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March 7, 2006

Joni Comstock

Sue Donohoe

R. NIXON: We thank you for joining today's teleconference with Joni Comstock. She is the Director of Athletics at American University and chair of Division I Basketball Committee. The ten member Division I Basketball Committee will begin meeting this Friday, March the 5th, in Indianapolis to select the seed and brackets of 64 teams for the 2006 Division I Women's Basketball Championship. 31 conferences will have an automatic qualification into the Championship which a remaining 33 teams will be selected at large. The 64 team bracket for the 2006 Championship will be announced at 7 P.M. eastern time, Monday, March the 13th, on ESPN. First and second round games will begin --(inaudible) Saturday, Monday March 18 and 20; Sunday, Tuesday, March 19 and the 21. Also on our call this afternoon our NCAA staff members including Sue Donohoe. She will be available to answer questions and step in as needed throughout our conference.
At this point, I'd like to turn it over to Joni Comstock for some opening comments.
JONI COMSTOCK: I would like to welcome everyone to our teleconference and for making a commitment to NCAA Division I Basketball. (Inaudible) Women's basketball has grown dramatically in the last several years and certainly noticeably again this current year. I thank everybody, members of the media today who are joining us, for their personal dedication to the game. We have completed a committee teleconference and we are, as Rick said, about three days from our Women's Basketball Committee meetings convening in Indianapolis.
While we have a great deal of work to be done, we are closing in on what we all consider on the committee to be really a year-long process (inaudible) considering teams, evaluating them, and ready to select and bracket our teams, however, as we all know, there are many critical conference tournament games yet to be played.
As I've sort of think about this current year, I think we have more teams than ever that we have really needed to watch very closely that have appeared (inaudible) most of our regional ranking of teams have been in and out of our preliminary, again, rankings and deliberations. There's great parity, I think, between conferences and among -- (inaudible) -- it's been really great to watch the Conferences and grow with NCAA Women's basketball.
Just as Rick said, just a reminder in terms of how we will do our business in selecting and bracketing -- (inaudible) -- the teams' overall
performance ultimately we'll use all of the tools, including the RPIs, that everyone -- (inaudible) -- it will be really what we consider to be the informed judgment of the committee -- effective data that we can use to compare the teams and looking forward to the process. Of course, ESPN again will be our television partners. Fabulous site. We're just really very much looking forward to the experience. I think another great thing about this year will be moving to Monday night selection show and we believe that it is a calculated risk but a very good move to further differentiate and advance NCAA women's basketball. I am happy to talk more about any part of the process and again, I thank everybody for joining us today.
R. NIXON: Please mute your lines unless you are going to ask a question so we can hear accordingly.
Q. In terms of a loss like Rutgers had last night, I know that the committee does look at the body of work but what does a loss like that to a number 1 to a 12 seed in a conference tournament after winning a regular season Championship, after going 16 and 0 in the conference, what does that play on in the committee's mind in terms of seeding?
JONI COMSTOCK: Well, as you mentioned, obviously I am sure that all the committee members were watching that game last night. It was a critical one, but again, really what you are saying, it's the entire performance over the entire season that we really will be evaluating. We do give particular attention to the last 10 games of a record. However, again, it is? -- (inaudible) ? ---
Q. Hello? ---
JONI COMSTOCK: (Inaudible).
R. NIXON: Any other questions we can pass on to Joni?
Q. Could she finish answering the one I asked?
R. NIXON: Rutgers and their loss, how that may affect their position.
JONI COMSTOCK: As I indicated, obviously it is a critical time of the season. I am sure that all of the committee members were watching the game last night, but again, we really will take that game and it will be considered really as a total with the performance of Rutgers' team throughout the entire season.
Q. Despite the fact? -- despite the opponent that they lost to and the seed and all that in the conference tournament?
JONI COMSTOCK: Yes, absolutely. All of those things will be taken into consideration.
R. NIXON: Next question, please.
Q. I just would like to know how hard it is or how hard it might be for you to pick No. 1 seeds this year?
JONI COMSTOCK: I think this is my fifth year on the committee. It's been a very interesting process each year because it does vary. There have been other years that we have had time deliberating about the No. 1 seeds and in other years that it was more definitive. It appears to me at this time that it will take up a great deal of the committee's time to really consider all of the factors and make that decision? -- (inaudible) -- I think it's going to be a challenge.
Q. If West Virginia would upset Connecticut tonight, how much would that really mess things up?
JONI COMSTOCK: Well, again, I think that West Virginia has done a great job in the tournament and clearly, how they have played in the last several games, I think, is going to be very interesting to the committee and games along the way. I think it's going to add more things that the committee will have to consider? -- (inaudible)--
Q. Can you talk about how you guys are going to balance the geographic issues with the bracketing and where the seeds fall and how much effort there will be made to keep the teams close to their region?
