The NCAA Tournament selection committee isn’t backing down from its decision to give Lewis an at-large bid.
Selection committee chairman Ron Shayka said in an exclusive interview with Off the Block on Monday that Lewis became the first non-West Coast school in 20 years to earn an at-large bid in part because of it’s difficult non-conference schedule.
Check out the complete interview below as Shayka discusses how Lewis beat-out Pepperdine for the final at-large bid, the importance of non-conference matches with the selection committee and dealing with the fall-out from this decision.
Off the Block: Well let’s just start off with the question everyone is asking. With the selection committee what was the deciding factor that had you pick Lewis as the final at-large team?
Ron Shayka: What happened was there was so many close categories that when we put it together cumulatively and numerically everything came out with Lewis. Because they had been ahead on so many of the individual things that collectively when it all added up to essentially what is an RPI-like number, that number had them as the best ranked team behind Loyola in the country. Even though all the number crunching put them ahead, we had hours of discussion about Pepperdine and so on. It was their criteria and numeric values that put them ahead as well as their competition against teams in the tournament and out of the conference competition.
OTB: To ask you about that, Pepperdine didn’t schedule any non-conference matches this season. How much did that hurt them in this process not having any non-conference opponents?
RS: I don’t know if hurt is the right word. Effect is the right word because what it did was effect their strength of schedule. Where as schools that went out and like a Lewis — who played the champions of the Mountain Pacific, the EIVA and Conference Carolinas — they went out and actively added teams not only that were highly ranked but also ended up participating in the national tournament.
OTB: It’s very rare that you have a non-West Coast school get an at-large. I’m sure the actual geographical location of Midwest or West didn’t factor into the decision, but when you are making a decision that tends to go against the traditional norm how much does that weigh on a committee? Is that part of the discussion or is it just the elephant in the room?
RS: We are aware of that. We are aware of the tradition and so on. One of the things that happened is I think the teams across the country have really embraced this as a national tournament. There is a realization that to be considered for the national championship you have to play as much of a national schedule as you can. There has been some teams that have been aggressive and sought out outside competition and have taken steps to do that. Ultimately over the years that works in their favor. And one of the ways that it tends to work in their favor is it effects their strength of schedule. Of all the teams that were considered for the at-large, Lewis ended up with the strongest strength of schedule in that pool.
OTB: There are some many theories, including the crazy and ludicrous that are completely inaccurate to the feeling that this was a money grab by the NCAA to increase ticket sales. What is your reaction when you hear and see those comments from fans?
RS: I think that the key word there is fans. Fan is short for fanatical. When you support your school and team as much as you do some times emotion gets involved in the thinking. It certainly had no part in our discussions as far those types of theories. We evaluated the criteria as closely as we could and again the numbers kept all pointing to Lewis. Even though they had so many advantages, the decision went on for quite a while mainly because we realized that this was going against tradition.
OTB: With the way this schedule is the conference tournaments wrapped up Saturday night, you have hours of discussion and you’ve now traveled to Chicago. Not only for players, but for the committee members, how exhausting have these last three days been?
RS: I haven’t been through anything like this before. I have to be honest with you, we went well into the night Saturday night and started early Sunday morning. I may have had four hours of sleep Saturday night. To the credit of the committee, everyone realized that work we had to go in and there was exhaustive discussions and everyone took this very seriously, as evident by the amount of time that was put in.
OTB: You’ve now been in Chicago for a couple hours so it’s a perfect time to ask this question. What is your initial reaction to Loyola and how they’ve set up the NCAA Tournament from what you’ve seen so far?
RS: I’ve been very impressed by the amount of effort that Loyola has put in from the start. I know that everyone on their staff has taken this as an opportunity to not only showcase their school but to showcase the MIVA. They have taken it very seriously. I couldn’t have asked for more effort from any host school.
OTB: I know you’re busy with everything going on with the tournament, but is there anything else you’d like to add?
RS: I’m looking forward to getting that serve underway. I think once the ball is in play it is going to be a great week.