First, presented without comment, the percentage of teams in each conference that got in the tournament. I've put the conference RPI ranking to the left of each conference, not counting the MAC who was 10th. Syracuse removed from the numbers for the ACC.
1) Big 12 70%
2) Big East 60%
3) ACC 43%
4) Big 10 50%
5) SEC 36%
6) Pac-12 33%
7) A-10 21%
8) AAC 18%
9) WCC 20%
11) Mountain West 27%
12) MVC 20%
(number 10 MAC with no at-large bids)
Now, keep in mind the Mountain West had a bid poacher in Wyoming. If they had lost, they'd be out and Temple would be in, making the percentages AAC 27% and Mountain West 18%.
Now I don't know about you, but it sure looks like the at-large bids are well-aligned by conference:
- The Big 12 and Big East were the clear #1 and #2 conference, respectively, and got their fair share of bids.
- The ACC and Big 10 were a clear 2nd tier of conferences, and they are grouped together in the percentages.
- The SEC and Pac-12 were the clear 5th/6th conferences this year, trailing the top 4 heavily in the RPI, but clearly ahead of the other conferences. Their percentages are in the 30s.
- The next 6 conferences were the next tier. Each got between 18 and 27 percent, not counting the MAC. There was a large, large gap between the MVC and the next conference (Big West), and no conference below the MVC got an at-large bid.
If you're a conspiracy theorist, this is the year where you can trot our your conference bias theory.
Now, the committee says they don't consider conference affiliation. I believe that. If the casual fan were to go through the selection committee process, they'd lose track of which conferences got which teams in. There would be too much information to track to be able to know that type of thing.
However, this selection committee was dealing with brackets for the whole season. Their job is to pay attention to the sport all year long, and they're meeting over several days to create this bracket. While they don't explicitly mention conference affiliation during discussions, I bet every individual in that room, in the back of their mind, is aware of the situation for every conference at the time. For example, every time I built an S-Curve, I knew ahead of time that the SEC had 2 locks and 4 bubble teams (Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU, A&M). While I don't let that knowledge impact who I select for my field of 68, I am aware of how many the conference has in, because I'm immersed in the bracket. Same for the selection committee. They can individually all be able to track, mentally, the situation for each conference.
So, this brings me to UCLA. If they had missed, for example...the Pac-12 would be down to 25%, equaling them with the other 2nd-tier conferences. The committee said they compared Boise St to Colorado St late in the process. But Dayton was the last team in, not Boise St. So did they have a quota on the Mountain West, because having them at 36% would be an outlier among those group of conferences? Did they keep in Dayton to have the A-10 not fall behind the other conferences?
These are fair questions. The problem is since the committee is so immersed in the bracket, they can all individually track the status of each conference without actually discussing it in the room. Food for thought.