, and we wanted to complete our work in time to have an opportunity to see where these other later games were in terms of their outcomes and how they might or might not impact the decisions that we had already made.
Q. Can you discuss IU's selection (indiscernible) Salt Lake City?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: As we started to look at the seedings and we went through the S-curve, obviously we have solid policies and procedures in place that will make sure that we send -- that we don't have match-ups of teams from the same conference into the regional finals.
There were a number of other Big-10 teams that were chosen and seeded ahead of University of Indiana. And at the time that we came to the S-curve for their spot, there were only a certain number of options that we would have had available to us at that point in time.
Q. It looks like with the exclusion of Missouri State or Cincinnati, the RPI isn't everything in your eyes. Can you talk about how you use the RPI and about Missouri State being the highest RPI team ever to be excluded?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, again, the RPI is one of those tools that we have at our disposal. It gets probably far too much attention in terms of it being a determinant.
I think the fact that we made the decisions that we made, again, will dispel some of the feeling that this is what teams are evaluated on, and this is what is going to get a team in or not.
What gets a team in the tournament is a team that performs well in its conference, a team that attempts to schedule solidly outside the conference, and does its share of business in terms of success in those games season long.
In the case of Missouri State, when we looked at the head-to-head competition with them and the other five schools that we evaluated in the Missouri Valley Conference, we took that into consideration. We took the consideration of their performance in their post-season tournament. In the case of Cincinnati we looked at their season-long performance, their performance post the injury -- or season-ending injury to a key player.
Yes, they had a very good season, as Missouri State did and many others did, but there are a finite number of spots. We had two gallons of water and a one-gallon tank. We just ran out of spots to be able to accommodate all the teams we felt were worthy for their inclusion in the tournament.
Q. Follow-up on Cincinnati. Can you talk about the impact their loss had? Is it accurate or fair to say that's one of the situations where a team's fate was decided by one last-second shot?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: No, no. Again, we looked at every possible aspect of the Cincinnati resume. I talked about the record in the last 16 games or so of the regular season. We talked about the other factors in terms of, yes, the Big East, et cetera, et cetera. But to try to pin it on one particular game, we don't put that much importance on one game.
But we do look at the second half of the season. We do look at the last 10 games of the season. And we do look at conference tournaments to a degree. They're factored in with various levels of consideration on the part of each and every committee member.
But in the case of all these teams that play so hard all season long and then to come to the point where we have to make decisions, we have a limited amount of time to make some very difficult decisions. We do the very best with all the information we have at our disposal. We selected a great field, I think. And we know there are some teams that could also be represented in this field that would play very well, too.
Q. On Cincinnati, if they had won that Syracuse game, would they be in this tournament now?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I'm not prepared to answer affirmatively, again, because we're looking at a full resume of work, a full body of work, if you will.
Q. A fair amount of discussion on Gonzaga's seeding, they could have been a No. 2, and also some surprise that Tennessee was a No. 2. What was the reckoning there?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: We looked at the success that the University of Tennessee had season-long in the Southeast Conference. We looked at, again, the body of work that they presented us. We looked at the overall relative strength of the schedule that they played, both in the conference and out of the conference, the number of games that they won. We just felt as though in this case that they were deserving of that position.
Gonzaga had another great year. Gonzaga went out and play some good people. If there was a point of distinction, it may have just had to do with the rigor that a team like a Tennessee or some of the other teams on the second line had to go through season long versus in this case Gonzaga or maybe some other teams that might similarly be situated in the future.
Q. A lot has been made about the diversity of the tournament. Can you discuss the Big East getting eight teams. Obviously, you didn't do it consciously, but what it means. How much more confusing would it have been if they got a ninth (indiscernible) bracket rules that are changing?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I think, No. 1, it means that they were a very big conference. I think it also means, more importantly means, they have a very good conference. I think that what we saw in terms of the Big East this year created some very, very unusual challenges for us as we looked at this era of the imbalanced conference schedulings, that is conference teams with identical records that have had varying degrees of difficulty to get to that point in the season where they would be ranked and placed in their conference tournaments.
We do think that the Big East has a number of other good teams that possibly did not get into the field, but essential had good years. At the end of that process, when we looked at all those teams, we felt as though the eight that were selected were eight very good teams.
Again, it's only a consequence that they happen to be from one conference. We never discuss conference in the fact until about 2:00 this afternoon when we began the seeding and bracketing process. I would not have been able to tell you how many from this conference or that conference were in the field at that point in time.
Q. Can you just speak to what would have happened, any models, with nine?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: We, in fact, last summer at our annual summer meeting did talk about the contingency of what happens if we do have that conference that might present that number of teams that would require that we go back and reconsider the policies and procedures. We voted in to approve the opportunity to move away from some of those hard and fast policies and procedures if that set of circumstances did come about.
