Sports 101

March Madness, March Mayhem, the Road to the Final Four. Whatever you call it, the National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball Tournament begins with the first round of games next Thursday. To find out which teams will play, tune in when selections are announced Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on CBS.

Q: Who makes up the NCAA's selection committee that determines the 64-team NCAA men's and women's basketball tournament fields?

A: NCAA officials, conference commissioners, and university athletic directors. On the last weekend of the college basketball season, this group gathers behind closed doors to determine which teams get a spot in the tournament, how high each team will be seeded, and what region each team will play in.

Q: What is the RPI and how does it affect the NCAA tournament selections?

A: The RPI stands for the Ratings Percentage Index. Three factors are involved: a team's winning percentage, its strength of schedule, and its opponents' strength of schedule. Unlike in football, the RPI does not take into account the margin of victory in a game, only wins and losses. The formula has been used by the NCAA committee since 1981 as supplemental data to help seed teams and pick at-large teams. "Bubble teams" (see next question) are those most affected by their RPI rating.

Q: What does "on the bubble?" mean?

A: Near the end of the college basketball regular season, teams that have had a good, but not great season, are said to be "on the bubble." A team that has, say, an 18-12 record can hope to make the tournament. To get "off the bubble," and get selected, a team needs to either win its conference (which earns it an automatic berth) or win as many games as possible against highly ranked opponents. Winning some tough nonconference games may make the difference in being chosen for the tournament.

Q: When and where will the Final Four be held this year?

A: The top four teams will meet in the last two rounds of playoffs March 27 and 29 in St. Petersburg, Fla. - the first time the Sunshine State has hosted the finals.

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