NCF Nation: 120629 selection committee

Selection committee needs an anchor

June, 29, 2012
We know now that a playoff is coming to college football in 2014 and that the teams participating in that playoff will be chosen by a selection committee.

Already, my thoughts go out to those brave souls who will comprise that committee.

Talk about a no-win job.

No matter what they decide, they’re going to be second-guessed, scrutinized and accused of being biased.

Here’s the hard part with a selection committee: Just about everybody you put on there is going to inherently have some bias, whether it’s a conference commissioner, athletic director or former coach.

Let’s go ahead and eliminate one group. I’ve never thought that we in the media should be in the business of covering teams and then deciding which of those teams gets to play for a championship.

That’s simply a line we should not cross.

The same goes for former coaches.

Some of those guys would be ideal and make every effort to get the best four teams in the playoff each year.

Others simply wouldn’t be able to get past old rivalries and old grudges. The problem with former coaches isn’t so much that they would be lobbying to get certain teams and certain coaches into the playoff. It’s more whom they might try to block because of past feuds.

Again, we’re only talking about a minority of former head coaches who wouldn’t be able to set aside past issues, but the problem is that you’d have to rotate these guys on and off the committee. Sooner or later, you can bet there would be a problem, or at the very least, a group of fans raising bloody hell that some former coach wasn’t giving them a fair shake.

So let’s not go down that road, either.

That pretty much leaves conference commissioners and athletic directors, and I think the key again is making sure the panel is large enough (12 to 15 members) to ensure that one or two people don’t have too much power.

There needs to be representation from around the country, both smaller and larger conferences. The public needs to know what set of criteria they are basing their decisions on, and I’d like to see some type of formula out there that’s front and center and measures strength of schedule.

Finally, and this is the most important part of getting the selection committee makeup right, there needs to be a sitting chairman that’s not an athletic director or conference commissioner.

Maybe this guy is a former NFL executive or a high-ranking bowl executive who’s stepped aside. It just has to be somebody who truly knows football and isn’t aligned with any team or conference. And someone who is willing to sink his teeth into the season, travel around and see these teams and know who’s playing the best football come late November.

He’ll know who’s healthy and who’s not. He’ll know which team is limping into the postseason and which team is motoring into the postseason. He’ll know if a team is beating up on paper tigers.

It still won’t be perfect, but it at least gives the selection committee an anchor and somebody to pilot the ship in these uncharted waters.
The answer is "No."

No, I don't want to be on the selection committee for the four-team college football playoff coming in 2014.

Not interested in the least. ESPN probably wouldn't let me anyway, but I'd rather gulp down a cockroach smoothie than be publicly announced as a member of the selection committee.

Know how folks across our fine college football land have cast aspersions of all colorful and creative types toward the li'l ole BCS? That's coming for the selection committee. Only it will be people getting excoriated, not a system of charts and numbers with no feelings to hurt. Or limbs to threaten.

But this declaration, you might have guessed, won't stop me from suggesting not only how the committee should be put together, but the extraordinary degree of transparency it must offer.

First, the committee.

The critical element is the avoidance of bias or perceived agenda. Many are suggesting the committee should simply mimic the NCAA basketball tournament committee, but I don't think it should. This is far more serious business, selecting just four teams, not 68. The annual whining that comes from hoops teams 69 and 70 is easily written off -- as in, "Hey, stop being so mediocre!" That won't be the case if 11-1 Oregon and 11-1 Alabama are the coin flip for the No. 4 spot.

To me, that means no member of the committee can be a former AQ conference coach, no member of the committee can be a current or former AQ conference athletic director, and no member can be a representative of the Fourth Estate -- that's the media, by the way.

That means you plumb the ranks of college sports administrators at lower levels -- FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA. You go for a wide and equally distributed regional cross section. You pay attention to where each member went to school. You try to avoid guys who graduated from Ohio State, Florida, USC, Texas, etc. The size of the committee should be as large as it can be but still be manageable. Ten to 20 folks seems about right.