JONI COMSTOCK: I may ask actually Sue to go over some of that. First and foremost, after we select the teams we go through -- (inaudible) there are geographical considerations that we do give according to how they fall in the bracket. So you might want to go over a couple of points for that for her.
SUE DONOHOE: Yeah, I think that as you are all aware we have principles and procedures that the committee follows during the selection process. The principles and procedures of the process are non-negotiable points. Those are points that the committee must follow when? -- in the selection seeding and bracketing. One of those principles and one of the procedures for bracketing is that games are assigned to sites based on seed priority. So a higher seeded team will receive a geographical preference over a lower seeded team. As the teams are seeded, as the teams are put into a bracket, higher seed teams are designated to sites and we move in seed order by site designation. When teams are put in the bracket, they are put in a bracket according to region. Then once we have all the institutions that are hosting into the brackets, then we start designating first and second round sites. But again, that's done by seed order.
Q. I am curious about how the committee weighs winning the regular season title versus winning the conference tournament title, does one weigh heavier than the other in your decision making?
JONI COMSTOCK: No, again those are all factors, they are all very important, but it is for the teams, it will be their performance over the entire season.
Q. I was wondering -- I am covering Maryland women's basketball and they are competing with, I guess, Tennessee for a No. 1 seed. How much weight do you give to the head-to-head game back in November as well as Tennessee's two losses to unranked teams?
JONI COMSTOCK: Again all of those factors will be looked at by the committee. (Inaudible).
R. NIXON: Could you repeat the last answer.
JONI COMSTOCK: In looking at and making that evaluation goes back to looking at their entire performance over the -- (inaudible)?? -- however, consideration of head-to-head competition is one of the things that they look at very closely.
Q. University of Virginia, how do you look at a team like that when they might have a good RPI and a good overall record but they are just 5 and 9? in -- (inaudible) --
JONI COMSTOCK: Again, we'll look at their overall record, the RPI will be a consideration and obviously the ACC, you know, that record is against very, very good competition. Again it will be considered in total. Those are factors that become important.
Q. At what point do you say, okay, the team record is just not good enough -- (inaudible) -- how do you weigh that team record? How do you consider a team 5 and 9, versus a team that's 6 and 8 or 7 and 7?
JONI COMSTOCK: I don't think the committee really evaluates necessarily in that way. I think a lot of times it kind of goes back to the same type of question that people ask about the magical 20 wins or games over 500 for the season or in the conference; again, it's the overall look at, watching the team, evaluating how they play and evaluating their overall performance of the season.
Q. How many teams in the Big East right now would you say are being considered in the NCAA tournaments?
JONI COMSTOCK: I would say at this point all of them. We're obviously -- Friday we will start that discussion. There have been a number of teams that have been ranked both regionally and nationally very high -- (inaudible) --I think there will be an awful lot of the teams in that conference that will have very careful review.
Q. How much would the committee take into consideration the number of No. 1 seeds from a particular conference? I am thinking of the ACC, could it be possible to seed three No. 1 seeds out of the ACC?
JONI COMSTOCK: Yes, there's nothing in our bracketing or selections or any of those principles that will preclude that from happening.
Q. I wanted to know, Old Dominion has a very good RPI but they have no top 50 wins, how critical is their winning a Conference tournament for them receiving an NCAA bid?
JONI COMSTOCK: I think it's an important consideration. Again, certainly, they have good strength of schedule, a good RPI, they will certainly improve their chances with a tournament win.
Q. How unusual would it be for a team that did not win either its regular season or its conference tournament to be awarded a No. 1 seed?
JONI COMSTOCK: I think in the time that I have been on the committee that -- (inaudible) -- I think that it would be unusual but it is possible for a team to be a No. 1 seed and not win a tournament or the regular season.
Q. The Big 10, how you evaluate it, can you see this Conference getting maybe five or six teams or is it not that deep in your opinion?
JONI COMSTOCK: I think if you just look at overall RPI of the Big 10 this year, it appears that, as a Conference, they may be down slightly in strength but to really guess on how many teams will be in? -- (inaudible) I couldn't really do that.
R. NIXON: If you have questions for Sue we have her here.
Q. Has legislation been passed that at some point you can't bring your own arena in the future?
SUE DONOHOE: Beginning in 2007 we'll go to regional (inaudible) site and our policy will be similar to the -- (inaudible) -- that if you play more than three regular season games, not including your Conference tournament you won't be assigned to that site. That will be for regionals only; not for the first or second rounds. That is the committee's incremental step in moving the Championship to a neutral (inaudible) that will be in regionals only beginning in '07.
