INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA announced changes Thursday to the way it will select teams for the men's basketball tournament, adding flexibility in hopes of keeping teams properly seeded.
The selection committee voted last week to change the bracketing principles in hopes of keeping teams where they naturally belong, Chairman Ron Wellman told reporters. In previous years, the committee has had to move a team up or down one or two lines to accommodate rules such as when conference teams can meet in the tourney.
Previously, conference teams couldn't meet until the regional final — unless a conference had nine teams in the field.
The move comes in the wake of realignment that has seen league numbers swell over the past few seasons and has made the old rules difficult to navigate. The Big East, for instance, had 11 teams make the tournament in 2011 and 2012, and with more league expansion, conflicts seemed more likely to pop up.
The changes will not affect which teams get into the tourney. But they will allow conference teams that have played only once during the season — including league tournaments — to meet as early as the third round. Teams that have played twice will not face one another until the regional semifinals and teams that have played three times cannot meet until the regional championship.
Most of the conflicts didn't show up until the Sunday of selection weekend, when the bracketing debate is going full bore.
"It was a real struggle because we feel the seed lines are really important to the competitiveness of the tournament. The committee spends hours scrubbing the seeds," Wellman said. "We compare No. 1 to No. 2, No. 2 to No. 3, so on right through No. 68. At the end of the day, we feel that the seeds are in proper order. ... Then we go to bracketing, and oftentimes we move a team either within the line or we have moved a team two lines a couple of years ago, and a number of teams one line. So there was great discomfort with that."
During the call, NCAA spokesman David Worlock noted that in recent years, two teams were dropped two lines — Marquette in 2007 and Brigham Young in 2012. Wellman also said there was a long debate in the selection room last year regarding Oregon, which wound up with a No. 12 seed and played in one of the First Four games at Dayton, Ohio.
The concern is that by moving teams from line to line across the field, it impacts the entire 68-team tournament.
"The debate was considerable as to what we should do and what was best for not only Oregon but the tournament, and of course the teams that were going to be playing Oregon," Wellman said. "When you move a team off of its seed line, you're not only affecting that team, but you are affecting the team that it plays and the teams that it might eventually play. So it has a tremendous impact."
To see how the new guidelines would work, NCAA staffers looked at the last three tourneys and found 90 percent of the moves were eliminated.
The biggest fans of the change might be coaches, who expressed their concerns this summer in a meeting between Wellman and representatives of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
What else will be different?
Top teams from the same conference could find themselves playing in the same region sooner than in the past.
Under the old rules, the committee was barred from placing more than two teams from one conference into the same region unless that league had at least nine teams in the field, and the top three teams from a conference had to go into different regions.
Now, committee members will get more flexibility. The top four teams from each conference will be separated by region only if they appear among the top 16 overall seeds, the top four in each region.
Committee members also voted to try and avoid non-conference rematches during the First Four and the second round, and agreed to relax the rules if two or more teams from the same conference are among the last four at-large bids. Those last four would meet in the First Four.
The committee also discussed imposing a deadline for when information would no longer be considered, a move that likely would lead to playing league championship games earlier in the day or week. That was rejected.
The overall goal remains the same: Making the NCAA's marquee championship event even better.
"We do believe that the seed lines are going to be honored to a greater extent, much greater extent, than they have been in the past," Wellman said. "The coaches and other groups have overwhelmingly supported the concept of honoring seed lines as a priority going forward."