You then supply it with every metric imaginable throughout the season. There should be weekly conference calls that focus the discussion on what teams have accomplished and what teams can do to move up. Attention must be paid to strength of schedule, with teams not only boosted for ambitious scheduling but also penalized for playing four directional schools.

This sort of statement needs to be made, if necessary: "It's great that Mississippi State has shocked everyone and won the SEC West. But its nonconference schedule means it can't be a final four team. This will be a hard lesson for the Bulldogs and, by extension, the SEC. But they surely will thank us for it later."

Word is the committee likely will publish a poll during the season. It should be wary of this. The effort behind a weekly top-20 ranking, even if it doesn't start until midseason, won't match the effort required to present a final four. What if the top four of the final poll is different than the ultimate final four? Not good.

A better idea would be to publish an alphabetical list of 10 teams in the running for the final four positions over the final two or three weeks of the season. That would feed the fires of interest while providing leeway for committee members who want to thoroughly review the totality of the season without getting tied into a ranking system that refers back to its previous iterations each week.

Finally, there needs to be unprecedented transparency.

What does that mean? It means each committee member's final four needs to be published. It means that every member of the committee must be made available to the media to defend his or her position. It means the criteria for distinction between a, for example, 12-0 No. 5 team and a 11-1 No. 4 team need to be made clear.

As a member of the media, it will be great fun to cover. We like whipping college football fan bases into froths of outrage or celebration.

But, again, no -- a thousand times no -- I don't want to be on the committee.
College football is entering a brand new world two seasons from now, with four teams battling for the national title in a three-game playoff. Those four teams will be selected by a committee, the makeup and size of which is yet to be determined.

What's the best way to piece together the people who will get the first chance to make history in 2014?

To put it simply: Make it big and make it diverse. College football is rid of the BCS and its shady, unexplained computer formulas and the Harris poll filled with its undereducated, unprepared voters.

The goal of the new committee should be to fix those problems, but any committee faces problems of its own.

Admitted or not, everyone has biases. Those will be on full display for any committee member whose résumé will be picked apart the second they're named one of the lucky few to select college football's elite.

Balance it out. A big committee full of people from different regions possessing different viewpoints is the best way to account for those biases and satisfy the paranoid masses that obsess over college football.

Former coaches? You're in. Welcome, Barry Switzer.

Conference administrators? You're in, too.

Current coaches? Sorry, you're out now. Too close for comfort.

Athletic directors? You're in.

Media members? Welcome. You'll be heavily vetted, but the best of the bunch may be the most objective members of the entire panel.

Bring in folks from the West Coast. Bring plenty from the East Coast. Bring in faces from the Midwest. Those conference administrators and athletic directors? A few from major-conference teams and a few from the Sun Belt and WAC better get a chance to have their voices heard.

But, David, that's a poll, not a committee!

Yeah, it is. Who cares? It's a poll with 25-40 people who know exactly what they're talking about and are well aware of the responsibility and time requirements for what they're undertaking. Ballots won't be hastily put together on a late Saturday night to be released on a Sunday afternoon.

Committee members must be required somehow to watch games from coast to coast. How do you mandate or monitor that? Any programmers know how to make an iPad app that tracks what's being watched on a cable box or on the iPad itself? Just an idea. The stats for that are going public. Don't want to watch games? Prepare to have folks campaign to get you off the committee.

Three times a year (October, November, and finally, December), on a Monday conference, the committee meets in person and discusses the past month of football. Committee members file a public ballot and each month, the top four teams (and only those four teams) are released to the public. Media members on the committee? Congratulations. You've just won three must-read columns per season from inside the committee meeting room.

At the end of the season, consider the conference champions, but above all, give me the four best teams. Two teams from a conference can get in, sure. But if a team outside that top four owns the conference title hardware that season, tough luck for a team from that conference inside the top four. Better luck next year. You had your chance.

Transparency was missing from plenty of the computer polls. It'll be present with the committee. No one will have a weighted voice. Everyone on the committee would have a vote, and ballots would be balanced from a variety of perspectives.

