March 21, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- You can question Florida State athletic director Dave Hart's theories and logic on some matters, but there is no mistaking the fact that he remains the most publicly passionate CEO in the ACC.
To no one's surprise, Hart was livid in the aftermath of March 12, when the NCAA selection committee snubbed the Seminoles' basketball team. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage served as the committee chairman this year.
"I certainly think politics entered into the process," Hart said, during a press conference held the day after the field of 65 teams was announced. "I'd be less than candid if I didn't say that. That's my opinion."
Hart's main beef? That the 10-member selection committee unevenly weighted the RPI and non-conference strength-of-schedule components to get more mid-major schools spots among the 34 at-large berths. He was convinced that the committee's make-up, which included seven members from the mid-major conferences, unduly influenced the process.
"Those are all good people on that committee, and they are upstanding people," Hart said. "But human nature dictates you do your best to carry the banner for those you represent. There is a little bit of imbalance in there, because seven represent the mid-majors. That's reality. Take from that what you will."
By omission, you also could take from Hart's comments that Littlepage's presence carried insufficient weight when it came time to represent the ACC. The Seminoles were just the second of 53 ACC schools since 1992 to finish 9-7 or better in league play and be excluded from the NCAA field.
In Hart's mind, that smacked against a long-standing charge of the committee, that the 34 at-large berths should go to the best teams, regardless of conference affiliation.
"If that charge has changed, somebody needs to tell all of us what the new priorities are," Hart said. "Is 10-6 the new threshold in the Atlantic Coast Conference? If it is, we need to know that."
Hart wasn't alone in his concerns.
"I'm not the most objective person in the world, but I feel like Florida State deserved to be in the tournament," ACC commissioner John Swofford said. "Sometimes you have to get to the point that you watch basketball teams play."
Hart was among the many who felt that non-conference schedules played a much greater role in the process than teams that enjoyed success against difficult conference schedules. Indeed, Littlepage conceded that non-conference scheduling played a big part in setting the field. FSU's non-conference strength of schedule ranked 316th out of 334 Division I teams this season.
But how those non-conference games are weighted into the RPI element remains a mystery for many. Hart used Boston College, which earned a No. 4 seed after finishing 26-7 and 11-5 in ACC play and subsequently advanced to the Sweet 16, as an example. The Eagles squeaked out a pair of ACC wins over Virginia Tech by a total of three points, and their non-conference schedule included Dartmouth, Shawnee State, Buffalo, Drake, Sacred Heart, Harvard, Duquesne, Texas Southern, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
"If they lose those two games to Virginia Tech, are they out of the tournament at 9-7?" Hart asked. "I've looked at everybody's schedule, and it's hard to accept ours is dramatically different. ... There are teams in that (NCAA) field without a signature win. There are teams in that field who played nobody."
Both Swofford and Hart said the apparent inequities in the value of non-conference schedules, as opposed to conference performance, will be discussed among basketball coaches and administrators at the league's May meeting in Amelia Island, Fla.
"I believe that will be a discussion that has full participation and interest," Swofford said. "You can talk about non-conference scheduling, but you also have to consider the weight of the dominant part of the schedule, which is the conference schedule."
Hart understands that his rant about the selection process may come across as a bias against the mid-majors. He insists that's not the case. He said the Cinderella stories produced by the smaller schools are "one of the magical things about the NCAA Tournament."
At the same time, he doesn't believe their inclusion in the tournament should come at the expense of teams that face more significant challenges every night in conference play.
"Nobody said we're going to start loading the carriage up with Cinderellas," Hart said. "If inclusion (of more mid-majors) is our No. 1 priority, let's say that. Let's admit that, and let's expand the field and include more mid-major programs."
That way, political agendas would be taken out of the equation.
For the sake of those harboring the notion that there could have been a conspiratorial move afloat among the selection committee, there are plenty of points to consider:
- Since the NCAA runs the tournament, is it possible that a higher authority within its administration (president Myles Brand?) wanted to assure the mid-majors a larger slice of the financial pie?
After all, that is not the case in college football, where the nation's power conferences have wrestled control of the postseason from the NCAA through the Bowl Championship Series. In basketball, teams and conferences get more money based on a formula that rewards both NCAA bids and victories at the Big Dance over a revolving six-year period.
Some FSU fans considered the tournament snub as payback, after the school won its appeal to remain the Seminoles, after threatening the NCAA with a lawsuit. FSU's American Indian nickname was one of many initially banned by the governing body as "hostile and offensive."
Many fans and some ACC officials wondered about Littlepage's leadership of the selection process, especially when it came to assigning committee members to specific conferences for season-long evaluation. Curiously, SEC commissioner Mike Slive was assigned to the ACC.
It's worth noting that the SEC received six tournament berths to the ACC's four, despite the fact that the ACC was the higher-rated conference. Meanwhile, Slive's long-standing friendship with Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese (whose league received a record eight berths) was enough to raise more eyebrows.
Hart declined to discuss those possibilities out in the open. At the same time, he made no bones about the apparent heavy-handedness of the NCAA Tournament selection process.
"We have to make sure," Hart said, "we don't allow the infiltration of personal and political agendas to rule the day."
BOWDEN EMBRACES NEW PHILOSOPHY
Talent and depth have allowed Florida State's football program to stay atop the ACC since its arrival in 1992, but the changing landscape in the league -- meaning better top-to-bottom competition -- appears to have been a factor in a significant change in philosophy this spring.
For the first time, coach Bobby Bowden has signed off on the full-time commitment to work his best players against one another in practice every day. That's something the Seminoles have done only sparingly in the past.
"We usually work ones versus twos, and try not to get anybody hurt," Bowden said, at the end of FSU's first week of spring practice. "But when you're as inexperienced as we are, we're going to go good-on-good and go from there."
A lack of depth on the offensive line (only seven scholarship players available) and a rebuilding defensive line (only one returning starter available) are at the root of the change.
Though many in the league would be envious of the Seminoles' depth, particularly at the skill positions, the lack of proven returnees on both lines is a concern for the defending ACC champions. That hasn't always been the case. Then again, FSU seldom has finished last in the league in rushing offense, either. That's something Bowden is determined to change this spring.
"It's usually when you're inexperienced. In other words, you are thinking, We've got to learn and we've got to learn quick,'" Bowden said of the philosophy change. "You can't go out there blocking the second team all day long and expect to get better. The same thing is true with the defense. ... A lot of it is because we feel this is the year we need to do it."
ROLLE LEAVING STRONG IMPRESSION
Heralded freshman safety Myron Rolle already is showing signs that he may be as good as advertised. The nation's No. 1 overall recruit, according to at least one website (ESPN.com), Rolle enrolled at FSU in January, eager to get a jump-start on his career.
It's clear that he'll be given that opportunity. Rolle capped the first week of practice with the first-team defense at the rover (strong safety) position by turning in a handful of big plays in FSU's first scrimmage setting.
Rolle had an interception, a tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery to lead the defense. On two of those plays -- the interception and the tackle for loss -- he made perfect reads. That's indicative of his reputation as an honors student and a quick study on the gridiron.
"He's big and intelligent and he'll hit ya," Bowden said. "So he's got what you're looking for."