Janet Cone has watched Selection Sunday with ardent anticipation, annually guessing and second-guessing the work of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee. Just like everyone else.
“That’s the magic of March Madness,” Cone said. “You just don’t know until you actually see the bracket.”
What a difference this March 15: Cone will get a sneak peek at the 68 teams in your office pool.
A Summerville native who is the athletic director at UNC Asheville, she will help build the bracket as one of the 10 members of the NCAA’s prestigious selection committee. Cone’s five-year term means watching more basketball than ever, and much more carefully.
“I never realized until I became a committee member what a hard job this is,” Cone said. “There’s so much parity in men’s college basketball. There is a lot of homework.”
She loves it. Cone, a 1978 Furman graduate who played basketball and field hockey for the Paladins, was a “passionate” basketball fan long before she took to the hardwood at Summerville High School. As a kid, she cheered for the South Carolina Gamecocks during head coach Frank McGuire’s glory years. As a head basketball coach, she ran programs at Western Carolina, Samford, Mars Hill College and St. Leo University.
Her reaction to landing a spot on the committee?
“As a fan it was, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable,’” said Cone, nominated by the Big South Conference, of which UNC Asheville is a member. “As someone who has been in college athletics for a long time, this is such an opportunity to give back to something that’s been so good to me.”
It’s just the latest career achievement for Cone, who has presided over facilities’ improvements, fundraising, rising grade-point averages and team successes in her 11 years at UNC Asheville. She also revived the women’s swimming program for the 2012-13 school year.
Cone is just the fourth woman to serve on the committee; Judy MacLeod, a Conference USA associate commissioner, is a fellow member this year. Each of the 10 members is assigned three primary conferences and four secondary conferences for evaluation. Cone is tasked with closely following the Southern Conference, Atlantic 10 and Ivy League while keeping an eye on the Colonial Athletic Association, Mountain West, Atlantic Sun and American conferences.
Her team-evaluation strategy:
Watch live games on TV.
Target games to review in digital archives.
Evaluate player injuries.
Digest information sent from the respective conference offices.
Consult with fellow committee members (the group met in July at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn and in January at the NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.).
“It’s great with the technology now,” Cone said. “You can watch games on your iPhone, your iPad, your computer, your TV. You have access to games on the West Coast and across the country. You’re not just looking at RPIs (Ratings Percentage Index lists) and wins and losses, but you really get a chance to watch the teams.”
She still sticks to staples of a daily routine. She wakes up at 4:30 for a morning workout (biking, running, walking or weightlifting), and has a daily devotional reading.
“That’s probably what’s kept me grounded all these years,” Cone said. “I’m just a steward trying to help the people that helped me.”
Cone digs into heavy reading at night.
“Some of my colleagues joke around that I don’t sleep because I’m always reading: business books, leadership books, biographies, novels,” Cone said.
An all-time favorite is “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t” by James C. Collins.
It’s a motivational chant that describes Cone’s effort in athletics management, and official March Madness bracket duty.
“As a rookie, I’m probably doing overkill,” Cone said, “because I don’t want to screw-up.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.