Doug Fullerton is wrapping up his 19th year as the commissioner of the Big Sky Conference after an 11-year run as Athletics Director at Montana State. In 2009 he was appointed to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee, which is in charge of putting all 68 teams into a bracket on Selection Sunday. CHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Doug about who gets in, why they belong, and how to survive the busiest weekend of his entire year.
How many hours per day do you work on selection stuff back in November, and how many hours per day did you work on it last week? We started on Wednesday morning as the conference tourneys began to unfold and would work all day and into the night. On Saturday night with 10 tourneys ending that night we will go to midnight or even later. I probably put in 3-4 hours a day earlier in the year, but the nice thing is that every committee member becomes well-versed on their own set of conferences. There are some schools that you can eliminate from at-large contention early in the process, but we can get it down to a manageable number by January. When you have five tourney title games on Sunday it really affects our bracketing procedures. I had the first quadrant (teams 1-17), and those last few games created 32 possible scenarios, which in turn creates some angst in my mind. Any change in the seed line can change the entire bracket, so it is impossible to do everything in a 30-minute window from 5:30-6PM on Selections Sunday. I wish we could finish those games earlier so that we had a few hours to just sit down and know what we are looking at.
How many games would you estimate you have watched this season, and what role does the “eye test” play (if any)? I do not know how many games I have watched. If I watch the first 10 minutes of a game on DVR then I can usually get a good sense of a team, and then I will watch the final 10 minutes to see how they do down the stretch. I played/coached the game of basketball so the eye test is big for me: how long they are, how quick they are, etc. When I switch from games in one conference to games in another conference I can really see the difference, but a team’s resume remains an extremely important part of the process.
Which primary conferences were you assigned to this year, and how much weight do you give to input from representatives of these conferences? I give a lot of weight. I had the Pac-12 this year as 1 of my primaries, and the conference had a very uneven schedule with the 2 best teams only playing once during the regular season, so you cannot simply base your rankings on their conference finish. Once in a while we will disagree with the representatives, but most of the time they are pretty darn straight in their opinion and we end up in agreement.
What are the major categories that affect a team’s seed (big road win, bad home loss, other), and why are they more important than other categories? I try to get a sense for what good teams do. They tend to beat other good teams, so I really look at the non-conference strength of schedule (NCSOS), although sometimes you have to dig deeper to see whether it is misleading. All I ask is that you try to schedule well, but it is all relative. A 150 NCSOS is not a black mark for me, but if you have a 300 NCSOS then I question whether you are even trying to build a true resume. Top-25 and top-50 wins are also important to me, as well as your road record: most teams lose 60-70% of their road games, so that is what I zero in on.
How do you value conference road wins vs. non-conference road wins? I value them equally, but it helps when comparing mid-majors to teams from other conferences.
How important is a team’s “signature win”? That kind of goes along with beating the best teams. A single win can get my attention, but I need to see some consistency otherwise it might just be an outlier.
What role do injuries and suspensions have on a team’s seed? That is a key issue and a tough issue, so I am glad that we have 10 people in the room looking at it. You have to be careful about wins and losses when a team is missing a player, as it is purely conjecture to speculate whether the outcome occurred due to an injury or suspension. If a guy misses a long stretch of games and I see a pattern develop, then I get a sense for the impact of the injury. The hardest thing is late-season injuries: it is very unfair to say that the loss will ruin the team because maybe there is someone ready to step in and replace him. It might affect their seeding but I do not want it to affect whether they make the tourney if they are a team that deserves to make it.
If a team wants to make the tourney, are the better off scheduling decent teams who they think they can beat, or great teams who they can only hope to upset, or a nice mix of both, or other? It depends on who you are, but probably a nice mix of both. There is 1 team whose resume stands out: I cannot recall ever seeing so many wins against so many great teams. If you cannot win your conference tourney and you want to be an at-large team, then I want to see how you did against other at-large teams. However, there is a point of diminishing returns because too many losses can put doubt into people’s minds. As a league commissioner I talk to my coaches/ADs about that issue a lot: it is more art than science.
When you are compared to the College Football Playoff committee in the future, what significance is there to the fact that one is governed by the NCAA and one is not? I really believe that a lot of the things we do will be brought into the football world during their deliberations. As a math major who knows a little about numbers, the problem will be the small size of the group you are working with. It is easier to compare teams in basketball because they played 30+ games; if you compare football teams then you only have 12 or so games to look at, which might bring more subjectivity into play.
Can you provide a brief explanation for including NC State and not including SMU? Committee members will not talk about individual teams, but there are 10 different thoughts about almost every team in the room. I think that makes the process healthier, but if you take a look at what is most important to me I think you will be able to figure out my answer.