|Ramapo head coach and men's national committee member Chuck McBreen: “At the end of the day we just want to do our due diligence and get this right for the rest of the country.”
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Ryan Scott
The NCAA is a bureaucracy. We all know that.
There are committees upon committees and it’s tough to keep track of who does what. We forget sometimes, though, that those committees are all just made up of people – Division III coaches and administrators giving their time to make the whole thing work.
- NCAA Tournament Frequently Asked Questions
- First set of NCAA regional rankings: Men | Women
- Listen to National Committee Chairs on Hoopsville Marathon
"We’re a grassroots organization,” says Bobbi Morgan, Haverford coach and Chair of the Women’s Basketball Committee. She is responsible for guiding the process of regional rankings and ultimately the selection and bracketing for the national tournament. “Particularly at the Division III level – it’s our sport and we want to put on a great tournament."
I’ll be honest: it gets a little boring. It’s much better to talk with the committee members themselves to find out what goes into the job and why on earth basketball coaches would agree to serve when they’re already busy with coaching, teaching, scouting, recruiting, and all the other duties that come with their actual jobs.
2018 Men's National Committee
“I have learned to appreciate the D3 family” says Greenville men’s basketball coach George Barber, who is currently serving his fifth season on the men’s basketball committee, “It’s not like D1. We mow our own lawns. We drive our own bus. We wash our own uniforms – I mean, not always, but you understand. No one is getting me coffee. In D3 the coach does everything."
Barber really does mean everything. In addition to his coaching and class load, he’s also running for Illinois State Senate right now and working in his national committee responsibilities alongside everything else.
“I’ll admit, the campaign is probably suffering the most right now. I’m someone with a desire and a capacity to serve, so I look for opportunities to do that. I put my name in for any committee and this is where they had an opening. I’m happy to serve.”
Service is the key. There are eight members on each national committee, one from each region. They are selected by the NCAA Division III nominating committee from a pool of applicants who’ve agreed to be considered. Coaches and administrators from the various schools and conferences in each region are eligible to serve a four-year term.
One of the primary responsibilities for national committee members is to chair their Regional Advisory Committee (RAC), a group comprised of one representative from each conference in the region, which compiles a recommended regional ranking for the national committee to consider.
“The regional advisory committee is a suggestion,” reiterates Tim Fitzpatrick, Coast Guard Academy Athletics Director and the current national men’s basketball committee chair. “We work diligently for two and a half month – January 1st to March 15th or so, to select 21 (at-large) teams and bracket the field."
It may seem like a simple task, but a lot of time and effort goes into the process. Each committee has five primary criteria they consider – winning percentage against Division III opponents, strength of schedule (a unique formula for men’s and women’s competition), results head to head, results versus common Division III opponents, and results versus regionally ranked opponents – along with some secondary criteria if the primary are not enough to make decisions.
“We try to get as much done as we can on the first screen,” says Fitzpatrick, referring to the NCAA data available to the committee on their computers as they participate in the conference calls that determine RAC suggestions and ultimately the regional rankings.
Once the RAC calls are completed on Tuesday, the national committee has a Wednesday call where the representative from each region presents their RAC’s recommendations and the national committee discusses what the final rankings will be. Changes are sometimes made, usually to ensure the criteria are applied in a uniform manner across regions.
There are four public rankings each season, with the first one released this past Wednesday. The final set of rankings, which is released after the bracket is announced, are used to select the at-large participants in the national tournaments and then to bracket the field. This is a responsibility no one takes lightly and is typically what drives each member to accept a position on the national committee in the first place.
“It’s not like D1. We mow our own lawns. We drive our own bus. We wash our own uniforms...No one is getting me coffee. In D3 the coach does everything.”
- Dr. George Barber, Greenville head coach and men's national committee member
“The most exciting thing is the student athlete experience,” says University of Dallas men’s coach Jarred Samples. “Trying to put forward the best championship possible.” Ramapo men's head coach and first year national committee member Chuck McBreen adds, “At the end of the day we just want to do our due diligence and get this right for the rest of the country.”