Q. With Bridgeport being a regional site this year how much do you guys want U-Conn to be there for ticket sales or could you not think like that?
SUE DONOHOE: Well, you can't think like that. Certainly from a Championship perspective, attendance is important for the student athlete experience when those players walk into an arena, to walk into a full arena, but you can't think like that and the way that our process is set up, the last thing that we even look at and that we talked about is putting teams at sites. We do that for the reason of not allowing that to impact and influence part of the process, whether it's selections, seeding or bracketing, that's the very last thing that we do from keeping that having an impact or influence on the process.
Certainly, when we've had U-Conn at Bridgeport we have had great attendance, but we've had great attendance at a lot of sites you know, likewise, so we'll pay attention to attendance but only at the end when we start putting teams at sites.
Q. Did you guys start going in that direction more last year when Tennessee didn't go to Chattanooga?
SUE DONOHOE: Again each year the committee spends time tweaking and looking at the principles and procedures in order to try and maintain the integrity of the process and the balance of the process. And clearly, the principle as it read, was if two teams with similar seeding or in the same contingent, same geographic region, the higher seeded team will maintain that geographic region. It just so happened last year that LSU was a higher seeded team than was Tennessee. Chattanooga was the closest available site for LSU so LSU got the nod because they were a higher seeded team than was Tennessee. Tennessee got sent away.
JONI COMSTOCK: I am back on.
Q. Can you expand on the Big 10 question again, just the Big 10 having relatively lower RPI this year how that might affect Ohio State as a not No. 1 seed? -- (inaudible) --
JONI COMSTOCK: Again, I don't think that at this point obviously we can comment or guess even the number of teams that the Big 10 necessarily will get in. I was just commenting that in comparison to other years it does appear if you look at the Conference RPI that the Big 10 is down. But that will not? -- that Conference RPI not have a bearing on the number of teams that are selected. It's obviously an evaluation and a major of how each of the teams (inaudible) as a group of them, but we'll look at each of the teams and make decisions from there. It will become very important, whether it's Ohio State or whoever it might be, in the Big 10, looking at what they have done within the Conference and then also certainly outside of the Conference.
Q. In regards to Iowa and Indiana, both of them left a bad final impression with blowout losses in their last game. How much does that kind of last impression effect the way you look at those teams?
JONI COMSTOCK: Well, as we talked about Rutgers and some of the other teams earlier, again, I feel certain that the committee watched the game last night; that it will? -- as we make all of those judgments, that yes, that's a piece, but I don't think and I have a lot of confidence in the committee members, that we won't let just one game? -- again, it is the evaluation of the total season and you can't overweight just, you know, one game, whether it's the last one at the end of the season or whatever point. We'll be very careful about that.
Q. Following up, how heavily weighted are the final 10 games, particularly for a team who may take a pretty good slide in those last 10 games?
JONI COMSTOCK: Without a doubt, we look closely, because I think it is definitely an indication of, you know, how the team has progressed, how they are playing and the committee's responsibility is to pick the best 64 teams that are -- that deserve the opportunity to go into the NCAA tournament. So, yes, it is an important factor but it's one of many.
Q. Can you expand on your comment at the very beginning of why you considered it a calculated risk moving from Sunday to Monday?
JONI COMSTOCK: As much as anything, we often in years have referred to "Selection Sunday" and that has become very much a tradition with sports, with NCAA basketball and people connect with that. However, I think that you can go back in our -- the history and, you know, (inaudible) development of Women's basketball and we have done any number of things to try to get a -- (inaudible) -- take some risks. We have moved the Championship day and we see this as?? -- you know, we can't predict for sure how it's going to impact the coverage. We're hoping that it is going to be a positive thing, but we're going to make this move, see how it works out on Monday; then evaluate it after the season and go from there.
Q. Will the committee look to prevent a No. 1 seed from playing what could amount to a road game like if U-Conn is the No. 2 or 3 seed in Bridgeport, for example?
JONI COMSTOCK: I think I am understanding the question. We have? talked earlier in terms of our bracketing process. We have very tight principles and procedures that guide us in terms of how we assign each of the teams in the bracket and then where they sit geographically. So other than the deference that we give to a host site and then again, any other consideration of brackets, such as Conference matchups early, you know, those kinds of things don't weigh into our decision. I think I am understanding your question. Sue, if I am understanding what you are asking? ---
SUE DONOHOE: I think you are right on target. I think the question would be if Connecticut were sent to Bridgeport and because of the seeding they were to match up against the No. 1, No. 1, would we manipulate the brackets? to prevent that, we wouldn't. Likewise, a lot of times questions will come to the committee will you manipulate the bracket in order to create certain matchups and they would never do that either.