That's how it should be done.
In the months ahead, there will be plenty of ideas about how the powers that be should put together a selection committee to decide the future playoff and what the criteria should be in choosing those four teams.

How could each be configured to benefit the Big East? Here are some possibilities.

Selection Committee

I think the Big East benefits most of all if there is one representative with ties to each conference and then a few noted independent college football observers. That way, you do not have a room slanted so much to one region or one conference, AND the bias some of us fear could creep into the selections is kept to a minimum. What matters above all -- whether they are athletic directors, ex-coaches or retired conference officials -- is that they pay attention week in and week out to the entire college football landscape. To me, that means watching games for all the teams in contention. I truly believe having a firm grasp on the way a team plays should be critical for those on this panel, along with the other ancillary details. The ideal panel would have 12-15 members, that way there are a variety of voices in the room to arrive at a sound and logical decision.


These are guidelines for judging teams that would benefit the Big East, in order of importance:

1. Conference champion. I don't care what league you play in, winning your conference championship means something. It is a validation of efforts throughout the course of the regular season. Every decision-maker has spoken repeatedly about wanting to keep the regular season meaningful. So keep it that way by giving heavy weight to conference champions. If there is a close debate about the No. 4 team, the tiebreaker should go to the conference champion, if applicable.

2. Going undefeated. Winning all your games should also count for something. In the case of the Big East, the only way the league has a shot at a playoff is if a team goes undefeated. If it does, then it obviously is the conference champion and should get a big boost in categories 1 and 2.

3. Quality wins/Strength of schedule. This includes both in conference and out of conference. More weight should be given to teams that have multiple wins against Top 25 opponents. More weight should be given to teams with good nonconference wins. Teams that play cupcakes in nonconference should be viewed as not having done as much as possible to strengthen their case, the way they are in men's basketball. As part of this criteria, the committee should also take a harder look at opponents' opponents, to get a true picture of quality wins.
One of the most important questions remaining for the four-team playoff is who will choose the teams.

In the best-case scenario for the ACC -- i.e. the most fair -- the selection committee would be comprised of 16 people, and it would be a mix of eight former coaches and eight current athletic directors (one from each of the six current BCS conferences and a rotation of two others). During the selection process, if one person was affiliated with a team being considered, he or she would have to leave the room (just as they are asked to do for the NCAA tournament).

“I think it needs to be large enough that only selecting four teams -- there may be part of the committee that has particular ties to half a dozen teams being considered -- that the committee is large enough that some people may need to take themselves out of that discussion,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “We haven’t decided on it, but I would guess you’re looking at at least a dozen and probably more than that.”

No current coaches, please.

And definitely no media.

Current coaches don’t even have enough time to pay attention to their families during the season, let alone teams that aren’t on their schedules. And media members? Puh-lease. The ACC’s reputation as “the fifth-best conference” in college football is stuck in the heads of too many already, and the perceived strength of the conference -- or lack thereof -- could unfairly leave a deserving ACC team on the outside looking in.

Head-to-head results must matter. Strength of schedule must be a factor. And, most importantly, preference must be given to conference champions.

What happens if Wake Forest goes undefeated, beats Notre Dame and Florida State along the way, but is trying to elbow a one-loss Alabama team or a one-loss Oregon team for the final spot? The win-loss column can’t be undervalued.

Transparency is the buzzword, and that’s why it would be good for athletic directors to comprise part of the committee. Knowing their reputations would be at stake, they would be forced to make fair decisions because they would be scrutinized by the most ravenous of college football fans. Former coaches such as Bobby Bowden who have the time, interest and knowledge of the game would give educated input on which teams made the fewest mistakes, which were the most disciplined, and which teams executed like they were supposed to without too many missed assignments or mental errors.

What the ACC needs is as little perceived bias as humanly possible -- an oxymoron? -- in order to have a fair chance at cracking the top four.