Q. Can you address Florida State, the discussion about Florida State, what was it that kept them out? How much discussion was there about the first game at Duke where the officiating crew was suspended for a mistake?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Florida State had a great year, and it was one of the schools that received significant conversations on many different occasions. We certainly cannot put ourselves in a situation where we're trying to go back and guess at the what if's. We could not consider that first Duke game to be a win because to do that would have meant that we would have to assess the loss to Duke University. When the horn blew, the game was final, and we have to accept the result of that game as it was administered by the officials and accepted by the conference and logged as such.
Unfortunately the game happened. The circumstances occurred when they did. It got discussion, not only over this selection weekend, but we talked about this situation back a month ago when we met for our orientation, that is the preparatory work that we had a month ago here in Indianapolis when we took our first shot at looking at some of these teams, talking about the quality of teams, the qualities of their resumes, et cetera.
So, again, Florida State certainly had an outstanding year. When we looked at the full work that they did in comparison to a pool of other people at the point that we were considering these schools, the decision was made to go in a different direction.
Q. With days of deliberations to set this field, what was the biggest challenge for the committee in order to conclude its work in a positive manner?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: There were a number of challenges. I want to go back to the theme of unique challenges that this committee faced that no committee before has faced: The number of very, very high-quality basketball teams this year in some of the non-power conferences, if you will. The number of just tremendously balanced conferences, either at the tops of the conferences or at the middle of the conferences, giving very little differentiation between teams in the same conference. The imbalanced scheduling, in some cases where there were round-robin plays; on the other hand, single games between two opponents. In some rare cases, non-plays within the same conference. As such, teams within the same conference had varying paths of difficulty getting through their season.
Just being able to come up with some sort of mechanism, some sort of philosophy, rationale for evaluating this group of schools and another group of schools, what is most impressionable and most favorable in the minds of the committee. Again, as 10 people vote, they look at different things that might impress them more than another. The beauty of our deliberations, our discussions is that we gather all this information, we drill it down. Sometimes we'll discuss it. We think we've made a decision, and we'll take a night's sleep on it, come back, and red open that discussion, and possibly even change that discussion.
Those are the kinds of challenges. This was a committee that, again, faced these unique challenges with a great deal of commitment and dedication. It wasn't easy. I think as we go now through this experience, it will allow us to have a little bit better fix in future years, and hopefully we'll be able to do different things. If there's a way for us to improve on our processes as we look at teams and evaluate team, hopefully that will come as a result of the work we did this weekend.
Q. Could you please walk me through San Diego State's No. 11 seed?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Again, I think it would be a matter of trying to look at everything that they did as far as their resume, what they did in their non-conference schedule. They are an automatic qualifier. When we looked at some of the quantitative measurements in terms of raw rankings and RPIs, so forth, we certainly took that into consideration.
They unfortunately did not have any games against top 50 opponents, limited exposure in terms of games outside of their conference in the top 100 in the country. On that basis, probably when we look at an 11 seed, those would be some of the factors that were considered.
Q. How much did Ray's injury at Villanova impact? Was there talk about moving them off the 1 line because of that?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: The first thing, I think this would be an important part of my answer because we did talk about it a great deal, and it would be the feeling on the part of the entire committee that with the severity of the injury that he had, the first thing that we talked about and our first consideration was our hope that he would return to full health and be able to return to his team, yes. But ultimately our first thought when we learned about the severity of the injury, we were starting to process that whole thing yesterday morning, our thoughts were with him and his future health.
We spent some time this morning when we were trying to establish firmly the top line. We had done the due diligence in terms of trying to gather information from the institution and through the Big East Conference concerning whether he would be available, the consideration of how effective he might be. So we took into our deliberations.
We felt at the end of it that certainly this being a very key player to them, this is a good basketball team even with a basketball player that might be limited or maybe not even play. We feel that good about the quality of this basketball team. He just makes them probably a great team.
But they had a great year. He contributed significantly to his team. We felt as though they merited, based on what they did season long, both in their conference and out of conference, that they are very deserving of being a No. 1 seed.
Q. Can you talk about George Washington's seeding? They're the only one in Division I with fewer than three losses and how much did the injury (indiscernible) factor into that?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: It did factor in. His situation seemed to be a little bit more nebulous based on the information we received and the situation that I related in terms of Villanova. I think also, again, if you look at the full body of work, we felt as though from a non-conference standpoint that it could have been a little bit more challenging, a little bit more rigorous.
But on the basis of their work in the conference as well as the non-conference, that the seed that they received was a solid seed in our opinion.
Q. Texas A&M had a pretty good non-conference schedule. Was the strong finish the main factor with them?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Again, to look at Texas A&M, we looked at the last 10 games. We looked at a very good game and a win against a highly ranked opponent in the University of Tennessee. We looked at their -- I'm sorry, Texas. We looked at the fact that they performed well in their post-season tournament and quite honestly had just a whale of a game against another team that was in consideration and won by a significant margin. Those are the kinds of things that entered into our picture.
Had we preferred they played a little more strenuous non-conference schedule? In a perfect world, maybe so. We do understand there are some other circumstances that might have led to some of the scheduling decisions they made.
