Sometimes, “Oops, our bad,” doesn’t really cut it.
The NCAA Selection Committee catches heat every year for who it allows into the tournament as well as for who it leaves out. After all, arguing about who deserves a chance at the Big Dance is part of the fun of March Madness. This year, however, the committee is in the spotlight not just for not letting a team in, but for not letting a team in after telling them they were.
South Carolina went 24-8 in the regular season this year, finishing with an 11-7 slate in the SEC. Although the overall record does look nice, the team was not all that strong, as it played in a weak conference to begin with, and sported an objectively soft nonconference schedule bolstered by Hofstra and Tulane. Throughout the course of the season, the Gamecocks faced only two opponents that sported RPI rankings within the top-50 — they beat Texas A&M and lost to Kentucky.
This is all to say, a text or phone call was far from in the bag for South Carolina on Selection Sunday.
So, when the team received a congratulatory text from the NCAA around 6:30 p.m. on Selection Sunday, according to South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner, the subsequent relief and celebration must have been a sight to see — one that was likely only surpassed by the subsequent disappointment.
According to an NCAA executive, a text was mistakenly sent to the team on an app that was described as a mass-messaging provider. Unfortunately, the text was not meant for the Gamecocks but rather another, unspecified team. As it worked out, Vanderbilt, which finished 19-14 overall and was defeated by South Carolina in the regular season, was one of the First Four teams selected. The Commodores would be blown out by 20 points in the play-in game against Wichita State.
It can’t be said for sure that Vanderbilt was the team the congratulatory text was meant for though — it’s just as possible that someone at the NCAA was scrolling through the company phone and clicked the wrong “USC” contact.
The story was first reported by NOLA.com, giving way to a few folks asking questions and an eventual press release. Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, put out the following statement on the matter Thursday:
“Unfortunately, during the selection show a junior men’s basketball staff member mistakenly sent a text to a member of the University of South Carolina athletics department staff vian an app we used for the first time during the 2016 tournament. The text was supposed to go to all teams, congratulating them for making the tournament. Regrettably, a text meant for another institution went to South Carolina instead.
While the Gamecocks were given serious consideration, at no time during the selection process was South Carolina voted into the field. Ultimately, they were one of the last four teams left out of the tournament. I take full responsibility for this clerical error and apologize to Coach Martin, his staff and team and the entire University of South Carolina community.
What makes the situation more heartbreaking is the fact that South Carolina has not exactly had the best luck on the court over the past 12 seasons. Until it was retracted by the NCAA, the mistaken alert was seemingly a notification that signified the Gamecocks’ first tournament appearance since 2004.
South Carolina would go on to accept a spot in the NIT and advance to the second round, where it was bounced by Georgia Tech.