May 5, 2014

Four Big Questions with NCAA Selection Chair Siedliski

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

North Carolina was sent on the road to fifth-seeded Denver as a result of the selection commitee aiming to limit first-round flights and conference matchups.

MD1 Bracket

This is the final year for Jim Siedliski as NCAA Division I men's lacrosse committee chair. After two years in the seat and two years prior as a selection committee member in general, his time, according to the NCAA bylaws, is up.

And so Sunday night was the last time he'd be in an Indianapolis hotel room fielding phone calls from people asking questions about the tournament bracket. The five-person selection committee convened over the weekend to set the 18-team tournament field.

We hit the big points pertaining to the bracket with Siedliski, the associate commissioner in charge of Olympic sports for the American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East).

Was there any part of the selection criteria that took on more importance this year compared to the past?

"I'm going say no. We had a fair opportunity to use all the criteria available to us in almost every situation. The one thing we drilled down on more this year than others was significant wins and significant losses. It's kind of a misunderstood category. It is not the same as record versus ranked teams. That is a pure viewing of 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20 or 1-20, however you want to slice and dice it. Significant win and loss by definition is wins against teams above you in the RPI, or losses against teams below you in the RPI. It puts a different lens on your wins and losses. It was pretty revealing when applied.

"I've probably said RPI more in this last sentence that I did all weekend. RPI is a placeholder. It's a thumbtack that puts you where you are. That's a mathematical analysis. All of the other criteria are either result-driven. There really wasn't one thing that was more pronounced than the other. We had 3M poster boards, 44 of the around the room. It was like 'A Beautiful Mind.' There were numbers, wins and losses and common opponents and rankings all over the place. There wasn't one thing that was the thing. The main thing was consistency in analysis and using body of work everywhere we possibly could.

What was the reasoning behind seeding Denver fifth? Their strength of schedule was not there compared to other teams in the running for a high seed.

"Denver's story is an interesting one. That was a long and winding road from [Saturday] afternoon until late [Sunday] morning. Originally, when we were looking at teams, Denver was rudderless to the committee. When we kept going through the analysis, here's Loyola, with their body or work, their won-loss record, their significant wins and significant losses, their average RPI loss. When we started going through that with Denver, there was a parallel truth.

"If you take a couple of steps back and you look at Loyola and Denver, there is a great deal of commonality in how their selection criteria is getting populated. When you rank them against other people you know their going to lose a certain category. There's no discounting the fact that they had two of the worst strength of schedules. But when you start going through some of the other criteria, like average RPI loss, non-conference strength of schedule or significant losses, they don't have any. Denver's low loss is 3 to Duke and the other is 2 to Penn. They didn't have a lot of opponents 1 through 20, but people seem to discount two important selection criteria 1) win and loss record. They had the second most wins of any team in the country and the second least losses, and the other thing that is discounted is losses. You look at Notre Dame, they had five losses and single-digit wins.

"You start to putting these teams side-by-side. Notre Dame crushes them here, Denver is really bad in that category, but they're good in all the other ones, and they beat them head-to-head, and Denver has won 6 of the 11 categories. If we were going to treat Loyola a particular way, we have to treat Denver a particular way. Their conference schedule is bad and did no good for either of those teams. They had to make their hay and take care of business. They got themselves in by winning their conference AQ. Now what do you do with them?

If Harvard was the last team in, it looks like you were trying to avoid pitting North Carolina against another ACC team in the first round based on where they ended up [at No. 5 Denver]. Is that right?

"There's three things to look at. We tried like hell to maintain bracket integrity. The first bracket we put up was 1-2 with the play-ins, and 3-8 and 9-14 up. The problem was based on the number of flights that were available to us to provide to the teams, we couldn't do it. When we addressed that, we had a matchup that we thought was viable, but because it was barely outside the 400-mile radius of the bus-to-flight point, we couldn't do that one. We tried to maintain integrity as much as possible. One thing that was also very important to us was do not generate first-round conference matchups. We tried to serve all three masters: limit flights, limit conference first-round matchups and maintain bracket integrity. Bracket integrity took a little bit of a hit, but considering the limitation we had to deal with, we had it pretty close."

This is your swan song as committee chair. Anything information you'd like the lacrosse community in general to know?

"The messaging that we send to the coaches as far as the full body of work, I believe it's starting to resonate. Through the latter parts of the regular season, we have weekly conference calls and email dialogues with our RAC [Regional Advisory Committee]. In men's lacrosse, every conference has one representative and then we have Dave Pietramala representing the independents. We have 11 coaches, which is practically 1/6 of the membership on the RAC. Last year, we made some really significant leaps with them understanding the process. When we met with them in December, we got some really good feedback. The RAC is charged with putting together their top-20 with the selection criteria that we use in the room. They have every piece of information, including the NCAA nitty-gritty [page of selection criteria] and the super-deluxe confidential team sheets, which have even more analysis and color-coded bars than you'd every want to see. They had, per their request, every tool and every piece of analysis that we did going into the room. Granted, they didn't have the final reports but they had the information at the time.

"I believe the coaches are getting it. I'm not saying that in a condescending way. There's always been misinterpretations. 'What the hell is going on in the selection room?' There's always a level of anxiety at the coaches' convention. Now we're at a point where the messaging is getting through. The consistency that things are being applied is getting through. ... The selection criteria is put forward by the coaches. This is not some arbitrary thing that gets pulled out of the air. The selection criteria is black-and-white, disseminated to the membership. Nothing has changed in the past five or six years. We need to educate the lacrosse community how this is done. Amongst people that are intimately involved, it's transparent. They understand. There's no confusion. We just need to have everybody understand it. If it changes, it's because the coaches want it to change and the committee passes that on to the cabinet and the NCAA approves it. ... It's been a tremendous group of guys to work with."


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