But hopefully all the schools around the country, regardless of their league, regardless of the other circumstances, will hear the message that the committee has tried to send for a number of years now: We hope teams will take on challenging non-conference schedules. We're not saying you need to play top 20 opponents game in and game out. All we'd like to see is that we're not having teams that are trying to present what might be viewed as artificially good records with the hope of winning 20 games and impressing us. We're looking at the work that they to against good quality opponents season long.
Q. In regard to the pod system, we're under the impression that higher seeded teams you would like not to put at a competitive disadvantage in terms of fans. When you look at Memphis, a top seed, they have a potential second round game against Arkansas which has a long history as a member of the Southwest Conference. Obviously had a long-standing rivalry with Memphis. What are your thoughts on the pod system and putting teams --
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: When we look at what we consider to be competitive advantage, we look at where teams have played their games. Certainly there are going to be some geographic considerations. But I think at the end of it, if we can come up with match-ups that don't geographically advantage teams, allow the fans of the teams, the families of the teams to travel there and to travel their easily, that that's a positive thing.
We would like to be able to take into consideration assignments to sites that put everybody exactly on the same foot, that have everybody traveling the same distance. It's just not realistic for that to happen. So when we look at the pod system, when they look at these assignments, we take into consideration what it is that this committee and the NCAA has defined as a home court. And in this particular case that you're citing, I'm sure as we look through the field, none of the teams have been put at a competitive disadvantage, that is that they're playing against teams at home sites that have that disadvantage.
Q. Can you elaborate a little bit on Missouri State in terms of what is the message to them? They got a high RPI. Non-conference was not what you were looking for?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, again, decisions are not are RPI-driven. RPIs are just a relative reflection of team's strength. But decisions are not RPI-driven. Maybe this is just one example of how the committee is very deliberative in its approaching to selecting teams.
When we looked at Missouri State as it compared to the other five schools in the Missouri Valley Conference, their record against those other five schools was not as solid as the schools that we put into the bracket. We also looked at the work that they did in the non-conference and how that compared to not only the Missouri Valley Conference colleagues, but the other schools that we might have been considering at the same time. At the end of that review process, we just felt as though there were other programs who had done a little bit more to earn their way into the tournament this year.
Q. What made Air Force attractive to the committee and how late were they put into the field?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: As I said, we have spent a lot of time watching games, a number of committee members, gathering information about a wide range of teams. When we started to talk about a program like Air Force, as it was the case with many other similarly situated programs, we had discussions and questions asked similar to, What is a really tough team to beat? Who is a team that a particular school might not want to play? We looked at those sorts of factors, took into consideration those sorts of observations and felt at the end of it that Air Force presented us with somewhat of a unique team that is a very difficult team to beat and a very, very worthy at-large candidate for this year's field.
They had two non-conference games, for example, against teams in my conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference. They won both of those games. They played a non-conference game against University of Northern Arizona team that I believe was a regular season winner, very near the top of their conference, won that game. Played the University of Washington, for example, in an away contest, and played a close game there.
So I think there are enough things that we can grab onto in terms of evidence that this is a solid selection for this year's field.
Q. (Indiscernible) hardest seeding job you guys have had?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I would say, yes, it was. Particularly when we got to about the seventh line of this field, that's where things really started to get bunched together and where these teams looked so much alike. There are a lot 11-10, 19-12, 19-11 types of records. Many of those teams from the same types of conferences. Then we also had a bunch of schools with 25-7, 24-6 records from the non-power, if you will, conferences. So that's where it really became difficult for us.
I guess probably a lot of conversation took place on those first four lines. I was amazed at the amount of time we spent on lines 13, 14, 15 and 16. But where we really got the opportunity to digest some things and debate some things is when we got to kind of that middle of our bracket, 7, 8, 9, 10, in that game of the bracket.
Q. (Indiscernible) did they have to play their way in or had you guys made a decision on them already?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: You broke up a little bit. I didn't get your complete question.
Q. Going into this weekend's conference tournament, did Texas A&M have to play their way in or were they already in?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I think what impressed us most is what they were doing toward the end of the season. That I think got them into our discussion, and the fact they had a very solid performance in their conference tournament against good competition and against at least one other team that was going to be under consideration for us.
Q. Arkansas in Dallas, traditionally it's like a second home for them. Could you explain a little, is it as simple as proximity that got Arkansas into Dallas or was there more to it?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: No, it is where they came out on our S-curve, and the seeding they got, the available sites that we had, and the options we had available to us. The other teams that had been selected from the Southeast Conference that finished ahead of them, and the limited options that we might have had on the basis of our policies and procedures for where they could go.
DAVE WORLOCK: I want to thank Craig and thank everyone to listened and participated on this evening's call.
We would like to remind you again that Craig will be available to the media for another teleconference tomorrow afternoon. That will take place at 3 p.m. eastern time. The next call will be Wednesday, March 29th at 1 p.m.
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