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NCAA tweaks bracketing guidelines for 2014 March Madness

...Because we need to find some excuse to talk about basketball.


The NCAA Selection Committee's yearly product is inevitably the subject of criticism. Some of those critiques are warranted, for instance, when well-deserving teams have been left out of the field. However, confusion over seeding is often created because of the Committee's adherence to a strict set of bracketing procedures. After ranking teams on a 1 through 68 S-Curve, seeds must be jumbled to adhere to rules about travel, hosts, avoiding rematches, and more. In rare cases, seeds have changed by as many as two spots.

The NCAA released yesterday an alteration to its bracketing procedure that will loosen those guidelines and allow teams to play closer to their natural seeds. Previously, no two teams from the same conference could be scheduled to meet before the regional finals (elite 8) round, unless more than 8 teams from one conference were selected (in which case this potential meeting could not be prevented).

Starting in 2014, this guideline will depend on the number of times the two teams met during the season. The prior rule will only apply to teams that met three times during the season. Teams that played twice could play as early as the regional semifinals (sweet 16), and teams that met just once could play in the round of 32.

Ron Wellman, the current chair of the NCAA Committee, explained the change, noting that 90% of procedural seed changes over the past 3 years would have been eliminated under the new plan. Conference realignment also likely played a part, as the familiarity between teams in growing mega-conferences will decrease.

Overall, the change has been well-received. The downside is the potential for conference rematches fairly early in the tournament, which is admittedly less than ideal. But teams' mis-seedings have unjustly created waves through entire tournaments (see Oregon, 2012).

David Teel at the Daily Press noted that the 2012 UVA squad was forced into playing the buzzsaw that was the Florida Gators because of bracketing considerations - the Hoos were originally slotted to play a tamer St. Mary's team, but the Gaels were flipped with the Gators to avoid a matchup against BYU (which had also been moved to avoid a Sunday game).

A combined 19 teams faced seeding changes in 2012 and 2013, with one of those a two-seed change (that very same BYU team).

Paranoid Wahoo fans could breathe a sigh of relief that one potential injustice that the 2014 squad would inevitably be forced into has been eliminated.

The NCAA's full release is below:

INDIANAPOLIS - The Division I Men's Basketball Committee has altered the guidelines for placing teams in the bracket of the men's basketball tournament. The change is based on feedback from NCAA schools, conferences and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), along with a desire to protect the integrity of the overall seed list.

One of the changes addresses how soon teams from the same conference can play each other in the tournament, which will be based on the frequency with which they met during the regular season and postseason conference tournament.

This means that teams from the same conference that played only once during the season can now face each other as early as the third round of the championship. Subsequently, teams from the same league that met twice during the year will not potentially play each other until the regional semifinals. Also, teams from the same league that played each other three times during the course of the season cannot play until the regional championship game.

The previous guidelines did not allow more than two teams from a league to be in the same region unless nine or more teams were selected from one conference. This has only occurred twice in the history of the championship (Big East with 11 teams in 2011 and nine in 2012). Under the new principles, each of the top four teams selected from a conference will be placed in separate regions, only if they are seeded on the first four lines. This replaces the principle that separated the top three teams from a league regardless of the teams' placement within the bracket.

"It is important we avoid the top teams from leagues receiving multiple bids to the tournament from playing one another when they are seeded in the first quadrant," said Ron Wellman, chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee and director of athletics at Wake Forest. "But after those first four lines are seeded, we want to remain as true to the seed lines as possible. Too often we have had to move teams up and down a line because we have been limited by our principles on teams from the same league. These changes will give us permissions we have not had previously."

There have been 18 instances in championship history of a conference placing seven or more teams in the tournament, with 12 of those coming since 2007. During the same timeframe, an average of 10 teams per year have moved up or down at least one line on the bracket.

"Some of the movement has been a result of trying to place teams in the First Four the past three years but much of it has been caused by conference-related restrictions," Wellman said. "We have seen teams go from 8-line to the 6-line and we have had several brackets that saw as many as 13 teams move up or down one line. This has an impact on a number of teams, not just the teams that are moved. Now we have given ourselves added flexibility and permissions. We'll certainly attempt to avoid league matchups, but we are going to honor the overall seed list and keep more teams on the lines they belong based on the committee's evaluation and voting. Our research included reconstructing brackets from the last few years and the new principles have significantly reduced, and in some cases completely eliminated, teams moving from their seed."

The committee also altered an additional consideration for rematches of non-conference regular-season games. Those will be avoided in the First Four and in the second round, if possible. To give itself even more flexibility, the committee may relax any principle in the event that two or more teams from the same league are among the last four at-large teams selected to the field and thus will participate in the First Four.

"As part of our mission, this committee will always try to improve the process," Wellman said. "We believe these changes do just that."