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March 13, 2006

Craig Littlepage

DAVE WORLOCK: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Welcome to another teleconference with Craig Littlepage, director of athletics at the University of Virginia and chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee.
Craig, the selection, seeding and bracketing are now behind us. Now we can turn our focus on the tournament which begins tomorrow night in Dayton with the opening-round game. What are your thoughts as we head into what will likely be another exciting NCAA tournament?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Thank you, Dave. My immediate thoughts are the opening game tomorrow here in Dayton, the acknowledgment that this is a significant part of the championship overall. The players and coaches and those that will follow the two teams coming here tomorrow, Hampton and Monmouth, I think are deserving of our complete attention and support as we would sport the other 63 teams that will be engaging in play later this week.
The committee's work is done. I feel very good about what the committee has done, the work and dedication that has been brought to this particular championship. We know that with the outstanding play and hard work of all those student-athletes and coaches, some thousand or so student-athletes across the country that will begin this tournament, will give it their best, to best represent college basketball.
So at this time I'd be happy to take the questions.
Q. I know this was kind of touched on yesterday during the CBS broadcast, but I also heard from several coaches during interviews, some coaches from the so-called power conferences are wondering if there was a tilt toward the mid-major -- the smaller conferences because of the makeup of your group this year. Could you comment to that.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: No, in fact, I think this would be a good time to try to respond to any sort of perception that the composition of the committee would in any way impact the opinions and the ways in which committee members might view and evaluate teams.
The committee is 10 people. Out of the 10 people, six are representatives from Division IA conferences, that is the largest conferences, the major football-playing conferences, if you will. Two of the representatives are IAA, two from IAAA. The history of this committee, and one of the things that we talk about upon coming on the committee, is the theme of the good of the game and that we are all representatives of college basketball and not representing institutions or conferences. We represent them, but we don't represent them in terms of advocating on behalf of any one conference or group of conferences.
When we work through the course of selection weekend, I can tell you that in my three previous years of experience, these people work extremely hard and check their egos and check whatever other backgrounds they may have at the door to be able to best provide the kind of objective evaluation possible to this process to give us the very best outcomes overall.
The feeling that one might have, and the opinion that one might assert, that there's been a tilt or shift away from the larger conferences I don't think is an accurate one. We base all schools on the basis of schools and not conferences. The subject of conference affiliation does not enter into our discussions until the very last moments in the day when we start the bracketing process, when we're trying to ensure that teams from the same conference are not placed in places where they could conceivably play each other before the regional final.
Our feeling, though, as we evaluate programs, is that there are a number of things that we look for. Every committee member has a little bit different view on what's important. It could be how they performed in their conference; it could be how they performed the last 10 games of the year; how they performed away from home; the composition and strength of their conference schedule; the composition and strength of their non-conference schedule. It could be the rankings. It could be RPI, any or all of the above.
But to in any way feel as though there's a shift away from the bigger conferences, I don't think that's where the committee comes from. We're not looking at one set of conferences versus another. We do, however, talk to all the conferences about who they play and where they play the games, without regard to one conference versus another.
The committee over time, for a number of years, has spoken about how we do value non-conference play. We do value rigorous non-conference scheduling, and teams that do that, teams that will go out and play not necessarily an entire non-conference schedule of top 10 teams, but challenge itself, challenge its team throughout the course of their non-conference schedule, are teams that present a much more favorable view from the committee.
Q. Are you satisfied that in the makeup of the at-large teams those principles were held and this is an accurate reading of the 34 best teams in the country?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Yes. Again, when you look at each and every one of the 34 teams, understand that the votes that would have been cast to evaluate those teams is the culmination, the composition of 10 different people looking at any number and any combination of variables that will allow them to view a school and a grouping of schools because so many of our votes are not done this school up or down, or this school is in or another school is in. The majority of the votes are done on the basis of a grouping of schools and ranking of schools.
I can say without any condition that I'm satisfied this process that we went through this year is as sound as any that we've had in the past, and that it was an objective evaluation of each and every one of the at-large teams.