Q. UTC has won 26 straight games and clearly the strength and schedule has not been great during that run, but how sensitive are you to that when you begin to look at the seeding?
JONI COMSTOCK: In terms of their overall record?
Q. Exactly, and the fact that they have 26 straight wins right now?
JONI COMSTOCK: Certainly that's very significant because, of course, one of the considerations is their overall Division I record. Having said that, the other things that we do look at are their records against teams that are ranked 1 to 25 in the RPI, 26 to 50 and so again, while winning is very, very important, it is also your strength of schedule.
Q. When you have two teams like Maryland and Tennessee contending for a No. 1 seed, how much weight do you give either the head-to-head match-up that they had back in November as well as Tennessee's two losses to the unranked teams?
JONI COMSTOCK: Both of those things are important. We definitely will look at and use the head-to-head competition, but again, it's the overall record and it's also strength of schedule, so -- but head-to-head is? -- we evaluate that.
Q. Will you try to avoid having a No. 1 seed meet a host school in the second round?
JONI COMSTOCK: Again I am not? -- I think it goes back to what we had discussed before. We really have very tight principles for how we place the seeds in the bracket. So we don't manipulate teams and either create matchups or avoid them. I think I am answering your question.
Q. From the standpoint of geography in the early rounds though I guess you have got 16 sites so you would say that the those 16 have the first shot at geography and on that basis, while I am not 100% guarantee-- (inaudible) that a Rutgers could end up in Trenton with two high teams there --
JONI COMSTOCK: Yes, definitely possible.
Q. Would a team like Ohio State that has an RPI that is eight or nine right now, I think, have a chance to be a No. 1 seed?
JONI COMSTOCK: Yes, I think definitely. Again, the RPI is one tool, but it's just? -- as the Committee refers to it, it's a way of organizing information and the RPI is not? -- it just helps us look at teams and put them in the category, but it does not remove teams from certain groupings nor does it, you know, ensure that somebody is a guaranteed one, two or whatever seed.
Q. How important does strength of schedule come into play in the selection process?
JONI COMSTOCK: It is very important and again it obviously plays into an overall RPI and one of, again, one of many things that the Committee considers is how a team does against teams that are ranked 1 to 25 in that RPI and then 26 to 50 and, you know, you are given and clearly there's more consideration given to teams who play a greater and harder strength of schedule that is more difficult and has a higher strength of schedule, no question about it.
Q. If West Virginia, say they wouldn't necessarily win but they play a really tight game -- they would have a losing overall record, but have you put teams in before that have had possibly a close to 500 record?
JONI COMSTOCK: I am sure that we have. We do not? -- we definitely look at a school's Division I record, but there is no cut-off point that we say, well, if you are below 500, or if you have had, you know, fewer than 20 wins or anything like that, those things don't in and of themselves, keep a team out of the tournament.
Q. You had mentioned earlier in this call that there was nothing that would preclude the Committee from having three ACC teams as a No. 1 seed. You have got two SEC teams that are viable candidates too. Is there anything that would preclude you all from having those two Conferences dominate the ones if the teams warranted it?
JONI COMSTOCK: Absolutely not. It will be the teams who have performed throughout the year and have earned it.
Q. You said earlier that you suspect the Committee is going to have to spend a lot of time this year sorting out who the No. 1 seeds are going to be. In looking at it preliminarily how many candidates do you see out there as contenders for No. 1 seed?
JONI COMSTOCK: I would really not want to put a number on it right now. I think there are Conference games that are going to play into that in a very critical way, but I would again say that more than four and that the Committee is going to have to take a great deal of time in considering in looking at all the factors. I think the kind of season that we have had, it's a great thing that so many Women's basketball teams have made it a challenge for us this year. This is great for Women's basketball.
Q. How are the teams that -- some of the RPI anomalies, I guess, teams like Stoneybrook and Libert that are in the top 50 but don't really have quality Top-50 wins viewed by the Committee?
JONI COMSTOCK: That's one of the reasons that we try to take so many factors and also we rely on the judgment and the evaluation of our Committee members as they have watched games and really looked at what happened throughout the season. Clearly, with the RPI, there, as you said, there are mathematical quirks or anomalies that occur, so while Stoneybrook or whatever team that will be, they will get full consideration. They have had a great year. A lot of wins and so for those reasons, you know, they will get a hard look by us, but just because they fall a certain place in the RPI does not guarantee even entry into the tournament.
R. NIXON: We'll have transcripts of today's press conference available. Thank you once again for joining us.

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