Late this afternoon, while most of America's basketball fans gather in front of television sets to learn the names of the Selected 64 -- aka, the NCAA tournament field -- nine men who among them see 1,000 basketball games a season will be staying as far away from the announcement as is humanly possible.
"The last thing I need to do," said Dick Shrider, one of the nine, "is watch that show."
That is because Shrider and the other eight will have spent the 72 hours leading up to the show (WDVM-TV-9, 6 p.m) picking the 64 schools. They are, collectively, the NCAA Tournament Committee, and this weekend is the one that each looks forward to and dreads more than any other all year.
"I can feel the pressure starting to build right now," said Notre Dame Athletic Director Gene Corrigan, 48 hours before leaving for Kansas City, where the committee meets. "You know every year it's going to be a tough job, and you know when you walk out of that room that someone is going to be unhappy."
Even as the NCAA field has grown -- from 25 teams in 1974 to 64 teams now -- picking the last few teams always has been a chore. And, as the money and prestige connected with the tournament have grown, so have the pressures on the nine men who pick the field.
Last year, toward the end of the selection process, four teams were being considered for two spots: Kentucky, Miami (Ohio), West Virginia and Marquette. Two of the committee members -- Shrider, the athletic director at Miami, and Fred Schaus, the athletic director at West Virginia -- had to leave the room since their teams were being discussed.
The two men spent about 25 minutes in the hall making small talk. "You stand there and just wait, knowing what it means to everyone back home if your team gets in," Shrider said. "It's a very, very tough thing. Fred and I have known each other for years. I knew, standing there, that one of us was probably going to be very disappointed."
It was Schaus. Miami got in, West Virginia did not. Now, one year later, Schaus is in a similar situation: West Virginia won 22 games this season but may not make the field. "For the last three weeks, everyone around here has been asking me if I think we'll get in," Schaus said. "I tell them I honestly don't know, that until we get to Kansas City and sit down and go through all the information we have, I won't know our chances.
"But people don't want to accept that. They think because you're on the committee, your team should get in. It just doesn't work that way. If it did, we wouldn't have any credibility at all.
"Not getting in is disappointing. But I know how hard the committee works and its integrity. I had no complaints at all."
Considering the emotions and finances involved in the selection process, the controversies that come about are relatively minor. But they do happen. In 1982, Bradley was in and out of the field several times during the last 24 hours of selection. When, in the end, the Braves ended up out, Coach Dick Versace was enraged. Bradley went on to win the NIT.
Last year, the last team selected was Kentucky, with a 16-12 record. This pick caused cries around the country of "politics." Not only is Kentucky one of the nation's most powerful and wealthy basketball programs, it was the host team for the Final Four.
"It's almost impossible to walk out of the room feeling you have done everything exactly right," said Virginia Athletic Director Dick Schultz, who has succeeded Sun Belt Commissioner Vic Bubas as chairman this year. "Picking those last few teams becomes a matter of splitting hairs every time. It's inevitable. But I do think we walk out feeling we've done the best and fairest job possible."
The job lasts much longer than three days. It begins in the summer when the committee meets to discuss selection procedures, how to bracket and seed teams and to review the previous season's tournament. Each committee member is elected to a three-year term. No one may serve more than two terms. Each spring, the committee chooses a chairman (subject to NCAA approval) and that person usually remains chairman until he leaves the committee. Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke was chairman for four years, followed by Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt, Bubas and now Schultz. Since he has just been elected to a second term beginning next year, Schultz could be chairman four years.
"I'm not sure I can take it that long," he said.
The committee comprises two representatives from each of the four regions and one independent member. At the summer meeting, the chairman appoints a chairman for each region. His job is to then appoint an advisory board of coaches -- one for each conference and one for every eight independents -- for his region.
Those coaches are polled twice during the season, once in February and once just prior to the Kansas City meeting. Each coach ranks teams in his region from 1 to 20. The regional chairman then puts together a consensus list that he takes to Kansas City.
The committee arrives in Kansas City Thursday night and begins meeting Friday morning. First, it must select and assign the 96 officials. Team selections don't begin until late Friday -- at the earliest.
Upon arrival, the committee becomes a sequestered jury. No phone calls are put through to members' rooms. They have two adjoining suites -- one for working, one for eating and relaxing.
"It really doesn't take that long to pick the first 50 teams," Schultz said. "Last year, I kept a log and it took us about three hours to pick 54 teams and the rest of the time to pick the last 10. And three-fourths of that time was spent on the last four."
The committee looks at the regional reports and detailed computer rankings and reports, and discusses teams that are easy to select early. There are 29 automatic bids from conference champions and 35 at-large bids. By midday Saturday, most of the field is set.
"That's when we take an hour just to get away from each other," said Corrigan, who is in his fifth year on the committee. "The joggers go for a run, others go for a walk. Everyone just tries to clear their mind."
But that night, there are still changes and arguments. Gavitt, as chairman, tried to avoid actual votes because he thought them potentially confrontational. Instead, he kept trying to reach a consensus. Occasionally, that is impossible. The vote on Kentucky-Marquette last year was 5-4.
Sunday is always a scramble. In addition to final selections, the committee must seed all 64 teams. "We usually break it down into groups of four and go across the board," Schultz said. "We place the four No. 1 seeds, then the four No. 2s and so on."
Filling in the top and the bottom of the board is usually not difficult since the top teams have generally been seen by everyone and are fairly apparent. This year, for example, Duke and Kansas are clearly No. 1 seeds going in. Kentucky is a likely No. 1. North Carolina, St. John's, Syracuse and Georgia Tech are possible No. 1s. But dropping to a No. 2 seed is not a major disaster.
"Obviously, haggling over seeds isn't nearly as difficult as discussing the last teams in the field," said Shrider. "When you drop a team from the field, you are disappointing a lot of people who have worked very hard all year long."
Setting the field is not easy. In 1983, because of all the wrangling, the committee found itself one hour prior to the telecast without the field in any form of a bracket. "At that point, Gavitt took over," Corrigan remembered. "He must have set the whole tournament up in brackets in about 40 minutes. The rest of us just sat back and watched. It was amazing."
Finally, usually less than an hour before the telecast, the chairman will look around the room. "Before we put this to bed," he will say, "Is there any team in this field that anyone feels does not belong." In short, speak now or forever hold your peace. Finally, the 64 names, attached to seeding numbers and sites, are turned over to CBS, which announces them. By then, the committee members are en route to the airport, from where they head to subregional sites during the first week, then to regionals and then meet again at the Final Four site.
"By then, it's fun," Windegger said. "We get together with our families and have a good time."
And what do the committee members discuss when they get together?
"Basketball," Corrigan said. "What else?"