Q. I'm wondering if down the road you foresee any other - in future years, even when you're not on the committee - measurement enter into the whole formula of selection? I'm thinking things like, perhaps, more of a real-time measurement of a team when it played another team. Maybe you played a top 10 team back in November, and that team was judged to be much stronger at that time. Is there possibly a way to give more credit to a victory over that team at the real time?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I would hope that that's what we're doing when we talk about a conference season, because most conference seasons are played from January to February and early March. I think that also plays into the review that we give and consideration that we give to the last 10 games of the season. I think it also plays into the consideration we give to how a team might perform in its conference tournament.
Now, the question is for each of the 10 different people, how much weight they would place on any and all those variables. We try to convince everybody, just for example, that one win in a conference tournament should not necessarily be the tipping point. It may be for one committee member that three games over the course of three days in a conference tournament might be much more influential than for another person.
But I think it is that real-time, as you describe it, sort of measurement that I think does hold weight. And certainly the games that take place in the early part of the season are a measurement, or at least a snapshot, at a particular point in time. But I think they give a pretty good baseline of a team's willingness to test itself against teams from other parts of the country, hopefully teams of varying degrees of difficulty. We'll continue to use that as one piece of eight, nine, 10 different tools that are at our disposal.
Q. Billy Packer has been pretty outspoken that the committee should use like a five-year window of recent performance in judging mid-majors versus the power conferences. Do you see that happening?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I don't think that's something the committee would ever do. We base selections on current-year performance. And what a team has done over five years or what a conference has done, at least from my point of view, shouldn't enter into selections. It should be on the basis of what a team, not a conference, has done this year and not last year.
The reason that many of the supposed power conferences do better in the NCAA is as a result of the seeding process. When they perform during the regular season, they get better seeds than teams from other leagues - again, based on performance.
So if you're a two-seed playing a 15, most of the time the two-seed is going to win. As a result, the major conferences, on the basis of their performance, the team's performance from their leagues, do get that benefit.
Do they perform better? Yes. Is that a surprise that they would perform better? Well, on the basis of them having higher seeds, historically, it should not be a surprise.
Q. You mentioned separating the teams from the conferences. How is that possible, though, when so many teams' RPI and strength of schedule is based in bulk by that conference schedule?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, I think inherent in your question, if I understand it, is a question about the RPI. Again, the RPI is a very relative measurement. It is used only in the context of being somewhat of a standard that measures everybody the same way.
Again, when 10 people look at an RPI, they're going to have a different way of looking at that, and its importance to us. When we break out conferences, when we look at those, we break out conferences and look at non-conference RPIs.
There are any number of different ways that information is filtered in and is factored into the RPIs. But, again, we look at teams. When we look at teams, we look at conference records, yes, but we don't base an evaluation on the fact that they're in one conference versus the other. We look at them on the basis of what they have done, what they have done in terms of the conference play, the composition of their conference schedule, home and away, no plays in some cases, games that are played non-conference, the strength of those games home and away, how we feel, based on seeing the teams, how they have performed over the course of their season.
I mean, these are the ways in which the evaluations are made. Does RPI figure into it? In some cases, for some committee members, maybe significantly. For other committee members, maybe not quite so.
Q. Are the power conferences held to a higher standard as far as scheduling non-conference schedules?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: No. The committee itself has talked to the college basketball world about non-conference scheduling, encouraging teams to play good non-conference schedules.
The power conferences, if you will, can play anybody they want, anybody they want. They don't have limitation. They can play other schools from power conferences home and/or away. They can play teams from the non-power conferences.
The teams that are from non-power conferences don't have that luxury. They don't have that luxury. They can't call UCLA, just to use an example, University of Virginia, and say, "We want to schedule you; come to our place," and expect that they're going to get a positive result from that. As a result, it becomes, in many cases, a little bit more difficult.
But, again, what we have tried to articulate is a view that a non-conference schedule is important in that it allows us, particularly now in an abnormal environment where conference scheduling is imbalanced, to have another baseline of measurement of quality teams playing other quality teams.
