It’s one of the busiest times of the year for men’s volleyball NCAA committee members as the conference tournaments are in full swing and Selection Sunday is less than a week away.
Off the Block conducted an interview before the conference tournaments started with Brian Santiago, the chairman of the three-person committee that will decide the NCAA Tournament field. Santiago is in his fourth year on the committee and along with being a committee member is an associate athletics director at BYU.
Check out the interview to get an inside look at the selection process, how the committee will evaluate the at-large bid this year and Santiago’s challenging role of being on the committee and from a school that is being considered for the NCAA Tournament.
Off the Block: We have the NCAA Tournament quickly approaching. What is this time of year like for a member of the selection committee?
Brian Santiago, committee chairman: It’s the most exciting time of the year where teams are beginning to separate themselves and teams are fighting for their seeds in the conference tournaments and everyone is playing to get ready for the conference tournaments to try to nab those automatic bids. It’s fun as a committee member to look around the country and see what teams are doing and who is beating who and some of the great matches. Just out here in the MPSF we have had some phenomenal matches this year that have gone five sets and have gone 15-13 and could have gone either way. There are so many teams and there is a lot of parity. As a committee member it’s fun to watch and see the teams really separate themselves.
OTB: Last year around this time there were about five teams going into the postseason that had a realistic chance at the at-large bid. Do you feel the field is smaller or about that size this year of teams being considered of the at-large bid?
BS: The amazing thing is that you think some times through the regular season that you can guess which teams are involved, but as it’s happened the last few years it always comes down to some key matches in the conference tournament with the separation of who gets the at-large bid and who doesn’t. We try to stay very close to the criteria, but to answer your question I would say the pool may be a little bit smaller this year. There are still three to four to five teams that we are going to take a close look at through the conference tournaments to determine who the [at-large] bid is. I always say the conversation is a lot of speculation until the conference tournaments end.
OTB: As you know there are many pieces of criteria used to determine the tournament field. Is there any piece of criteria you weigh more heavily than others or do you treat them all as equal?
BS: We try to go through all of them and be very thorough. That is why you have a committee and why you have criteria and that’s why you stay close to it so that you are not unnecessarily influenced by something that isn’t accord with the criteria. We’ve done that so we can be consistent. This is my fourth year on the committee, and each year it’s been a tough decision. But when you go through each item of the criteria and you really measure each team against teams and all those things. Fortunately, the first three years I’ve been on the committee, when you go through the criteria even though it’s been very close and neck-and-neck when laid out we’ve been able to make the right decision on who gets the at-large bid. And I’m hopeful that this will be the case this year as well.
OTB: You always seem to be put into an interesting situation every year because BYU is usually a team being considered for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. How does the process work with you being on the committee and also being an associate athletics director for one of the teams under consideration by the committee?
BS: Well it’s always interesting, and the responsibility we have as a committee, and especially as committee chairs, is to put our allegiances aside and make sure that the right teams are in the NCAA championships. I know a couple years ago there was some panic amongst some of the schools involved just because of that issue and thinking, “Oh, here is one of the athletics directors that is on the committee and his team is being considered. He may be influenced and going towards his allegiances. But I try to make sure that I put my allegiances aside and stay close to the criteria and make sure the right team is in. And BYU is one of those teams that has been heavily considered the last two years. But when you look at the criteria and head-to-head competition, you look at all the things, the right teams are going to get the at-large bid, and on a small committee that’s the way you need to do it. On the larger committees they actually ask representatives on a team being considered to step away and go out of the room. But we depend on each other on the committee to make sure that we are making the right decision. Not one that is bias, and I’m very confident that we have made the right decisions. I would venture out to say that if you polled the coaches and those involved they would tell you that the committee has done a very good job the last three years since I’ve been on it. But you just try to put your biases aside and make sure that your following your responsibility as a chair and a committee member to make the right choice.
For more from this interview, click here to check out this Off the Block story as Santiago discusses the potential for future NCAA Tournament expansion.