Prior to selection weekend, each committee member receives an "initial ballot" comprised of two columns listing all eligible Division I teams in alphabetical order. Each committee member will submit the ballot by a designated time on the first full day of selection meetings. The committee selects the 37 best teams to fill the at-large berths. There is no limit on the number of at-large teams the committee may select from one conference.
The committee will create a seed list -- 1 through 68 -- which is used to assess competitive balance of the top teams across the four regions of this national championship. Additionally, the seed list reflects the sequential order with which teams will be placed in the bracket. Once the seed list is finalized, it remains unchanged while the bracket is assembled. Importantly, various bracketing principles may preclude a team from being placed in its true seed on the seed list.
A top priority for the committee is to achieve reasonable competitive balance in each region of the bracket. Sixteen levels are established (i.e., the seeds, Nos. 1 through 16) in the bracket that cross the four regions, permitting evaluation of four teams simultaneously on the same level. Teams on each seed line (No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, etc.) should be as equal as possible.
The committee will then go through the seed list, placing all teams by seed starting with the four No. 1 seeds, through the No. 4 seeds. After the top four seed lines have been assigned, determining the relative strengths of the regions by adding the true seed numbers in each region to determine if any severe numerical imbalance exists. Generally, no more than five points should separate the lowest and highest total.
These additional considerations are also made: If possible, rematches of regular-season games should be avoided in the second and third rounds. Rematches of previous years' tournament games should be avoided in the second and third rounds. And after examining the previous five years' brackets, teams or conferences will not be moved out of its natural region or geographic area an inordinate number of times.
Teams from the same conference cannot meet until a regional final unless 9 or more teams from one conference make the tournament.
The committee will try to avoid rematches of regular season games in the second and third rounds.
The bracket sits empty until around mid-afternoon on Selection Sunday. It's literally the last step in the process.
The First Four refers to the first four games of the tournament, not the first four teams.