Q. With that said, as far as the non-power conference schools, there's no more leeway given to them?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: No. Why would there be?
Q. You're the one saying there's limitations on what they can do scheduling-wise.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I'm making a case that it's more difficult for them to call the shots in terms of how they schedule.
Q. Last night you said you were surprised at the amount of time you spent on the bottom fourth, really, of the bracket. Given the number of teams that put up 20 wins, won their regular season and conference tournament, perhaps the bottom part of the bracket is better than it has been in recent years?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, I think it's pretty doggone solid, that's for sure. I think the quality of teams that emerged as conference tournament champions, as you've mentioned, is at a high level. I think last year we had just a tremendous, tremendous performance on the part of many of the teams that are in brackets 13 through 16. On the basis of what we've seen from these teams, the information we've gathered, the way in which they have been seeded, hopefully we'll see the same sort of high-level performance this year.
But a lot of times, I think, again, there's a perception that much attention is paid to the top four lines or who the No. 1 seeds are, maybe the next two or three lines, maybe a little more attention to the middle, and very little to the end. We probably have a little bit of an edge on many of the teams in lines 13, 14, and 15, because many of those tournaments are completed, particularly completed before Saturday of selection weekend. We have a little bit more of an idea as to who the available pool of schools and representatives might be.
We have a subcommittee of four people that meet several times during the course of selection weekend. They are asking the other committee members about perspectives they may have, if they've seen those teams play. Everybody contributes in terms of reacting to the proposals that the subcommittee makes. By the time we reach Sunday morning, we have a pretty solid slate of nominees to populate those four lines in the fourth quadrant for us.
Q. Is the subcommittee specifically charged with those four lines?
Q. No matter what my feelings be about the selections, I think everyone agrees you took quite a pounding, probably unnecessarily, from Billy Packer last night. Along those lines, how damaging is it for you when your rights-holder, CBS, and even some things on ESPN go on and on about criteria that are clearly wrong? Past performance you made clear is not part of the criteria. What can you do to educate your own rights-holders so they don't further damage the process?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I think just that. We have to have more conversations about the partnership, how we need to work together a little bit better, or at least have better information and accurate information.
I think Billy made a comment about the Missouri Valley, that he hadn't seen them play, but yet he felt comfortable enough to talk about what he perceived to be a lower level of performance, not only this year, but over time. It just seems to be counterintuitive if you will, that he would make such a comment like that.
The unfortunate thing is that we work under an extraordinary deadline. I think you can imagine the pressure that is in the room and the tension that builds up leading into Sunday.
We are working on this tournament field literally up until 45 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes, to handing it over to CBS when they go on the air.
We have a situation, and yesterday was the perfect example, of three championship games that are in play at a point in time that we're trying to seed teams. We're not able to bracket those teams because the outcomes of those games may impact how teams are seeded - not only seeded on the first line, but the potential for, example yesterday, South Carolina could win the Southeast Conference championship, take a spot in the field, and completely disorient the work that would be done on the seedless part of that time.
If you take that times three, with the ACC and Duke, if Duke by chance doesn't win the game, will that impact them being on the first line or not? If the Big-10 championship is won by Ohio State, who is a regular season and potentially then a tournament champion, will that impact them in terms of moving up, another team on that one line moving down? The same thing with the Big 12.
We're trying to juggle all these balls, all the different variables that can happen as a result of that. We start out with a standard that, based on what we know right now, this is how we would seed this championship. We begin our work around 3:00 in the afternoon. Then we're keeping an eye on the games that are being played trying to play all this stuff out. We're working under this extraordinary deadline, trying to look at all the different "what ifs" and different scenarios, and then we have to have time to digest it and make sure all the policies and procedures are being kept.
The analogy that I use is doing your taxes on April 15th at 11:45, and you're still trying to enter all your deductions, you know you have to get the doggone thing to the post office by 11:59 p.m. That's the environment we're working under.
