Selection committee is first test of football playoff system
Posted October 8, 2013
We're still a year away from the inaugural college football playoff, but already the system has given some cause to moan and gripe. And, when you consider the sport's history of heated debates and irrational arguments, it has to be considered a fitting development that the coming changes have been preceded by such emotional outbursts.
It's also sad.
This weekend, it became known that Condoleezza Rice, former United States Secretary of State was going to be named to the upcoming college football playoff selection committee, and the reaction was exactly what you might have guessed. ESPN college football analyst David Pollack, once upon a time a bulked-up defensive lineman from the University of Georgia, announced on television that he wanted people on the committee, "that can watch tape, that have played football … that can tell you different teams on tape, not on paper." When asked by host Chris Fowler if he was implying that a woman should not be on the committee, Pollack said, "Yeah."
Okay, that was somewhat ignorant. But, legendary Auburn (and ECU) head coach Pat Dye turned up the heat on Ol' Condi.
(Please read the following quote with a southern drawl in your mind's eye. It makes it more authentic.)
"All she knows about football is what somebody told her," Dye told WJOX radio in Birmingham. "Or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football you've got to play with your hand in the dirt."
Yes, Pat, the only people who "get" football are those who played. Keith Jackson never understood the game. Verne Lundquist can't tell the difference between the read option and a Hail Mary. And, Chris Fowler isn't sure if a football is blown up or stuffed. The only thing missing from comments like Pollack and Dye was the suggestion that if Rice really wanted to be a part of the process, she could help out by making pancakes for the fellas doing all the work in the committee room.
Maybe there ought to be a quiz for prospective committee members, just so – you know – we could be sure of their football acumen. Notice the word is "acumen,"and not "acu-women."
However, while Pollack and Dye come off sounding like meatheads, there is a point to their whining.
As we head into this new era – the playoff era – of college football, the only danger to screwing this up is to somehow create a scenario that manages to lack credibility with the general public. And, there's no quicker path to eroding the public's trust than by putting people in charge who don't appear to be qualified to judge. This doesn't mean that Rice, or Lt. General Michael Gould, the superintendent of the Air Force Academy who is also reported to be a part of the selection process, or even former college head coach Tyrone Willingham can't recognize the best four teams in the sport. The fact of the matter is that most of you reading this – at least those of you who haven't fallen asleep by now – are more than capable of fashioning a list of the four best teams in college football by the time we reach the end of the season.
It is just football.
But that doesn't mean just anyone can be on the committee. Just because Rice loves football, regularly attends Stanford games and has been a volunteer coach for their women's golf team doesn't mean you can sell her as part of the decision-making process.
Hey, I watched every minute of the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, but that doesn't mean CNN should have called me in as an expert on the case. In the end, the fans, players, coaches, administrators and even those watchdogs in the media have to believe that the group in charge of selecting the four participating teams did exactly what they were charged with doing. Even if we disagree with the third- or fourth-rated teams in the mix, if we think the group reached a less-than-well-informed decision then the system is broken.
This doesn't have to be any more complicated than finding a half dozen national writers and broadcasters whose job it is to watch, cover, report or comment on college football. Put them in a room the day following the conference championship games and let them debate which four teams should settle this thing on the field. If Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN), Gary Danielson (CBS), Tony Barnhardt (Atlanta Journal Constitution), Andy Staples (Sports Illustrated), Charles Davis (Fox) and Pat Forde (Yahoo!) were thrown into a Dallas-area hotel room with six dozen chicken wings, four pepperoni pizzas and a couple of cases of bottled water, you don't think they'd spit out a credible and believable Fantastic Four?
There's a phrase in sports that reads, "paralysis by analysis." Ultimately, it deals with thinking too much and how it impedes being able to actually think clearly. I believe that's the area where those in charge of the playoff are treading.
With so many people who know and understand the game – even (gasp) without having ever had their hand in the dirt – extending outside the sport to "super fans." no matter how highly respected they might be in other walks of life, is a recipe for disaster.
Remember, even though we have what they're calling a "playoff", it's still just four teams, and the smaller the field the easier it is to make a mistake in selection. Therefore, until the field expands – and I'll bet you an entire bag of Tostitos that an announcement to do so will come within the length of the current 12-year contract – the credibility of the selection committee is the most important order of business.
I'd say, that even though some of the reactions have leaned towards the Neanderthal, those people are more right than they are wrong.