When USBWA Hall of Famer Malcolm Moran and I went to San Antonio in November to meet with the Division I men's basketball committee about the prospect of having the USBWA in the room to document the selection, bracketing and seeding process, we were cautiously optimistic.
We also went into it knowing that this unprecedented meeting was just the start of a process.
By the time we left, we understood just how far we have to go in our effort to be there to demystify and bring further transparency to public perception of the secret sauce.
At least we can say this: In terms of this being a fact-finding mission, it was remarkably informative about how committee members see this situation – and we were truly grateful for their time and candor.
We told them that ideally we wanted to produce a narrative about the five days and all the painstaking time and thought and nuance that goes into it and a bullet-point pool report that may seem like minutia to them but would be able to best serve the members we represent and could, in fact, offer angles on stories for people around the nation.
They absolutely listened to us, and we came out of there with the understanding that a segmented snapshot of documenting the process is in play: The idea still under their consideration for this season would be to have our representative there for one day at the start (initial entries into the field) and/or the end (bracketing).
As for our broader mission and all the optimismconjured by months of discussions among board members and our ad hoc committee and the mere fact that we had been invited there, let's just say we had no real way of understanding where we stood until we heard their thoughts on it.
To put it bluntly, six of the 10 committee members expressed reservations ranging from dug-in to skeptical. No one advocated for it.
The good news is that there was no question they would trust us to maintain their anonymity, would have no concern about us leaking, etc.
The tough news is that we had no idea of the depths to which they believe their process would be compromised by us being there.
As one member put it, he is 100 percent certain that our presence in the room would "modify behavior" and change their dynamics, much the way that having a visitor in a classroom does.
Another said if they wanted full transparency, they'd have TV cameras in there.
He was semi-joking but kind of meant it, and I countered by saying that surely they must think there's room in between that and what we would do ... and I asked them if we were wrong to think that more transparency would be win-win.
There were some nods about that, and he did then allow as how he thinks we should be thinking of baby steps, perhaps being there for a segment the first time around and seeing how it goes.
Per the NCAA's David Worlock afterward, the committee also seemed to take some interest in having us attend the February meeting when it seeds the 16 teams and see how it feels about us in the room.
But the prevailing hurdle is the feeling that being there would alter the ability to be candid and, thus, be focused solely on getting it right.
One member compared what they do to being a jury, needing to be sequestered for high-profile cases, and reiterated that this group has its own personality that would be thrown off if it felt like it wasn't unfiltered.
Meanwhile, he continued, anonymity wouldn't solve that because it's not all that anonymous, what with it being only 10 people in the room.
In all these senses, it was quite a revelation.
We left with the message that it was an enormous help to us to understand where they're coming from and that now we could begin the next step of trying to address their concerns. We will soon present our response and look forward to what the committee says next.
The first meeting wasn't what we wanted to hear, but it was what we needed to hear. And it was a stepping-stone toward the long haul ... not a one-and-done conversation.