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Q&A with NCAA selection committee chair Tony Seaman

Former head coach at Johns Hopkins, Towson discusses deliberations over giving Loyola No. 1 seed, rationale behind dropping undefeated Massachusetts to No. 6 seed, and the thought process behind inviting Princeton over Penn State

By Edward Lee

4:00 PM EDT, May 7, 2012

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Tony Seaman compiled a record of 263-166 in 30 years as a head coach at Johns Hopkins, Towson, Penn and C.W. Post. In one of his many current roles, he serves to chair the selection committee tasked with filling out the 16-team field for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Seaman discussed the deliberations over the No. 1 seed, the rationale for Massachusetts not getting a top-four seed, and thought process behind inviting Princeton over Penn State.

Loyola coach Charley Toomey, who is a member of the selection committee, said he recused himself for 40 minutes from Sunday’s meeting before learning that the Greyhounds would be the No. 1 seed. How lengthy were the conversations about which team deserved the No. 1 seed?

It took a while. It’s not a year where we walked in and said, ‘This is the No. 1. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no argument.’ So we looked at two or three teams that we thought had remote possibilities for No. 1, and when we went through all of our criteria, Loyola stood out as being No. 1. Their RPI was No. 1, and we felt that they had only one loss and that was to the No. 2 team in the country [Johns Hopkins] by a goal in overtime. Everything else was in pretty good shape. So we awarded that to them.

Massachusetts fans are probably not happy about the only unbeaten team in the country falling to a No. 6 seed. What led to that decision?

They haven’t played anybody. They didn’t have a win in the top 20. They didn’t play a team in the field. How can we possibly give them a top-four ranking? They had a [No.] 31 strength of schedule and they had a [No.] 31 strength of nonconference schedule. They just didn’t play anybody. … A lot of people can go undefeated if you don’t play anybody. We made a statement back in 2009, and we’ve made a statement in 2012 that you’ve got to play people.

So why not drop them out of the top eight entirely?

Look, they’re undefeated. They made it through a pretty tough league. There were some close games and some not-so-close games. So you’ve got to look at the significant factor that they are undefeated, and in this day and age, the parity is pretty close. To go undefeated is pretty tough. But they needed any kind of a win. That was the only strength of schedule that stood out to us and made us go, ‘Whoa. Look at that strength of schedule.’ There was one other – Denver. We were like, ‘Whoa. Look at this strength of schedule. No. 2 overall and in nonconference, No. 5 in the whole country.’ That means they played somebody. And they don’t have one significant loss. They have losses, but all of them were against top teams in order to get that kind of rating. And they have a very significant win over No. 3 Duke. So that’s why they’re in, and UMass is sixth because of a [No.] 31 strength of schedule. Look at Hopkins. Hopkins played four of the top 10 and won three of them and beat the No. 1 team in the country. There was a long argument and strong feelings that maybe Hopkins should go [No.] 1. They beat the No. 1 team heads-up. They’ve played four teams in the top 10, and they won three of them. What kept them out of being No. 1? Probably the loss to Navy. That really hurt them, and that could have easily put them at [No.] 3. But they had too much of a resume to put at [No.] 3. If you beat the No. 1 team in the country and have that other stuff on your resume, that’s pretty significant.

Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni questioned the seemingly shifting emphasis of criteria to determine the last two at-large bids, which went to Denver and Princeton. Can you illuminate the thought process?

Princeton had the most stable of RPIs when you got down to those bubble teams. And Princeton doesn’t have a bad loss on the schedule. They lost to Yale, Hopkins, Syracuse and North Carolina. There’s a reason they’re a solid 10. They’re a whole decimal point ahead of Cornell, Denver and Penn State. Cornell didn’t have a chance because they can’t go in ahead of Princeton. Princeton beat them and beat the team that beat them in Brown. Cornell wasn’t going in. Penn State’s got a hell of an argument, I agree. But they don’t have the argument against Princeton. Princeton’s got a very stable RPI, and we looked at RPI all the way down. If you find spots where an RPI team is lower in RPI but came in higher on our seedings, it’s only because there were so many other circumstances that overrode that RPI. So when we looked at Princeton, they’re a [No.] 10 [in RPI]. They’re a solid 10. Penn State is a [No.] 17. It was really difficult to say, ‘Wow, we’ve got to put Penn State in there over a total RPI that considers strength of schedule and all the elements.’ We don’t live by the RPI. We start off with the RPI now, and it is important. It is one of the criteria that we look at. It took hours to decide. As much as UMass’ strength of schedule did not impress us, Denver’s did impress us, and Denver beat Duke for a really good win. Once in a while, you have to eyeball it a little bit, too, and every loss that Denver was either a one-goal loss or an overtime loss. They played everybody, and they beat the No. 3 seed. So that got them in over Penn State.

If you’re judging a team’s candidacy by RPI, what about Fairfield, which had an RPI of 13?

Then you look at their strength of schedule [No. 21] and you go, ‘How could the RPI give them that kind of a ranking?’ Penn State did a lot of good things. They had a good strength of schedule. I’m heartbroken for them. You always walk away with one or two that you just feel so bad about. I can’t tell you how many hours we spent talking about it. We just couldn’t move Princeton out, and we weren’t going to move Denver out. That’s what it came down to, and I don’t think Jeff will ever understand it, and I don’t blame him. If I was in his shoes, I’d be just as mad or just as frustrated as he is.

When bubble teams like Loyola in 2009, Colgate in 2011 and Penn State this year are left out of the tournament, it usually re-energizes the argument for expanding the field. Is that a solution to avoid this situation?

I think our field is bigger than it should be. I think it’s a gigantic part of my legacy that I convinced them this year to give us three flights. We could not have seeded an eighth team if we only had two flights. We would’ve had to put a 10 or an 11 up to 8 so that they didn’t have to fly for a game. Then we definitely would have had ACC playing against ACC. Once you have Notre Dame as a home and Duke as a home, that’s two flights – unless you send Hopkins down there in the first round or you send Maryland because those are the only two schools that can travel that distance under 400 miles. So we begged and begged and went all the way to the top and finally got approval. What that has done is made it a hell of a first round. Hopkins and Loyola – as deserved – have good teams to play against. After that, there isn’t an easy game out there. How would you like to be Duke? Third in the country and then you get to see half of the town come down from Syracuse? Or you’re Lehigh, and you’ve had a wonderful year and look who’s coming up to play them? It’s the only ACC team with a decent strength of schedule in Maryland.