Feb. 28, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - When the 75th NCAA Tournament field is filled and the bracket seeded in two weeks, some hoopheads figure only one Conference USA basketball name - Memphis -- will be involved.
Actually, another name from Marshall's conference home will be up-to-ears deep in deciding which 37 at-large teams get a bid and how the field of 68 is seeded.
Judy MacLeod is Executive Associate Commissioner of C-USA, and she's one of 10 members of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee. She is one of four committee rookies, and is only the third woman to serve on the men's selection committee in tournament history.
She's a former Tulsa athletic director of a decade who back in the day hired hoops Coach Bill Self from crosstown Oral Roberts and helped guide the Golden Hurricane through two league moves (Missouri Valley to WAC to C-USA). Her impressive resume has plenty of NCAA committee involvement, including work with the Administrative Cabinet and Division I Management Council.
However, this role is very different. A lot more than bracketologists and telecast analysts scrutinize, praise and pan the selection committee's work annually. The visibility of the task - even while the sequestered committee toils in secret - puts MacLeod in a spotlight, so to speak.
"There's no question I've been fortunate to serve on a lot of different NCAA groups over the years," MacLeod said in a phone interview from the C-USA offices earlier this week. "This is different though. I don't really know really the right word to use for what I figure it will be like on this committee.
"Pressure, maybe ... There's a sense of responsibility to make sure to get it right. It didn't really hit me until we went through the practice exercise (earlier this month).
"A lot of other NCAA committees, you pretty much work behind the scenes, but this one - everyone is writing or talking about the brackets right now - I guess you'd say this one is very public."
MacLeod moved onto the committee last summer when the C-USA athletic directors unanimously chose her to fill the vacancy the league had on the panel after SMU fired AD Steve Orsini last May. He had served two years of a five-year term, so MacLeod's term runs through the 2015 Final Four.
It seems C-USA and the NCAA - which had to approve MacLeod's selection - got it right. She is a basketball lifer. She was a four-year starter and three-year captain at the University of Puget Sound (Wash.) in the mid-`80s. She coached the sport at Seattle University. She guided basketball for the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle.
"I know my responsibilities, and they are big," said MacLeod, whose C-USA tasks include oversight of men's basketball. "When we got into that (secured floor of an Indianapolis hotel) to start the process, we'll be there from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, maybe longer, and for 4-5 days in a row.
"I probably sound crazy to say I'm looking forward to it, but I am. Basketball has always been a huge part of my life. I love the game."
So, instead of being director of the C-USA Tournament at the BOK Center in Tulsa from March 13-16, MacLeod will arrive in Indy on Tuesday, March 12. The committee meets to select and seed through Selection Sunday (March 17) "until about a half-hour before the selection show," she said.
Then, the second-guessing by those outside the room begins - another form of March Madness. MacLeod knows it is coming, but she's so focused on the impending task, she doesn't have time to worry about it. That, plus she has oodles of telecast games to watch.
"I really don't think there are a lot of surprises, but the effort that goes into it, and how serious a task it is struck me," MacLeod said when asked about any eye-openers about life on the committee. "As we went through the actual process, the seeding and bracketing after the selection of teams, what stood out for me is that I'm not sure a lot of people really understand the process. Even a lot of basketball people don't understand it. I think it's kind of something you have to go through to grasp it."
As the third woman to serve on the men's committee, MacLeod found a coincidence of sorts. In following athletic directors Judy Rose of Charlotte - the first C-USA rep on the committee (2000-04) and Lynn Hickey of UT-San Antonio (2008-12), "all three of us will be in the same conference next year," MacLeod said, referring to some of the membership alterations in C-USA.
"I've talked to both Judy and Lynn; I've talked to a lot of the committee members about the work," said MacLeod, whose work as the C-USA men's basketball chief has given her access to past committees. "The neat part was that I came into the summer meeting (in Salt Lake City) when my job was in Year 3 (after Orsini's two years). It wasn't like I was new on the committee, although I was. I had to jump in.
"All of them have been so free to share their thoughts on what they do, their approach. It comes down to my own preference on how I view things, strength of schedule versus the RPI, versus all the other rankings, whether a team tried to schedule "up," whether it went on the road.
"There is a tremendous amount of data available to us, and we'll use it all, but everybody does things different ways, how they evaluate teams based on that information. I don't know if I have just one thing I'll take as my focus."
I asked MacLeod about the mantra of former committee member and chair Mike Slive (2005-09), the SEC commissioner, who famously would say public of his evaluation of teams: "Who'd you play? Where'd you play `em? How'd you do?"
"I've heard those things," MacLeod said. "I think they're important. Then, I like to see them, too."
That's the so-called "eyeball test."
Like all committee members, MacLeod has a pack of conferences that she has been assigned to follow more keenly as a primary and secondary committee voice. Her seven leagues are the America East, Big 12, Big West, Ivy, Ohio Valley, SWAC and Colonial.
And when any C-USA teams come up for discussion in the selection meeting, she leaves the room, as committee rules dictate.
The committee membership also will change again during the 75th tournament, as chair Mike Bobinski, the Xavier AD, moves to the same job at Georgia Tech and exits the committee, with Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman taking the chair and Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen becoming the new member.
All committee members are assigned tournament sites to oversee, and MacLeod won't have to travel far from C-USA's Irving, Texas, base. She has second- and third-round duties at Austin, then the regional in Arlington, Texas - unless a C-USA team is assigned to one of those, and then she'll switch with someone to keep neutrality intact.
Until heading to Indianapolis, MacLeod will spend much of her time doing what she has done all season ... watch hoops.
"It doesn't even compare," she said, when asked how much basketball she has watched in 2012-13 in relation to past winters. "I've spent 20 times the focus on games than I have in the past. In past years, I mostly watched our (conference) teams.
"Early on in the process, I focused a lot on the conferences I was responsible for, but as we've gone on and gotten closer to the tournament, I've been making an effort to get a better feel for the teams nationally.
"What the process brought out for me is that it (seeing as many top-rated teams as possible) can have a big impact in the seeding, so I've been trying to pick those off. The volume of teams I need to see, I've been comfortable with that. It's really amazing how many games you can see on a Saturday."
Yes, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. And MacLeod seems happy to be "in the room," as is often said on the outside.