It takes time to work with the numbers and for committee members to educate themselves on teams from across the country, time that could be spent watching game film or recruiting. “You have to delegate," says Samples, “You have to trust your assistant coaches to do their job so you’re not falling behind.”
“My basketball work is probably 20 hours per week,” says Fitzpatrick who, as national committee chair, not only has to prepare his RAC call, but leads the national call as well. Fitzpatrick prepares a spreadsheet each week for this RAC to better organize the raw data and streamline the selection process. He encourages each of the other national committee members to do the same.
“We try to get as much done as we can before the call so we aren’t starting from scratch each week," says McBreen. Still, those calls take up one and a half or two hours each week, as committees analyze data and compare teams based on factual information.
“The eye test doesn’t exist at the Division III level,” notes McBreen. That means that the opinions of the committee members on the relative merits of each squad only matter if there’s data to back them up. This actually relieves the members of having to see each team. Adds McBreen, “I don’t worry so much about watching games, but I spend time every night watching scores, being aware of results."
Some coaches watch a lot of games, others prefer to spend their film time scouting their own opponents. “You don’t have to spend more than five hours a week to do good service to the national committee,” says Barber. “You can spend fifteen or twenty hours a week and many do, but it doesn’t have to be a life-altering commitment. I don’t want to discourage anyone from [serving]."
“Of course it’s all different in March,” continues Barber.“When the tournament starts it could be 20-40 hours a week between travel and phone calls and hosting a site. You need to be prepared to be unavailable for three weeks.”
| 2018 Women's National Committee
Bobbi Morgan, Haverford head coach, Chair
Karin Harvey, Montclair State head coach
Kris Huffman, DePauw head coach
Lesley Irvine, Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Director
David Petroff, Edgewood Sports Info. Director
Polly Thomason, UT-Dallas head coach
Kelly Thompson, Roger Williams head coach
Jim Scheible, Rochester head coach
The time commitment may ramp up during the NCAA tournament, but the experience of being at the center of the best basketball in the country has its own benefits. Coaches and administrators alike rave about the relationships that get built and the camaraderie developed through the process. “This has been the most rewarding professional experience I’ve had,” says Roger Williams women’s coach Kelly Thompson, “I feel like I’ve grown so much as a coach. As a young coach, I get to work with these amazing coaches who are the best and brightest minds in Division III. Almost every coach on our committee has been to a Final Four.”
National Committee members also serve as site reps during the national tournament and hosts for the championship weekend, which provides valuable experience in seeing how the very best teams in the division prepare for big games.
Says Samples, “Getting to go to the championship site and see how coaches run practices has been great. It reinforces the things you do or you pick up little things here and there. You can see two teams at the Final Four who do things completely different.”
Thompson says, “ From a practical stand point it’s been so important to see how scheduling really works and what we have to do to get into the regional rankings.”
“You are representing your school on a national level, which most ADs like and most Presidents appreciate,” says Barber. “But nothing holds a candle to the relationships you get to build with the people on the committee. Most people I talk to say it’s the most rewarding professional thing they do in their career.”
It’s also serious business. Fitzpatrick and Morgan work hard, as the national chairs before them have done, to improve and enhance the basketball committees, leaving them more capable and prepared moving forward to improve the NCAA Tournaments and provide better and better experiences for student athletes.
“I personally instruct every new RAC member,” says Fitzpatrick. “I tell them what my expectations are, what their responsibility is. They need to understand two things: they need to understand their conference and they need to have a feel for the region also. I’ve never dealt with anybody who didn’t take it very seriously.”
The NCAA is built on committees. That’s often a joke or a complaint, but the real work to bring us the great basketball we all enjoy falls on the shoulders of coaches and administrators who don’t get paid anything to do it.
“The NCAA takes care of us,” says Fitzpatrick. “Outside of per diem and travel expenses it’s a volunteer position.” Morgan adds, “The committee members serve because we love Division III basketball and we want to get things right.”