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Adam Gold

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.

21 Comments

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  • ncaa2014playoff Oct 9, 12:11 p.m.

    Your last statement is that the commenters were more right than wrong. So that makes you a Neanderthal by your own previous statements.
    Here is the right position, Rice should be Commissioner of the NFL, no on the field football acumen needed, she would be a lot better than the two male clowns that have held the job most recently.
    Next that said, she or he, any other Provost or Secretary of State, that never played the game or coached (Mike Leach) cannot pick the teams for a Playoff or as you said a 4 team group that is not a real Playoff.
    Of course no Committee can pick any size Playoff group even the Perfect Playoff 16. "Just Wins Baby". 12 Football Only Conferences of 10 teams with equal total strength of programs will give you 12 Champions in the 16, then take the next 4 Second Place teams with the most wins, Voila, 4 Rounds later an Undisputed National Champion http://ncaa2014.us/conferencerealignmentchart.pdf

  • Ken D. Oct 8, 9:21 p.m.

    The problem isn't finding people knowledgeable enough to make good choices. The problem is not having criteria in place for making those choices. So, just like with polls, each voter is left to establish his/her own criteria. Should conference champions be given priority? Should we just try to identify the four best teams, regardless of conference? Should we just rank teams according to how few losses they have? Or how recently those losses occurred?

    It sounds so far as if we are going to opt for the purely subjective opinions of a selection committee. If so, we will continue to have controversy. And that may be the unspoken goal here. Who cares if people continue to argue about the process, as long as they continue to talk about college football? If that drives TV ratings, then mission accomplished.

  • Ken D. Oct 8, 6:01 p.m.

    Gunny, I'm flattered. But here's how I look at it. There are probably no more than 30 or 40 thousand people capable of identifying four of the top eight college football teams. The problem is that about 35 thousand of them would be perceived as having a biased viewpoint, and as a result the four they actually pick would be suspect for that reason.

    No matter how many teams you involve in a playoff, there will always be a legitimate case why the last team on the bubble to get cut should have been included. If you have four teams, how can you say that number five isn't as worthy as number four? Or number nine as worthy as number eight?

    But in college football, I think you can legitimately say that the ninth team in an eight team playoff would be highly unlikely to win three games against the best. Just like the eighth team is. It isn't who gets left out. It's who gets included. And I personally believe that almost always the best team will be included in an eight team playoff.

    I believe we will have an eight team playoff within three years, because it makes economic sense. The recent conference realignment fiasco teaches us that tradition and rivalries don't matter much anymore. If that's true, why not scrap one more piece of tradition? Today, we have conference championship games that are more a monument to the money chase than a legitimate way to crown a conference champion in gigantic conferences where teams don't play the same schedule.

    I suggest we do away with those games, and replace them with the first round of an eight team playoff. Let each of the five power conferences have a guaranteed representative. They are clearly that much better than the other five conferences. Now add three at-large teams.

    I, for one, would find a Clemson-Oklahoma matchup more exciting than another game in Charlotte against Va Tech or Georgia Tech. And I think ESPN would pay more for it, too. It just makes sense.

  • GunnyGoesArrrgh Oct 8, 4:52 p.m.

    Obviously, Pollack and Dye came off as sexist in their comments.

    But there is a valid point to be... View More

    — Posted by dave437

    I am not a member of the sports media. I'm not involved in athletic administration. I have... View More

    — Posted by Ken D.

    Ken, you may not be a member of sports media or have experience in athletic administration, or ever coached, but you have a mind for analysis and you'd be perfect for a spot on this committee.

  • GunnyGoesArrrgh Oct 8, 4:46 p.m.

    Obviously, Pollack and Dye came off as sexist in their comments.

    But there is a valid point to be... View More

    — Posted by dave437

    I'd be in an "uproar" if Sarah Palin was chairing anything.

  • GunnyGoesArrrgh Oct 8, 4:43 p.m.

    This shouldn't affect anyone in the state of North Carolina.

    — Posted by shakennotstirred

    Sad - because it's true - but it did make me laugh.

  • wlcat609 Oct 8, 3:02 p.m.

    I don't think any coach should be involved - tendency for too much politics with their choices. Likewise, I don't feel any of the 'talking heads' on the so called college football panel shows should qualify to be a member of the selection committee either. One person that WOULD get my vote as a member would be Todd Blackledge - he DOES HIS HOMEWORK, is always well prepared, has college football game experience and tends to call a spade a spade.

  • Ken D. Oct 8, 1:29 p.m.

    Or maybe we should leave this to the experts, the coaches. They have a poll, too, don't they? Again, why do we need to reinvent the wheel?

    Or if for some reason we don't trust either the media or the coaches, we could include the Harris poll. Still not sure? Maybe we could add one or more of the computer rankings that are already out there.

    You see where this is heading? How is this different from the BCS?

  • Objective Scientist Oct 8, 1:17 p.m.

    Obviously, Pollack and Dye came off as sexist in their comments.

    But there is a valid point to be... View More

    — Posted by dave437

    I am not a member of the sports media. I'm not involved in athletic administration. I have... View More

    — Posted by Ken D.

    Amen! AMEN! To your last sentence!

  • Ken D. Oct 8, 12:38 p.m.

    If being a member of the sports media qualifies someone to be on this committee, why do we need a committee at all? Why not just accept the collective wisdom of the writers who vote in the AP poll every week?

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