More NCAA seeding talk: a Q&A with John Gasaway

So last week, I wrote a column in response to a few of John Gasaway's Basketball Prospectus articles, in which I was rather critical of some of his ideas. Later that day, I checked my email and, to my surprise, found a message from none other than John Gasaway. He had read my column, found it interesting (allegedly), and said he'd be open to further discussion on the matter.

I must say, I was quite impressed by his courteous, professional response to my criticism. After all, the criticism in question was written by someone posting under a pseudonym on a site named after an illegal drug, so Mr. Gasaway would have been well within his rights to ignore me. Instead, he agreed to answer my questions about NCAA tournament seeding. That Q&A follows after the jump; my questions are in bold.

For those new to the debate, can you explain your problems with how the committee selects and seeds the field?

First off I thank my lucky stars this isn't college football. What follows falls squarely under "minor tweak to something that's already close to perfect." And for that let us give thanks.

I have no problem at all with how the Committee selects the field. Selection comes down to making a decision that no person, computer, or group of people should ever have to make: pulling up the drawbridge after Team No. 68 comes in, even though Team No. 69 will always look just as good. I think the only way to meet that challenge is precisely the way the committee does it: get a group of well-respected people in a room and have them ponder the problem at length. I won't always agree with the decision that results, of course, but for my money that's the only way to reach the decision. The process itself confers legitimacy.

To attain that same legitimacy in seeding, I'd like to see the committee armed with information on how likely each team in the field is to win a game against an average team on a neutral floor. In general the higher the probability, the higher the seed, although I always want knowledgeable people on hand who can say "Yes, but" even though a given team might look great or not so great by this metric.


Judging by your articles on Basketball Prospectus, it appears that you're very passionate about this issue. Is reality-based seeding, as you call it, something you've been supporting for a long time?

Actually in my hierarchy of passionately desired hoops reforms I'm afraid reality-based seeding would come in a distant third to painting a no-charge circle on the floor and cloning Gus Johnson. I just thought stealing my series title/headline from Keyshawn Johnson's autobiography would underscore the fact that this is, of course, a fundamentally trivial matter, albeit one with an 11-figure TV deal.

This week Gene Smith, the chair of the selection committee, said that the type of measures I recommend are on the radar for some individual members but that these metrics doesn't enter into the committee's deliberations. And, frankly, the fact that the question was even asked of Smith in a teleconference, along with the acknowledgement that some committee members know this stuff is out here, constitutes a happy day in my world. We're way further along than I thought we'd be in 2011. I definitely see this glass as half-full and filling up a bit more with each passing year.

How exactly do you think the committee should implement your ideas? Would you be in favor of BCS-style rankings, where human and computer polls are combined, or do you think the committee should stay the same and just put more emphasis on margin of victory?


Anything BCS, up to and including the letters themselves in that sequence, is to be kept 1000 yards away from the selection committee. Otherwise, I guess I feel like the moment when numbers first got into the committee room already happened 30 years ago. I just want the hard-working folks who are there to have the best numbers.

How do you respond to critics (such as myself) who worry that an overemphasis on margin of victory will lead to winning and losing being de-emphasized?

I say I'm with you. If we move to a seeding system that's informed by a projection of future performance and fans stop paying attention to wins and losses then I'll be first in line to get rid of the newfangled seeding thingy. I'm just not certain that will happen. I spend as much time around performance-based metrics as anyone, but if you ask me whether I'd rather see my team win the conference championship or be the best team in the league in terms of per-possession performance, I'd choose the banner in a heartbeat. Nor am I certain this would lead to teams running up the score. While I think opportunities to do so in conference play are in fact far more rare than we might suspect, I do keep my eye out for any teams that build deceivingly good-looking numbers through the medium of overmatched opponents. I trust the committee could do the same.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions. Where can our readers find your work?

To paraphrase Henry Ford, anywhere fine books are sold -- as long as it's Amazon. Also at ESPN.com and BasketballProspectus.com. Thank you for the time--my big brother the NU grad will be impressed!



So thanks to John Gasaway for taking me seriously and responding to my questions, I very much appreciate it.
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