Last Minute Hoops: The Effect of Playing Games on Selection Sunday


Today is Selection Sunday, one of the most exciting days in college basketball and sports in general. A committee will spend the day deliberating, and emerge with their field for the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Many teams unsure of their status will await the results anxiously, and there will be a mix of elation and disappointment as teams learn if they are in or out.

Texas is one of the bubble teams that had a full conference tournament to improve their NCAA Tournament hopes after the WCC was completely done playing.

What’s unique about this day is that some of the teams trying to improve their chances are playing even as the committee is deciding their fate. Many conference tournament championships were decided yesterday or are being decided today, meaning some teams can hurt or improve their postseason chances in real-time.

Those teams are at a notable advantage over teams that have already finished playing. While the entire season as a whole is evaluated when picking teams for the field, nobody can deny that recent results weigh heavily. This is especially true if you’re on the fence about a team. In the field of Psychology this is know as the Recency Effect, a concept that says that more recent results have the most influence on a person because they remembers the details of those events the most vividly. This is in an interview process for example, the final applicant can be at an advantage because he makes the final impression on the people doing the hiring.

That’s exactly what’s happening on Selection Sunday. A really good or bad performance is going to fresh in the minds of the committee when they pick their teams. If a couple teams are close together on the bubble, the most recent results may decide who they pick. It might not be intentional, but the most recent results can cast a feeling about a team over their whole. Suddenly doubts are confirmed if a team played poorly in their final game, or confidence in them is confirmed if they played well.

So why does this matter to the West Coast Conference? Unfortunately for the teams of the WCC, the conference tournament always tends to be the week prior to Selection Sunday. The finals extend into the week of Selection Sunday, but it’s much earlier than most conference begin their tournaments. In fact, a large number of conferences hadn’t even started their tournaments by the time Gonzaga cut down the nets in Vegas after defeating BYU on Tuesday.

Should a WCC team like BYU watch their spot in the NCAA Tournament fade away simply because their conference finishes play earlier than others?

As a result, any WCC bubble teams find themselves at a disadvantage with other bubble teams who will get in multiple games after they are already done playing. This is very relevant this year with BYU having been a popular team for the bubble discussion recently. While other teams on the bubble can improve their stock all the way up Sunday, the Cougars have long since finished playing. If they are close to another bubble team in the mind of the committee, their stock could be hurt or helped if that other team is still playing.

It’s an unfortunate reality of playing in the WCC. Fortunately it appears the Cougars have improved their status enough to avoid this problem, but there are still risks that go along with it. A team like the Cougars must watch every conference tournament closely and hope there aren’t too many upsets. If automatic bids starts getting stolen by teams that weren’t going to make the postseason, that starts bumping higher ranked teams that should have won their tournaments into at-large spots. The spots that a team like the Cougars hope to get. The more of those that go away, the more bubble teams get knocked out. So even if a team like BYU feels like they have risen above other bubble teams regardless of how those teams play, it’s still a very nervous time.

On some level, this begs the question of whether it’s right to allow some teams to be playing so close to when the NCAA Tournament field is announced. At the end of the day the committee is tasked with being fair and not overvaluing recent results, but the reality is that they are human and that will come into play on some level. Why take away that opportunity from a deserving team due to an error in human judgement?

The solution would be to require conferences to have their final game of their own tournament a specific amount of time before Selection Sunday, preferably a few days. Give the committee time to evaluate all final results, combine them with their season analysis, and allow any emotions that would lead to rash judgements to subside. Something as big as putting a team in or out of the NCAA Tournament should not be allowed to come down to one performance.

More from West Coast Convo

A team like Murray State that dominated the regular season but was upset in their conference tournament deserves a shot in the Big Dance. But because their season finished earlier like most mid-major conferences, they continue to fade from the conversation. That’s not fair in a world where the gap between the power conferences and the mid-majors continues to widen. So let’s solve the problem by adding this simple requirement that helps put the haves and have-nots on a more equal playing field. It’s never a bad idea to even them out whenever possible, and this is a good chance.

Of course you might argue that’s exactly what people are trying to do currently. And it’s true, the mid-majors playing their tournaments earlier allows them to get a little more attention than they would if their games were on the same days as the power conferences. But they can still play earlier than the bigger conferences if they want. This simply adds a buffer zone of a few days between the end of all tournaments and the final selections. Which is a good thing.

This also effects seedings in the NCAA Tournament. If anything unpredicted happens in the Sunday games, the committee is forced to scramble and change their whole bracket. Added pressure at the last minute will only lead to more human error. Maybe the seedings end up more lopsided towards certain teams. Maybe some bubble teams aren’t evaluated as fairly as they could have been. Why not give a committee with such an important task more time and less pressure to pump out a final result as fast as possible?

A lot of the time all this won’t be a huge issue. But things are so tight on the bubble every year, that this simple change of pushing all tournaments just a few days back would be a nice way to help things. Kind of like the new College Football Playoff. Does it fixes all the controversy? No, but it helps. And here’s an easy way to minimize the chance of a BYU sitting at home when they really should have been in the Big Dance