WASHINGTON (AP) -Five months from now, Tom O'Connor will go on national television and explain why some bubble teams made the NCAA basketball tournament while others didn't. For many disappointed fans, he'll be the face of the big bad organization that has their team on the way to the NIT.
Given such a weighty task, he's getting a head start on his brackets.
The athletic director at George Mason University is the new chairman of the Division I men's basketball committee, a dream job of sorts that will consume about 80 percent of his time once the season begins.
``You have to start being prepared now,'' O'Connor said Tuesday at a luncheon for reporters four days before the official start of practice. ``Some of us have to get our schedules in order, for travel and whatnot. It is a commitment, but it's a labor of love.''
O'Connor will spend his weeks traveling around the country, seeing as many games as possible. There's a 2 1/2-week stretch in November that has him at a George Mason game, a Georgetown game, at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York, back to Mason, then on to a game in Philadelphia, then back to New York for the Preseason NIT before heading to Florida for the Old Spice Classic and northward again to Boston for a doubleheader.
He'll operate from three hubs - his residence in northern Virginia, his beach house in New Jersey and the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. For those worried about an East Coast bias, he also has a West Coast trip planned.
``We know we're going to be criticized,'' O'Connor said. ``But we have to make sure we've done it right.''
O'Connor is serving the fourth year of his five-year term on the committee, but as chairman he'll become the unofficial spokesman as well as the person heading the meetings during the frenzied final days before Selection Sunday.
O'Connor said last year's committee took about 100 votes before deciding on the teams and seedings for the tournament's field of 65, which included 34 at-large teams. The first vote was held Wednesday night, but the field essentially began to take shape by Saturday morning, when seeding and bracketing began in earnest. The votes are done electronically, and a computer program rejects anything that doesn't fit the rules - in case, for instance, a team is given a first-round game on its home court.
``It's intense, but it's a positive intense,'' O'Connor said. ``It's still fun.''
Two seasons ago, O'Connor's school was the story of the tournament. George Mason, from the Colonial Athletic Association, advanced to the Final Four, striking a blow for mid-major schools everywhere.
But just because a mid-major AD is in charge this year doesn't mean the lesser-known schools will be getting a break. O'Connor said conference affiliations and mid-major status mean nothing when the committee is deciding among the final bubble teams. Instead, the oft-mentioned top criterion is: ``Which of these teams would I not want to face if I were a coach?''
In essence, says O'Connor, the committee treats Division I as if it were comprised of 336 independents.
``It's the only way to do it,'' O'Connor said. ``It's all based on the qualitative and quantitative analysis of each individual team. There's no advocacy. There's no politicking for a conference. We go in there and we look at coming out and picking the 34 best teams. We feel strongly about picking the 34 teams as if they were all independents.''
O'Connor said the committee is so focused on picking the teams that great story lines are often accidental. For example, he didn't realize until last season's brackets were completed that the West Regional was configured to have UCLA coach Ben Howard facing his old school, Pitt, in the third round.
O'Connor said the committee will consider inviting a reporter in the room during the selection process to add more transparency to the proceedings, but many ground rules would have to be worked out and such an arrangement probably wouldn't be put in place for this season.
There will be one minor change to Selection Sunday this season. The committee plans to announce the two teams chosen for the so-called ``play-in game'' by 2 p.m. instead of the waiting for the regular selection show in the evening. The chosen teams often have to rush to get to Dayton, Ohio, for the game on Tuesday without adequate time to prepare, so the change is meant to give them a few hours notice to start their planning.

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