- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The College Football Playoff selection committee has been revealed, so let the criticism/debate/snark begin.
It's OK. It's what we do in a sport shaped so largely by subjectivity. Whether it's the polls, the BCS standings or the selection process for college football's final four, opinions will differ and verbal arrows (hopefully, just verbal ones) will fly. Several committee member choices, namely former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, are already sparking controversy.
But Big Ten fans have no reason to kvetch (that's Yiddish for complain) about the two committee members with the strongest ties to league schools. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska coach/AD Tom Osborne are home-run additions to this group. I can't find two committee members with a better mix of football, administrative and decision-making credentials than these two.
Alvarez is the Big Ten's representative on the committee -- the five major conferences all have a sitting AD in the group -- while Osborne is one of the at-large choices. Both have strong ties to Nebraska -- Osborne coached there from 1964-97, guiding the Huskers to three national championships; Alvarez played linebacker for Big Red from 1966-68. Alvarez has spent most of his career in the Big Ten, coaching Wisconsin from 1990-2005 before taking over as AD, while Osborne helped Nebraska transition from the Big 12 to Big Ten and spent his final years as an administrator attending league meetings.
More important, both men have the ability to see the bigger picture, which is a challenge in a sport that often becomes ridiculously provincial.
I caught up with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to discuss Alvarez's and Osborne's appointments to the selection committee.
Delany on Alvarez: "He's played the game, he's from a football-rich part of the country in Pennsylvania, played it at Nebraska, coached it at Iowa and Notre Dame and successfully built a program at Wisconsin, [where he] won three Rose Bowls. And beyond that, he’s a straight shooter. He's a guy who has a lot of credibility among his peer coaches and his peer athletic directors, not just in the Big Ten but nationally, as do many of the other athletic directors who are in the mix.
Delany on Osborne: "Tom's credentials are outstanding as a coach, as a player, three national championships, a Congressman, an athletic director, a person of terrific integrity and a calm decision-maker."
Alvarez was the obvious choice to rep the Big Ten on the committee. You said so yourselves in a poll we ran in July. At the Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago, Ohio State AD Gene Smith, who wanted no part of the committee, said of Alvarez, "He'd be the perfect pick. I'm promoting Barry."
Unlike others, Alvarez never shied away from the opportunity to serve, telling ESPN.com in March, "If I were asked, I would serve."
"If it's going to make college be football better, you can bet he wants to be part of it," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "He wants to be involved and he wants to do everything he can to make sure it upholds the credibility of college football as a whole, not just Wisconsin. That's why still, at this point in his career, he wants to be involved in anything he possibly can. He doesn't have to do that.
"He does that because he wants to, because he has such a care factor for the game and such a care factor for the whole system of college football."
Osborne also is a steward of the game and one of its most respected figures. Although he no longer works in athletics, he keeps a close eye on the gridiron happenings.
"Coach Osborne understands football, has a lot of knowledge and that's a plus for everybody," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I also know that he still spends time and he watches the game, he’s still into it, he's been around it. It's a really good thing for the committee and for college football."
In assembling the committee, conference commissioners looked for football knowledge, integrity and sound decision-making skills. Perhaps above all, the committee members needed to have thick skin because of the inevitable criticism that will come their way.
Osborne and Alvarez both were long-time head coaches for major-conference programs. Osborne later served as a U.S. Congressman. Other than maybe Rice, is anyone else on the committee better prepared for the haters?
"They’ve all been around the block," Delany said. "They're not people who have written about decision-making; they're people who make decisions. There's a real big difference between quarterbacking and armchair quarterbacking, and they're all quarterbacks in their own right.
"They have all made difficult calls in their careers."
Alvarez and Osborne have similar football roots at Nebraska, but they're different men with different leadership styles. The candid Alvarez always lets you know where he stands, whether he's discussing Big Ten expansion, the league's decision to avoid scheduling FCS teams or Wisconsin's recent coaching search, when he gave us the unforgettable line: "I won't use a search committee. Most search committees use me."
Osborne also has strong opinions, but he's more reserved, which should translate well in the committee room.
"One of the best listeners I've ever been around," Delany said. "Here's a guy who has accomplished so much, not only as an athlete and a coach, but also as a congressman and an athletic director, and brings in decades of experience and thoughtfulness. And he listens, he defers, and he also articulates candidly his points of view.
"Sort of like E.F. Hutton, when Tom speaks, people listen."
According to Delany, more than 100 potential committee members were recommended and vetted, and the 13 who made the final cut have unanimous support from the leagues. But certain names kept popping up over and over, including Alvarez's and Osborne's.
There will be controversy with the committee, both now and next fall, when the selections actually begin. It's a tough job and a largely thankless one.
But Big Ten fans should feel at ease. Alvarez and Osborne will get the job done right.
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