Again, with so many moving parts, I think the biggest thing right now is, as you said, the education piece and just making sure that they understand a little bit better what it is that we do. And, as well, maybe a little bit of time, because it is an extraordinarily tight deadline that we have to work under. That's not necessarily CBS' problem, but I think it's a problem with the college basketball community and conferences that choose to play their championship games on Sunday, minimizing our ability to clearly and fully evaluate all of the information in that contemporaneous situation of the outcome of the games.
Q. If I wrote a column saying the selection committee should have picked the field based on how they had performed in previous years, Greg or Dave certainly would have sent me an email correcting me. They would have been a hundred percent within their rights to do so.
Q. Are you shocked? Deadlines aside, Billy Packer and anybody at CBS or ESPN should know the rules. They're plainly stated. Are you shocked he was that wrong on national television?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: He may have an opinion, or the two of them may have an opinion about that. They're certainly free to have those opinions and express those opinions. But to just look at this in terms of the partnership, you would hope that there would be a little bit better understanding of what it is that we do, an accurate reflection of the facts, as they know them to be facts instead of opinions, would be helpful.
Q. Missouri State coach this morning, Barry Hinson, was on a conference call. He said he's kind of frustrated and doesn't really understand what to do about his scheduling, the second best schedule in the league, their RPI up in the low 20s, 8-2, four other teams in their conference made the field, they didn't make it. What do you tell him at this point?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: We took a look at the complete Missouri Valley picture of six teams in particular, as we took a look at many other teams in other conferences during the course of the weekend. The Missouri Valley itself presented us with a slate of information that looked at head-to-head match-ups among the six schools and other information relative to six very fine basketball programs.
On the basis of that, and on the basis of their performance against some of their peers, other situations that might have related to their tournament and how they played, the other factors that each and every committee member, again, inserts into his decision about their comparison to other comparably situated programs led the committee to decide there were other schools, not just Missouri Valley schools, but other schools that were better situated at this point in time for inclusion in the field. The advice I would have would be to look at the performance of the team.
I don't have the particulars in terms of all the stats here. But I understand their questions. I understand their disappointment. Please understand that the committee is equally devastated when we know that there are excellent teams that won't have the opportunity to play. But Missouri State has had a great year. I guarantee you that we had enormous amounts of information based on having seen teams play, having consultations with representatives from the league, and using all the information to give that to 10 people who cast votes of one school in comparison to other groupings of schools. We did the very best and made the very best decision, I believe, based on the information that we had.
Q. I know how you would answer any question as to how the two opening-round opponents tomorrow night were placed in that game. Is there any sensitivity, either personally or on the committee, to the fact that this is the fifth consecutive year that an historically black conference is represented in that game? There does appear to be some sensitivity to that within those leagues.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: If you could phrase that in a question, I don't know if you did. I didn't hear a question.
Q. I'm sorry. I know how you would answer the question as to how those schools get placed in that game. I was wondering if there's any sensitivity to the fact that every year an historically black school winds up in that game? When the APRs came out a couple weeks ago, they felt a disparity in impact there. I don't know if anybody questioned the NCAA's motives in putting together its formula. Myles Brand conceded it was something they felt was unfortunate. It's a little bit apples and oranges, but a parallel type of a situation.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Right. Well, I think what we do try to accomplish is to figure out, based on a team's performance, based on the other criteria that might enter into an evaluation, where teams are seeded, not only in the fourth quadrant, if you will, but position 1 through 65.
Certainly a committee of any type could look to exempt or have a waiver or come up with some sort of policy that said once every X-number of years a team would not have to -a conference's champion would not have to play in the opening round game.
But that's something that would require a great deal of study, I think a lot of conversation, and quite honestly some input from the membership itself as to whether or not a championship bracket should be put in and contrived in such a way that it keeps not only historically black institutions, but other conferences that might have similar sensitivities, out of the opening round game.
Q. I don't know how much control the committee has over something like this. We have a situation where Boston College was flying home last night when the brackets were announced. Turned out, they got there, turned back to Salt Lake City. They're playing Thursday at 10:40 a.m. Is there anything you can do about that situation?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Again, that's another one of those unfortunate things that, because of the timing that we have when we're putting this together, when we're assigning teams to sites and doing our bracketing, it becomes very difficult. We have a true seeding and a seed list.
