Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has an engaging column on new research identifying subconscious bias in the selection of teams for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (a.k.a. March Madness). We excerpt it below.
* * *
The study, by Jay Coleman, Mike DuMond and Allen Lynch, looked at selection data from 10 tournaments (1999-2008) and found that when seeding the tournament, membership in one of the six BCS conferences is worth an average of an extra 1.75 seeds. The study also found that having a conference representative on the 10-member selection committee resulted not only in a higher seed but also in a better chance of getting an at-large bid. According to the authors, a true bubble team (one with a 50-50 chance of getting in or being left out) would have a 49 percent better chance of getting in if its athletic director is on the committee, a 41 percent better chance if its conference commissioner was on the committee and a 23 percent better chance if a fellow conference AD is a member of the committee.
According to the researchers, Wake Forest would have beaten out Virginia Tech this year even after removing the controls for selection committee bias. Hokies fans should be angrier about their team’s abysmal out-of-conference schedule, but it probably didn’t escape their notice that Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman is a member of the selection committee.
The study’s authors aren’t accusing Wellman or any other selection committee member of deliberately rigging the process. In fact, they realize Wellman wouldn’t have even been allowed in the room when the committee voted to grant Wake Forest an at-large bid, nor would he have been allowed to offer an opinion on fellow ACC member Virginia Tech. What the authors are suggesting is that the selection process setup allows subconscious biases to creep into the proceedings.