By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN — Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione hasn’t made an appearance at the Big 12 tournament in two years. Might not seem like a big deal, but it ended a 29-year run of spending the second week in March watching either Oklahoma or Missouri, where he worked before coming to OU, face the league’s best teams.
Castiglione traded that for one of the most coveted posts in college athletics — NCAA Tournament committee member.
While the Sooners suffered through a heart-breaking 73-66 loss to Iowa State Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., he joined nine other committee members in their second day of the five-day process in Indianapolis that sets the most scrutinized bracket in sports.
“It’s a true honor and a privilege in our profession to be selected to serve on this committee,” Castiglione said. “It’s really just an amazing experience.”
It will end today when the bracket is announced at 5 p.m. In truth, however, the work started long before the committee members converged in Indianapolis.
Think you’ve watched a lot of college basketball this season? Castiglione probably topped the average fanatic by a dozen games. He’s watched them in person, on television and on-line studiously since November.
The eye tests serves as one indication. That exam is followed by the constant pouring over stats and reports from conferences on each and every team. There’s also the weekly conference calls with other committee members. There are no secrets when it comes to picking the field. Every team has a résumé and they’re constantly getting better or worse.
No matter what, you can’t help but see the game in a different light.
“I would say that I watch games differently. You have to critically analyze certain games and watch them differently than I would have prior to the committee experience,” Castiglione said. “You’re looking of the kinds of things that are going to be important for the evaluation and giving each deserving team the proper consideration.”
Castiglione was appointed to the committee last year as the Big 12 Conference’s representative. The spot was originally occupied by former commissioner Dan Bebee. Initially, Castiglione was going to fill out the final two years of Bebee’s five-year term. It was announced in January that Castiglione will get his own five-year term.
Last season, however, was straightforward. He went to Indianapolis without bias. The Sooners were 15-16 following the Big 12 tournament. There was no chance of them being in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
Obviously, things are a little different this year. OU is 20-11 and all of the experts have it in the field of 68 for the first time since 2009.
However, OU coach Lon Kruger resisted the urge to give Castiglione some talking points for the meetings.
“When they talk about Oklahoma, Joe is not in the room,” said Kruger, who is on the verge of becoming the first coach to lead five different programs to the NCAA Tournament. “The committee is made up of 10 and each of them puts different weight on different things. It’s not like there’s a blueprint and all 12 guys think exactly the same way. Joe’s opinion about strength of schedule or the last 10 ballgames may be totally different from the other people on the committee.”
Castiglione didn’t need to be reminded of that.
“Any committee member would feel a connection to a team or if it’s a commissioner, the teams in their own conference. You have to leave the room when that team is being discussed,” Castiglione said. “We go to great lengths to avoid any kind of question about the process. It has to be exceedingly credible, which it is. There are appropriate reasons why that rule was put in place many years ago.”
Castiglione won’t get back to Norman until Monday afternoon. It will be about 20 hours after the bracket is announced. The only place he might rather be today would be Lloyd Noble Center and with the team. Today is one of those special days in college basketball. It’s when teams get rewarded for five months of hard work and Castiglione must leave the room when his team is the topic. He’s more than happy to do it.
“I’m ecstatic!” he said.