Then as we start to go through it, we're trying to adjust to multiple teams from the same conference, when they could possibly play each other, trying to assign teams to sites that make geographic sense, that's not always the case we can do that based on the policies and procedures. Sometimes these situations where teams play on Sunday, then have to turn around and make these long trips, such as the one that you cited, happen.
The other possibility is to look at the seeding. I know the teams are sensitive to the fact that to do something like this, it may mean instead of being a three seed or four seed, they get dropped to a fifth or sixth seed. Is that a fair thing to do? Is that the way that the school itself would want it to be handled?
In the conversations I've had with coaches, they would prefer to have their true seed as opposed to be dropped a line, just so that they could avoid some of these circumstances.
Just as a point of reference, the game time is actually 1:40 Eastern Time, though you do correctly state that it's at 10:40 Mountain Time, the start out there. I think the latest possible start time that would enable all the games to get in that are being played on that day.
Again, I think there are things that we would have to be able to accomplish with our partner to be able to accommodate all these unique circumstances. That's one that certainly we don't like to see. But given the time slots that we have and the number of hours, the finite number of hours that are in a day in order to get games in, these are going to happen on occasion.
Q. The only other team that played Sunday and will play on Thursday is Florida. They only have to go to Jacksonville.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Yes. Again, to go back to the point I made before, the alternative is to drop them a line. They were the last team I believe on that fourth line. So to have looked at options for them, that would have meant them going from a four seed to a five seed. The difference there is the difference between playing a 13 seed or a 12 seed.
Again, being around coaches, hearing these conversations and reactions, I prefer more coaches than not would prefer to play on their true seed line as opposed to be dropped to change a potential game time.
Q. You mentioned earlier about the mid-major conferences not perhaps having the opportunity to schedule difficult non-conference opponents. Was that a factor with Air Force?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Again, I think it's relative. If you look at the non-conference schedule, they went and played at the University of Washington, they played two teams in my own conference, the ACC they played Miami and Georgia Tech. Both teams that in a given year you would anticipate would be maybe RPIs in the top 50. Georgia Tech played in the championship game just a couple years ago. Miami certainly in the top 100.
I think when they scheduled those games, they scheduled them with the thought that these were real good non-conference tests. And I think they were. To their credit, they had wins over ACC teams. Again, that was not the determinant that got them in or kept somebody else out. But on review of all the information we had on them, and based on the quality of work that they did, based on the feedback that we had from people that played against them or that saw their teams play, we felt that was a solid at-large choice for this year's championship.
Q. In talking to Craig Thompson, a former committee member, he said on the culmination of his chairmanship, that Sunday night or Monday, he had I believe it was 600 emails, 400 emails, I could have that backward. Any idea what your numbers were today?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: I don't think quite that high. But if you publish that, that may instigate a number of others kind of pouncing on at this point (laughter).
No, I anticipated based on my support from Bob Bowlsby, my predecessor, Terry Holland, also was chair of the committee, people like Craig Thompson, I got a chance to staff the first and second round sites in Denver a year or two ago, spent a lot of time with Craig and his staff out there, I had an understanding of what to expect, and I wasn't surprised by that.
That's an inevitable part of what this committee does. We are going to be second-guessed, good, bad or indifferent. We're going to make 65 teams, coaches and programs happy. We're going to make hopefully a small number unhappy. That small number of teams that we make unhappy have hundreds, if not thousands, of very dedicated and loyal fans. They want their opinions to be known about the quality of their program. I understand that. I understand that many of those schools are the very near equal of many of the programs that are in this tournament. That's the difficulty of the job.
But there's a point at which the committee has to make decisions, that the committee has to come up with a tournament bracket, and we have to feel good about it at the end of the process. This committee does feel very good about the work that it's done. We will be second-guessed. There's no question that we all expect that. But I think when we tip it up tomorrow night here in Dayton and later in the week in the sites around the country, we're going to be focused on the games and the teams and the move toward Indianapolis and the Final Four.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, everyone, for participating on this afternoon's call.

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