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Sunday Brunch: Bodensteiner Builds Brackets

March 11, 2017

By John Heisler

University of Notre Dame senior associate athletics director Jill Bodensteiner already has one full-time job overseeing compliance, policy management and legal affairs for the Irish.

For the next five years, at least during basketball season, she has a second.

And, as Bodensteiner says, “Luckily, I love basketball.”

Bodensteiner in 2016-17 is a first-year member of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee. That means she and her colleagues are responsible for selecting and bracketing the 64 teams that will compete in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship that begins next week.

She joins committee chair Terry Gawlik, senior associate athletic director from Wisconsin, on a 10-person lineup of athletics directors, senior athletics administrators and conference representatives (currently from the Atlantic 10 and Southeastern Conference).

“We started meeting last June, in part to prepare for an August mock selection exercise which was open to coaches and media,” says Bodensteiner.

“The mock selection is really an opportunity to be transparent and for people to learn more about what goes on with the process–and that was a good learning experience for me, too. I had sat in on it before, but you certainly have a different hat on when you’re going to be making the decisions.

“We also did something new this season by inviting the new talent from ESPN to sit in on one of our meetings. Maria Taylor, Andy Landers and two producers for ESPN were there so they can make it more real in the studio and, again, to be transparent from our end.”

Last season the committee helped build interest in the tournament with two regular-season “reveals” listing the top 10 teams. This year a third reveal was added (all on ESPN Big Monday women’s game telecasts), all of them charting four teams on each of the top four seed lines.


Bodensteiner (foreground) takes part in an NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee meeting..

“By Monday at 8 a.m. we had a written ballot due on our top 16,” says Bodensteiner. “I normally stayed up from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. the night before to work on my ballot since there were usually a lot of games on Sunday.

“By 9 a.m. we had a record of all the ballots, and I could see how my nine colleagues voted in aggregate. Then we would have an 11 a.m. conference call where we would go through the ballot, talk it through and ask questions of the people who are the primary contacts for those conferences.

“By the end we voted and we had our 16 teams–and off it went to ESPN.”

Committee members can utilize a variety of elements to rate teams–the eye test, RPI, schedule, wins and losses and many more.

“We really have four primary tools to access information,” says Bodensteiner.

“First, we have a series of regional advisory calls with coaches from each region. All 10 of us can log in, or if you have to miss one live you can log in later and listen. Then the coaches follow up with written rankings so you have a top 20 for each region.

“The second tool is simply to watch as many games as possible. We can do that via DirecTV, recording as many games as we can. We have free access to each conference’s streaming service. Then I’ve had our (Notre Dame) coaches load my iPad with Synergy which is the game-film exchange, so I can watch any time anywhere.”

With 32 conferences across the country each committee member is assigned about seven as either the primary or secondary “expert” or contact (Bodensteiner is the primary contact for three). In that role she made a couple of road trips to see games in person.

She traveled to see Dayton play at St. Louis Feb. 22 in a game that was for all the regular-season marbles in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The month before, on her way from the NCAA Convention to meet the Irish women’s team in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Bodensteiner rented a car and drove to see James Madison play at Elon (the top two teams in the Colonial Athletic Association).


Jill Bodensteiner sits courtside at an Irish home game at Purcell Pavilion with her iPad at the ready to keep on eye on other games.

“I try to watch a lot of televised games live,” she says. “For the ones I watch on tape I can fast-forward through timeouts and dead balls and get it down to about 45 minutes. So I figure I’ve watched maybe 75 games live and another couple of hundred after the fact on tape. It’s a lot of time.”

As the sport administrator for the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, she also sees all the Irish games-though she must recuse herself when the committee evaluates Muffet McGraw’s squad.

Continues Bodensteiner, “The third way we get info is we each report out to our fellow committee members on regular conference calls and in-person meetings. We report on the conferences we’re responsible for. So I’ll do an in-depth report on each of those leagues. We’ve done that twice in person and maybe four or five times by phone now-and it gives people a good sense of how deep the league is, and what teams we should keep an eye on.

“Then the fourth way is a heck of a lot of data – the NCAA data gurus give us the team sheets that have all sorts of numbers. It’s really complex, but it’s great data to have.”

On Thursday Bodensteiner headed to Indianapolis where the committee members locked themselves in a hotel for the weekend.

“We have TVs all over watching conference tournament games that are going on. We plug in the AQs (automatic qualifiers) as they are determined and cross off those teams from the at-large list.

“I’m a rookie and so I’m learning a ton this year, but it’s been fascinating.”

Bodensteiner particularly appreciates the way in which NCAA staffers collaborate with the committee:

“The NCAA staff guides us logistically and plays devil’s advocate. Someone will say, ‘You said this about team X, are you being inconsistent with this about team Y?’

“But, at the end of the day, it has to be the committee’s work and the committee has to be comfortable.

“I’ll look forward to improving my game-watching in the future now that I’ve got a little more of a strategy. I may have over- or under-watched this year, but I’ll certainly tweak some things moving forward.”

A Notre Dame graduate and also holder of an MBA from Notre Dame and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Bodensteiner spent 12 years in the Office of the General Counsel at Notre Dame before joining the Irish athletic staff in 2009.

The end product of her first year of work will be the announcement of the women’s NCAA bracket Monday night. Then she and her fellow committee members will be assigned to monitor the various tournament sites over the next three weekends.

“The student-athletes and coaches work incredibly hard all season, so we feel a lot of pressure to get it right,” she says.

“But the side benefit is learning so much about college basketball–styles of plays, coaching styles and strategy, all that good stuff.

“So it’s been great.”

Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings and lots of other feature content on