Mike Bobinski knew he would come to Atlanta in the first week of April. He just didn’t know he would be staying.
Bobinski is the chairman of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee — the high-powered and often second-guessed group that selects the at-large teams and seeds the field for March Madness. In that role, his long-held itinerary for this season’s Final Four at the Georgia Dome called for him to arrive in Atlanta on April 1.
That day on his calendar got more crowded when the veteran Xavier athletic director recently was hired as Georgia Tech’s AD. His official starting date: April 1.
“You can’t make these things up,” Bobinski said.
On Jan. 18, he was in Atlanta for his official introduction at Tech. Five days later, he was back in town on Final Four business.
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One of several reasons for the 2 1/2-month delay between getting hired and getting started at Tech, Bobinski said, is his position as chairman of the basketball committee. In the final year of a five-year term, he was selected by his nine fellow members to lead the group. He describes it as “another full-time job” through Selection Sunday. He runs the meetings, sets the agendas and serves as the committee’s spokesman.
“It’s a not-insignificant sense of responsibility,” he said. “But I enjoy it. I love the game. I am fortunate to have had this opportunity. It’s been one of the great professional moments in my career, in all honesty.”
Bobinski will leave the committee when he starts work at Tech because of an NCAA rule that limits the group to one member per conference. The ACC is represented by Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who has been elected next season’s chairman. But Bobinski, whose term was scheduled to run until September, will remain in charge through Selection Sunday and the first three rounds of the tournament.
Committee members have access to voluminous data on all teams and to virtually every game televised anywhere. Nevertheless, Bobinski estimates he has seen 45 teams play in person this season, including four — Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas — at the Georgia Dome in the Champions Classic.
“I like to see as many teams as I can in person,” he said. “I’m not as much a numbers guy as I am a qualitative guy. I want to see if a team looks like a tournament team. There’s a feel factor for me.”
On March 17, the committee’s work product — the 68-team bracket — will become a national topic of conversation. The committee met last week in Dallas to begin the arduous process of thinning the field from 334 eligible teams.
“We can’t track 334 teams and do it well down the stretch,” Bobinski said. “So we went around the room — every committee member except the chair is assigned specific conferences to monitor — and I had everybody say who at this point in time are the teams the rest of the committee should be paying attention to from the leagues you monitor. That doesn’t preclude any (team) from falling off that list or coming from the back of the pack. But it’s a way to bring it down to a manageable number.”
The committee will reconvene Feb. 12-15 in Indianapolis.
“At that point, we’ll run through a complete mock selection process; we’ll pick the field as if the season ended that day,” Bobinski said. “It’s particularly (good) for our new members so that when we do it (for real) in March, it’s not the first time they see it.”
The March 13-17 meeting at an Indianapolis hotel will culminate with the unveiling of the bracket on national television.
“As the week goes on and you get to that time when you’re selecting the very last teams, there is no question you feel the pressure building,” Bobinski said. “There’s never any animosity, but there’s very lively and energetic debate. There are disagreements, for sure. But we’re all in there trying to do the right thing, and we work it all out through conversation and voting.”
In the meantime, Bobinski plans more preparation: “Mixed in with all the things I’m trying to get done — finishing well at Xavier and getting started at Georgia Tech — I’m going to try to find my way to see a few more teams that are on my mind right now.”
When he starts work at Tech on April 1, he’ll assume a different Final Four role: athletic director of the host institution for the April 6 and 8 event.
“It’ll probably never happen again and hasn’t happened before,” Bobinski said of the transition from committee chair to host AD. “But, you know, I don’t like to do anything easily. So, what the heck, let’s make it as complicated as we can.”