But this year the Eastern Kentucky athletics director is gearing up for what figures to be the most emotionally intense meeting in his four years on the selection committee.
There are probably more teams in the mix for the final few spots in the field than any time in his term. It’ll be up to him and the other committee members to sort it all out before Sunday’s 9 a.m. announcement on ESPNU.
That’s what will make it so intense.
“In the four years I’ve been there, filling the last 2-3-4 spots (this year) will be the hardest to fill and the most interesting, but the least fun,” Sandy said Monday. “It’s interesting, it’s complex, but it’s not much fun. You’ll leave somebody out. Let’s say there are 20 teams for five spots. Five are going to be happy and 15 will be unhappy.
“There’s more parity on this level than there ever has been. That’s one of the reasons we’re pushing for 24 teams. We have the smallest percentage of the membership who can go to post-season play than any other sport. Twenty-four wouldn’t help everything, but it would ease some of the pain.”
Jacksonville State felt that pain four years ago — Sandy’s first on the committee — when it went 8-3 but were nosed out by an 8-4 Maine team for the final spot in what was then a 16-team field.
The Gamecocks (6-4) and Sandy’s Colonels (6-4) are among about two dozen teams across the nation with a chance at the seven Division I wins necessary to be considered for what figures to be five open slots in the bracket behind the 10 automatic qualifiers and five perceived at-large locks. That’s likely to be trimmed to about a dozen teams for two or three spots by the time the committee convenes.
JSU and EKU are among four teams with mathematical chances to earn the OVC’s automatic bid, but Tennessee Tech appears to have the easiest road. The Golden Eagles (6-3) play a three-win Austin Peay team at home Saturday in their final game, while JSU and EKU both play teams hoping and capable of driving the league into an unprecedented five- or six-way tie for the conference championship at 5-3.
The six-team tie would reduce the autobid to a blind draw.
The only way JSU can claim the pass is to win Saturday at Tennessee State and have Tech and EKU both lose. Any other scenario involving a win and the Gamecocks are crossing their fingers for an at-large bid. A loss and they’re done.
If Tech doesn’t get the autobid, the Golden Eagles won’t even be on the bubble; they won’t have the requisite seven D-I wins.
Sandy thinks the OVC will have a “good case” for getting two teams in the field, but that all hinges on what transpires Saturday, how many 7-4 teams remain and how the committee members view the conference.
When it gets down to the final few teams, the process basically boils down to “people’s perception of strength of schedule and conference.” That weak perception of the OVC likely put a fifth Colonial team in the field over JSU four years ago. EKU went in as the only OVC team.
JSU coach Jack Crowe said two weeks ago after his team’s loss to Tennessee Tech an at-large bid with four losses would be “not expected” by him and a “gift,” yet as long as the Gamecocks stay in the conversation for one there’s a chance. He hasn’t decided whether to gather the team to watch Sunday’s selection show and would defer to athletics director Warren Koegel for direction.
“Since it didn’t happen (in 2008) I’ve not grown to expect it to happen even though I think … our brand is stronger (than it was then),” Crowe said. “It’ll be a true test of our brand. What’s the value of JSU as a brand?
“We have some brand power, but until you get all those people on that list, you don’t know. One thing we learned is just guessing who’s on that list doesn’t work. There are so many things that can happen then unexpectedly does happen.”
When the discussion does turn to the OVC teams, Sandy will excuse himself from the room. He won’t politic, only present the facts on each team being considered.
Among those facts are neither team really has a quality win. EKU went 1-2 outside the OVC, losing to FBS Kansas State in the final two minutes, beating a weak Missouri State team and losing to a Chattanooga team that also beat Jax State before falling on hard times in its own league. The Gamecocks lost to Kentucky and beat FCS upstart Georgia State. They also lost to head-to-head with EKU, blowing a 24-point lead in the final 7:25 of the game.
And don’t look for JSU’s $65 million stadium complex to bring an edge. It might help in securing a home game once the Gamecocks have made the field -- and they reportedly have bid to serve as hosts -- but it won’t get them a line in the bracket.
“Let the committee pick,” Sandy said. “I don’t ever want to come out of there and have somebody say EKU got in instead of JSU because Mark Sandy talked bad about JSU. It’s wonderful to be in the playoffs, but it’s not worth not being a professional about it.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.