How do teams get selected for NCAA basketball tournament?

10-member committee is brains behind selection process

Sunday evening will bring one of the most anticipated hours of the entire sports year, as the 68-team field will be announced for the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Dubbed "Selection Sunday," the pairings will bring hours of water cooler talk and betting pools at workplaces around the country before the first games tip off Tuesday. 

Before the show starts at 6 p.m. Eastern time on CBS, here’s a primer of an extremely popular hour for sports fans. 

How is the field selected?
An appointed 10-member committee is tasked with determining the teams and matchups for the tournament. 

Choosing 32 of the teams is easy, because those are automatic qualifiers for winning their conference tournaments. 

It’s picking the other 36 teams that is the hard part.

The words “bubble watch” are often used as the selection show approaches, and there are always teams sweating out whether they’ll be one of the last squads selected to round out the field. 

Not only does the committee determine which teams make the field, but also their seeding, which can create favorable matchups.

Teams are placed in four regions, with two regions having 16 teams and two having 18 teams. The regions with 18 teams have what’s called “play-in” games on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Why is there a selection committee?

The committee is in place as a means to give the most diverse and objectionable voices possible in the selection process. The committee meets days prior to the tournament to pour over accomplishments of teams during their season to determine whether or not they should be in the tournament, and if so, what seeds they should be.

Oftentimes, certain members of the committee are asked to leave the room if there are conflict of interests with the schools or conferences they are representing.

This year’s committee members are: 

  • Bernard Muir (chairman), director of athletics at the University of Stanford
  • Mitch Barnhart, director of athletics at the University of Kentucky
  • Tom Burnett, commissioner of the Southland Conference
  • Janet Cone, director of athletics at the University of North Carolina, Asheville
  • Bernadette McGlade, commissioner of the Atlantic 10 conference
  • Michael O’Brien, director of athletics at the University of Toledo
  • Jim Phillips, vice president for athletics and recreation, Northwestern University
  • Chris Reynolds, vice president for intercollegiate athletics, Bradley University
  • Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference
  • Kevin White, athletic director at Duke University

Key dates
Tuesday and Wednesday - rirst round or “play-in” games
Thursday through Saturday - fecond and third round games
April 6 - national semifinals in Minneapolis
April 8 - national championship game in Minneapolis

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.