- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

Dave Cottle’s eyes dart from task to task in his cramped, chaotic office, and he glances up from his cluttered desk to glean information from anything he can see.

The Maryland lacrosse coach has choices. A tape of his team’s next opponent, Yale, flickers on a TV. A message pops into his e-mail box about the academic progress of two players.

But the most intriguing option is a two-page document that breaks down every Division I team and includes RPIs, strength of schedules and several other categories.

It is the statistical equivalent of an expressway car wreck, something not entirely comprehensible but an irresistible sight for a passing gawker. For an NCAA tournament selection committee member like Cottle, it inevitably draws his attention.

“The numbers are bizarre because they don’t make sense,” Cottle says.

Such is life for a coach/committee member. Cottle and Albany’s Scott Marr will join three administrators in Indianapolis late tomorrow night to begin the tournament selection process, continuing a hectic week that ends when the 16-team field is turned in Sunday.

Unlike men’s basketball, coaches contribute to the selection process in men’s lacrosse and several other smaller sports. It creates an interesting dynamic for those with dual jobs, particularly late in the season.

“I always felt it was a huge responsibility,” says Princeton coach Bill Tierney, a committee member from 2003 to 2006. “It created an inner conflict the last week or two, being superstitious and feeling like we have to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i.’ You have to walk a fine line because you cannot go in unprepared. It’s not fair to the other coaches, not fair to hundreds of players and not fair to the system.”

On the go

Cottle insists he will devote plenty of time tonight to studying the data after his work for Yale is complete. The trickiest part might be making it to Indianapolis; the Terps play at 1 p.m. tomorrow, and Cottle’s flight leaves BWI at 4:25. If he misses it, he probably won’t make it to Indianapolis until 11.

At least he will be there; Marr participated via telephone last year when Albany played at Maryland-Baltimore County on Selection Sunday.

“I think the plane ride will be able to help me prepare,” Cottle says. “You can take that hour or two hours that you’re at the airport to try to get prepared. The good thing is you have an experienced chair in [Butler associate athletic director] Jon Hind who’s done it, and hopefully I can learn from those guys.”

Cottle has decades of experience trying to guess the tournament field like anyone else and has seen a shift in how teams are chosen. A quality victory or two used to be enough to get a team in. Now, RPI and strength of schedule matter just as much.

Tierney says the committee doesn’t consider a school’s name during its analysis, instead applying labels like “Team A.” And that might clear up some of Cottle’s early confusion.

“It actually makes sense the more information you have and the more you can put it on paper and you take the personalities and everything out of it,” Cottle says. “Then you take the heritage out of it. Great programs, you have a tendency to overrank them, and programs that maybe haven’t had the same success you have a tendency to possibly underrank them.”

A different perspective

Coaches provide insights that don’t seep into a spreadsheet. The Terps play 14 of the other 55 Division I teams, and Cottle’s dissection of game film allowed him to see nearly every tournament contender in some setting.

“It kind of gives the committee a good overall feeling if they’re making the right decision,” Marr says. “When the numbers are available, we kind of throw our insight in about what teams have done all year. It just gives that added dimension on the committee.”

Few coaches would argue with unbeaten Cornell earning the No. 1 seed. But there’s a chance Duke, with a 7-1 record against teams in this week’s top 10, could usurp the Big Red for the top spot in RPI despite losing at home to Cornell.

There’s also the matter of assessing Syracuse, doomed to its first losing season since 1975 but still loaded with talent.

“This is Dave Cottle the coach at Maryland’s opinion: Syracuse may be out of the tournament, but if you beat Syracuse it should matter,” Cottle says. “My challenge as a member of the committee I think is to be able to decipher the numbers but also input a little common sense.”

Another situation he will face is being part of the group being second-guessed about how nine at-large spots were allocated rather than vetting the committee’s work from afar.

“He plays in the ACC and plays a tough schedule, so I think he has a real feel for who’s good and who isn’t good,” Tierney says. “When you become a committee member, [you] have to take into account [automatic qualifiers] and values of things in order to be fair, and I think for Dave, it’s going to be a new experience for him.”

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