The tournament takes longer to play today than it did in its original format because more teams are invited to play.
The number of teams selected for the men's tournament has grown since the first tournament in 1939, when only eight teams were invited. The men's tournament, as we know it today, began in 1985 when the field expanded to 64 teams. In 2001, a sixty-fifth team was added to the field. In 2011, that number rose again to 68 teams.
On the women's side, the first tournament was played in 1982. There were 32 teams in that tournament. The tournament expanded to 48 in 1989 and then to 64 teams in 1994, which is where it stands today.
The committee is sequestered in a hotel during the selection process, not unlike a jury for an important court case. Members must weigh the evidence provided to them though certain criteria. During the selection process, each member must submit a list of teams that should, without a doubt, be in the tournament. This list cannot include the school that the member represents. If eight members put a team on their list, that team is put into the field of tournament teams.
Here are some of the criteria the selection committees rely on:
- Rating Percentage Index (RPI) (For more information on RPI, go to CollegeRPI.com.)
- Ranking in national polls
- Conference record
- Road record
- Wins versus ranked opponents
- The way a team finishes the regular season
The selection committee also looks at an adjusted RPI. The adjustments take into account such factors as wins against highly ranked teams. This adjusted RPI isn't made public.
For those teams that aren't invited, there is no appeals process. The committee's decisions are final. The only conciliation for these teams is the possibility of playing in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which invites another 32 teams for postseason play.
Now that you've learned how teams are selected, let's go to the next section and look at how teams are seeded by the committee.