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Q&A with NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee chair John Hardt

This year is John Hardt’s fourth year as a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee, but first as the panel’s chair. The athletic director for the University of Richmond succeeded Fairfield athletic director Eugene Doris in September as the committee chair.

Hardt, who chaired the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Committee in 2007 and served on the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee, acknowledged that he has paid more attention to lacrosse since his promotion on the lacrosse committee.

“I think maybe my orientation to this year’s group is a little different because I’m sitting in the chair’s seat,” he said. “So my engagement for me is at a very high level. There’s not a week that’s gone by since the season started where I’m not kind of living and breathing Division I men’s lacrosse on a regular basis.”

Hardt will work with Marquette coach Joe Amplo, Brown athletic director Jack Hayes, Towson athletic director Tim Leonard and Furman coach Richie Meade to organize this year’s 17-team bracket, which will be unveiled Sunday at 9 p.m. All five members will congregate in Indianapolis this weekend to pore over a variety of scenarios, and Hardt said it is not unusual for the committee to work well past midnight.

“It’s interesting to see what the committee members select as their caffeine source of choice,” he said. “I myself am a coffee person, but there are a few on the committee who like Mountain Dews.”

Hardt shared his thoughts on the selection process and the importance of certain statistics.

Based on your experiences in football and baseball, how is the lacrosse selection committee different or similar?

I would say in broad strokes, there’s a lot of similarity between the committees I’ve served on. But I think the differences aren’t so nuanced either. The baseball committee is a full 64-team bracket. So it’s a much bigger championship, and by the nature of the sport, you have a lot more data to assess and analyze because of the length of their season and how many games they play in baseball. Football and men’s lacrosse are more similar in the sense that they have more limited schedules. So the RPI is not nearly as refined or accurate a tool as far as precision is concerned than it is in a sport like baseball where you have 30-some games to assess and analyze. But the other issue that is very different between, say, lacrosse and football is FCS football is fairly regionalized as far as scheduling and teams playing one another, whereas men’s lacrosse is fairly regionalized, too, but because the majority of the teams are in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, there are a lot more head-to-head and common-opponent scheduling that goes on than in FCS. In broad strokes, it’s very similar as far as the process and the selection of the process goes. But when you get into the actual nuts and bolts of the work of those committees, they’re quite different even in how similar tools are used just because of the nature of the sport.

What is a common misperception about the selection process?

I hear time and time again — and it’s a little frustrating when you’re on the committee — about the use of the RPI. I just actually this morning discussed that with our regional advisory committee and wanted to clarify how the RPI gets used as we construct the bracket and select teams for at-large slots. It really is one of those first-cut assessments that the committee does once the dust has settled on the conference postseasons and we have final RPIs. We then look at what the top 20 looks like, and we begin to use the RPI to cluster teams in groupings. So the top three or four teams might have very similar RPIs and then there might be a significant break with [Nos.] 5 and 6, but then [Nos.] 6, 7, 8 and 9 might again be clustered in a way that makes them very similar, and we work our way through the top 20 that way. Sometimes it’s two teams and then three teams, sometimes it’s four teams and so on and so forth. That’s about as precise as the RPI is when you’re dealing with a 13- or 14-game season. Each year, we have the NCAA bring in some statistics specialists to go over with the committee and remind us of the appropriate ways to use the RPI and also inappropriate ways. It is not like a laser-like knife to differentiate teams. In other words, if there’s only a few RPI points separating two programs that are under consideration, for statistical purposes, that doesn’t differentiate them one way or the other. That’s why we use it more broadly to really kind of cluster teams in groupings as far as how they compare and then we look at the rest of the criteria that the NCAA has outlined.

Are there certain numbers that are more important than others when the committee is weighing criteria?

This frustrates a lot of people and particularly some coaches, but it all depends. Every year that I’ve been involved in the selection process, it’s been different criteria that has differentiated the last team in and the last team out. I remember one year, it came down to head-to-head, and I remember other years, it came down to good wins and bad losses. So you just never know which of the selection criteria are going to be the deciding factors. I can tell you this: When we get down to that last one or two at-large spots and we’ve identified the teams that are under consideration, we put a matrix up and we put the criteria in each of the areas for each of the teams that are under consideration, and we do line-by-line, criterion-by-criterion data points in making our comparisons. It’s a very data-intensive process.

There’s been some talk that the teams on the bubble do not make a strong group. Does that make the committee’s job easier?

Every year is different, but I certainly haven’t heard anyone on the committee or the regional advisory committee characterize teams on the bubble as not being a strong group. I think there’s a sense that our task is very difficult to differentiate that group. I think that group right now anyway is a little larger than has been my experience in three years. I think people on the selection committee and the regional advisory committee comment from time to time that this is probably an indication of greater parity and balance in the sport than we’ve ever experienced before. So rather than making the committee’s job in the selection process easier, I would probably that it makes it more difficult because there are so many programs with so many quality wins and looking at them through the various lenses of the NCAA selection criteria, it begins to be more challenging to differentiate them sometimes. But I really won’t know until we get to this weekend’s selection because with as much lacrosse as has yet to be played, some of that will sort itself out. Now it’s possible that some of that will become even more challenging, too, depending on the outcome of some of this weekend’s games.

Many of the conference tournaments will conclude on Saturday with only the Ivy League tournament ending Sunday. So will the selection committee pretty much have the bracket in mind by Saturday night and how do you adjust depending on the result of the Ivy League tournament?

It is very much a work in progress when we retire for the evening on Saturday night. Particularly when you have a really competitive tournament — for example, the Ivy League this year that could have some significant impact in the bracket — we don’t finalize the bracket until all of the results are in, the final RPIs have been calculated, and then we go about finalizing the bracket and then we go over the bracket at least three or four more times, and then we double-, triple-, quadruple-check the seeds, and at that point, we’re ready to release the bracket to the public and media, which doesn’t happen until much later in the evening on Sunday.

When the committee retires for the night on Saturday, is there a general sense of confidence about the bracket?

I think usually people are pretty satisfied with where we are when we break Saturday night knowing that there’s some final work to be done Sunday morning. But usually the bulk of our work is complete and it’s just a matter of seeing the final game on Sunday and then finalizing the bracket and making certain that none of our scenarios have changed regarding seeding and travel distance as far as the bracket is concerned.

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