U SPORTS Biggest Debate: The Final 8 Seeding & At-Large Bid

As the Final 8 looms with two auto-bids to be decided in the RSEQ and the AUS championship games this weekend, one other team to compete in our national championship is yet to be decided – the team selected for the U SPORTS At-Large berth.

Last year was one of the most controversial decision in recent memory, as the Brock Badgers felt snubbed being left on the outside looking in as the Calgary Dinos earned the selection from the committee.

Adding to the drama in last year’s selection was the leak of Calgary as the wild card selection on Twitter, well before the full field was announced.

As our neighbours to the south make the selection of the tournament field a TV event that’s almost too bloated in scale, the U SPORTS selection is cloaked in secrecy, a conference call behind closed doors to decide upon the seedings and teams competing for the W.P. McGee trophy.

To get a better handle on how the process commences, I called up Scott Ring, the U SPORTS Manager of National Championships to discuss everything Final 8 Selection.

MR: Who is the selection committee for the Final 8 composed of?

SR: The selection committee is made up of essentially four coaches from across the country, so it’s one voting representative from each conference, that’s appointed by their conference that’s accountable to their conference and to U SPORTS basketball coaches and U SPORTS in general. The President of the national association of basketball coaches also sits on the call to make sure that the process is followed and he will vote in the event of a tie if they (the committee) cannot come to a consensus, and obviously if the President has qualified for the national championship he will designate someone in his chair as a replacement.

MR: So those coaches that are selected, are they supposed to stay anonymous? And what is the timeline that they are selected on?

SR: They have to be selected at least three days prior to the selection call, but usually those names are given to me far in advance of that. One of the main reasons we need to wait that long is just to be sure that those names aren’t coaches who have already qualified for nationals, or applied for wild card.

They all have to be impartial, so essentially they are four coaches that aren’t in the qualifying process for national championships and obviously you’re going into semi-finals that weekend, so that removes a bunch of teams from the process.

MR: When the coaches get onto the call, who leads the discussion from there?

SR: I’m on the call from the U SPORTS perspective, and I ensure that we keep them on task – but essentially the conversation happens between the President and the four coaches. They convene when all the conference finals have finished, and they start by selecting the wild card team, because they can’t seed without knowing the full 8 teams.

So they essentially go through the wild card at the beginning, and that process is outlined in regulation 4.2.3, there’s 10 criteria and you put the teams in a table, the coaches on the call will rank the teams 1-through however many have applied for the wild card and rank the teams in each criteria for each round of selection. At the end of each round the team with the worst score is eliminated, until they are left with the last one or two teams.

If they are left with two teams they have to have that subjective conversation which is never easy in terms of the subjectivity of the selection.

MR: We saw a situation like that last year where Calgary and Brock were neck-and-neck on criteria, in your estimation how much of it is eye test vs. criteria on how the wild card selection plays out?

SR: There are four coaches on the call, of course only one is from Canada West and one is from the OUA, so what I can say is I think that in the regulations there is a degree of discretion in its rankings for each criteria.

For example if there’s a team that has a record of 19-1 that could be considered equal to a 21-1 record, even though 21-1 is mathematically superior. Members can view the criteria, and it is also reviewed by a third party – Martin Timmerman from U Sports Hoops. He provides the criteria, fully outlined, prior to the call, so the teams are pretty much ranked prior to the call.

I would say a majority of it is numbers, but obviously if you get down to a situation where two teams are even you are gonna have subjectivity and the coaches on the call are selected to do that.

MR: With the way the balance of power is in the conferences at the moment, the OUA being so strong for example, has there been any discussion on changing rules in regards to seeding restrictions?

SR: There’s been a lot of thought in adjusting that, and there’s an approval process for that – one of the main reasons why those restrictions were added was to ensure that conference finals and championships mean something. If you have a conference champion that is ranked 8th it doesn’t bode well, so it takes more than just U SPORTS saying hey we want to make a change, there’s an approval process that would have to go through conferences and whatnot as well. So I think for now, no changes will be made, but it definitely has been talked about, 100%.

MR: So once the committee makes the selections what is the process on how that is communicated and announced to the public? Last year there was the leak ( of the wild card selection about an hour and a half before the field was officially announced, how do you try to keep it under wraps?

SR: Those coaches on the call are not allowed to speak to anyone about it, obviously last year someone did. We did do our investigation into it, and that coach will not be allowed on the committee moving forward. I think that will be an anomaly, considering the person who did leak it is a massive supporter of university basketball and obviously it wasn’t done with malicious intent.

I sit on the committee so post call I get the information immediately to our communications team and it is their responsibility to get that out. The participating teams have to be notified first, so there’s a little bit of a process right in terms of how it gets out. Once the call is done we have to notify the winner of the wild card, notify all the losers, then we have to notify all the participating teams with their seedings and schedules so that whole process in terms of getting their documentation and ensuring the schedule works with our host and that there’s no errors can take fairly long, especially if the call goes very long.

That’s kind of the way it goes, our Comms team sets the timeline based on when I schedule the call and I give them a little bit of a prelim timeline on how long I think it’s going to take, for example I will say the call is going to go until 10pm, the release is going to go out at 10:30pm and it will be embargoed until then. There’s a whole fining process that if it is released by someone early, we do an investigation and they are fined accordingly.

MR: Has there been any thought to streaming the selection process in any way to explain why each team is on each seed line or do you want to keep it strictly press release goes out? 

SR: For now it’s a press release. There has been talk about setting up a stream kind of like what the NCAA does, but I don’t think there’s…I know the President is the spokesperson so any questions go directly to him. Sometimes they tend to come to me because I can answer very quickly, but it’s pretty straight forward in the criteria – we haven’t had many questions in the four years I’ve been here.