March 10, 2003
EVERYWHERE, USA - University of Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood is going to be putting his seat back forward and his tray table in the upright and locked position a bunch in the next month.
As chairman of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, Livengood will culminate a full year of work -- years, really -- leading the national panel of collegiate athletic administrators who make every decision regarding what's commonly known as "March Madness."
It's under way, it's big business, and it pervades the athletic world at this time each year like no other single sporting event, capping NCAA Basketball Championships in the Final Four.
Livengood has served on the committee since 2000 and became chair of the group last July. In college athletics, the appointment is like reaching the promised land and an athletics director or conference commissioner who earns the slot carries the distinction throughout a career. It's a resume item of incredible note.
For Livengood, the month ahead will be a busy time, with stops from sea to sea in more than a dozen cities, and some sequestered heavy-duty time spent in an Indianapolis hotel. He embarked on the final legs of the journey Sunday.
"Professionally, it's challenging," he said last week. "But probably at this point it's as rewarding as any intercollegiate athletics experience can be -- outside of our own success at the University of Arizona. I think I appreciate the national scope of the work the most. It's very special," he said.
In the next month Livengood will have to continue his hands-on leadership of the Arizona program through phone calls and technology, keeping in communication with his administrative assistant, Maxine Tenbrink, and his associate aides back in Tucson. He'll be on the road for more than 25 days in some 16 cities.
Those include all eight NCAA 1st-2nd round sites -- Boston, Spokane, Tampa Bay, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Ala., Oklahoma City and Nashville, plus regional sites in Minneapolis, Anaheim, Albany and San Antonio -- and the big one in Final Four city New Orleans. Toss in New York, Cincinnati and others.
In New York, for example, the visit involves meeting with NCAA Championships personnel and CBS Sports. Every "talent" group (play-by-play announcers, color analysts, courtside reporters) and every producer and director involved in broadcasting the games of the tournament will be on hand, along with the network's sports executives.
The meetings aren't the first for the committee by any means. Livengood said the process for the 2003 Tournament began a few years back with site selections by the committee. Then, in May 2002 the group met in New Orleas for two to three days. In June, a five-day meeting. August -- two days. December -- five days. At the NCAA Convention in January, a quick one-day gathering of the committee. In Feburary -- mock bracketing exercise or "Bracketology 101," where members re-examined the principles for putting teams in the bracket. Along the way, Livengood as chairman, also would meet somewhere every month, like the 'unveiling' ceremony for the 2004 Final Four site, in San Antonio.
This week in Indianapolis, headquarter city for the NCAA, the committee takes over the entire top floor of a downtown hotel to get at the group's primary chore -- selecting the 64 teams and putting them in the bracket. It's an event that peaks on national television Sunday afternoon.
But casual observers don't get a peek at the action -- security types will man the elevators, hallways and floor entrances to keep the committee's focus at full throttle.
"We all have our sleeping rooms, of course. Then there's a room with half a dozen televisions -- all hooked to cable, satellites and whatever we need to see conference tournament games. There's an eating area with a cafeteria setup -- plenty of nice things to eat. There's a meeting room, the nerve center, with a huge table, where we each have our own computer system. There are easels with charts, all Division I teams on placards with velcro to move from one place to another. It's fascinating, really," Livengood said.
The process will involve a number of things. First, the committee will note the 31 'AQs' or automatic qualifiers -- conference (or league tournament) champions -- then pick the 34 at-large teams. If Arizona were a problematic pick, Livengood would not participate in that discussion, nor would other committee members make decisions about their schools.
Next, all teams are seeded 1 to 65. 'Principles of seeding' is a sports science with all manner of considerations.
Next, the teams are placed in the bracket, with the specific purpose that all regions will mirror each other in terms of difficulty.
Then the committee will select the officials. A great deal of evaluation goes on throughout the year, basically every time a committee member watches a game.
After Sunday's selection process is over, the committee spreads out across the nation to run the tournament in conjunction with the NCAA staff and host schools or conferences. This is no small endeavor. At Arizona and McKale Center in 2000, hundred of volunteers participated and at least five UA athletics employees spent a year in preparation.
Livengood will leave Indianapolis and travel to Dayton, Ohio, for the 'play-in' game featuring Seeds No. 64 and 65 on the 17th. Then it's off, in order to: Cincinnati, Spokane, Nashville, Back to Indianapolis, New York, Anaheim... Dizzy yet?
Livengood and the other nine committee members will staff every 1st-2nd round, regional and Final Four site, either individually or occasionally in pairs. At the Final Four, naturally, all will be courtside for the big event in New Orleans.
The most fun part for Livengood is "being so involved in the world of college basketball at the time of the year when it's at its peak. You can't travel anywhere in the next couple of weeks and pass a TV set in an airport that doesn't have a game on Thursday through Sunday."
"The travel, though, is the most difficult. I have to have a good system to make sure I can perform all my responsibilities as Arizona's athletics director. All the committee members face the same balancing act. We're going to be gone from our work a couple of of weeks," he said.
The most perplexing aspect of the committee work is simple: "The decision-making process. Not everyone gets in (the tournament)," he said. "Wherever you draw the line, someone is left out. There are hard feelings."
A great deal of lobbying goes on throughout a season in that regard, as college ADs make sure the committee knows how swell their teams' seasons are going. Livengood has a nice collection of nearly all D-I schools' media guides and receives a flood of email and messages with 'we deserve to be selected' themes.
"The computers allow us to pull up all kinds of information on every team. We need to know everything we can know about teams -- especially the ones that don't get in. You take some shots from people afterward, and you have to be educated about how we arrived at our decisions," he said.
"Serving on the committee is so different thatn I ever dreamed it would be. I've had the opportunity to get close to some incredible people.
"I think when the selections are over, some of us will breathe a sigh of relief, but still you hope you didn't leave someone out. In this era of collegiate athletics, and the kinds of fiscal difficulty people are having, making this tournament can be a monumental factor," he said.
The NCAA staff will keep Livengood on the committee for another season, making the appointment for the Men's (and Women's) Championships groups a five-year stint. He will not serve as chairman in 2003-04, however.
"As a one-time experience, I'm not sure you can top it in the world of intercollegiate athletics," he said.
NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee
Jim Livengood University of Arizona, chair Karl benson Western Athletic Conference Bob Bowlsby University of Iowa Floy Kerr Southern University (Baton Rouge) Jack Kvancz George Washington University Craig Littlepage University of Virginia (1st year) Les Robinson The Citadel Judy Rose University of North Carolina, Charlotte Gary Walters Princeton University (1st year) Kevin Weiberg Big 12 Conference
Tom Jernstedt NCAA senior vice president (administrative assistance)