Committee can only help Irish

June, 29, 2012
Two days after Jack Swarbrick helped orchestrate a four-team playoff for college football, the Notre Dame athletic director sat down with his department's website for a 19-minute interview. When it was suggested during the interview that a selection committee would benefit the Irish, Swarbrick agreed.
"Yeah. I do, too," he said. "It's a little complicated because you have the bowls with tie-ins. So the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl, and likely the Orange Bowl, will sort of be set. It will be the three other bowls which will be impacted by the ranking of the selection committee. But I think it's an important thing to do.

"It's gonna change, I think, the way people think about teams and their performance. Because the first time the selection committee reveals its standings, which we anticipate being in the middle of the season, I think you'll see significant differences between the polls that exist at that time. And it's gonna cause a good debate, a healthy debate about, OK, what are these guys looking at that the pollsters aren't?"

Who "these guys" will be is the million-dollar question. Be it former coaches, current athletic directors or conference commissioners, the postseason fate of as many as a dozen schools will be in this group's hands.

More factors -- particularly strength of schedule, an area in which Notre Dame never fails to impress -- will be considered than just the loss column. And with conference tie-ins likely being limited to three major bowls, a good-enough Notre Dame team will be coveted by many bowl executives whose options were previously limited.

Look no further than Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton's comments to the Chicago Tribune this week.
"We think the semi is going to be an exceptionally exciting game, no matter who's in it," Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said. "We think in the other two years it's going to give us a chance at teams that maybe we wouldn't have been able to get here in the past or haven't had in a while, teams like Notre Dame.

"We're not going around cutting any deals, but as I've mentioned to Jack ... with a certain number of wins we'd take Notre Dame in a heartbeat."

Of course, being good enough is the first and only step to being in that position. Once there, though, the upper tier's newfound fluidity will only benefit an attraction as big as Notre Dame.
The Big Ten spent the better part of the past two months championing a selection committee for college football.

Well, the committee is coming, so who does the Big Ten want to serve on it?

I recently made list of candidates to represent the Big Ten on the committee, but this post is more general in nature. It asks the following: What types of folks would the Big Ten want on the committee? Former coaches? Media types? Athletic directors and other administrators?

After giving the committee's makeup a lot of thought in recent weeks, I don't think including former coaches serves the game or the Big Ten particularly well. Media members shouldn't be covering the teams and then determining who's in and who's out. Let's eliminate them.

The chief concerns about the committee are the potential biases its members have. And while many former coaches are no longer affiliated with specific schools, they seem more likely to favor schools and leagues based on their past. There's too much history with these men. Many of them are regarded as icons in certain communities and regions. Sure, coaches know the game better than anyone, but it doesn't mean they make the most objective and rational choices when it comes to rankings.

Need evidence? Look at the coaches' poll. It's a total joke.

I've enjoyed watching the Big Ten Network's Gerry DiNardo candidly discuss the crazy way coaches vote in the poll -- how they vote for friends and against rivals, how the votes are rarely tied to the quality of the teams. There's very little objectivity there. Would it change with former coaches?

Some leagues are going to want members of the selection committee to go in and fight for its teams. I can think of one specific conference headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. It wouldn't shock me to see SEC folks clamoring for former coaches with famous names like Dooley, Dye and Fulmer to serve on the committee.

The Big Ten should hope for a bit more balance and sensibility with committee members. It should want a committee more closely resembling the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee, which includes athletic directors and conference administrators. The committee has true national representation. It's large enough to debate teams, even when folks with ties to schools recuse themselves.

While the selection committee is criticized for favoring major-conference teams over mid-majors, or vice-versa, how often is the group accused of bias for/against one school? Athletic directors and league commissioners have their ties and their relationships, but it's a different deal with coaches. Also, many ADs and league officials have worked at multiple schools and in multiple leagues, which should be a huge priority in determining who serves.

Having former coaches on the committee would be entertaining. But the potential risks are too steep.

Look at the coaches' poll and look at the basketball committee and tell me which one works better. Putting ADs and league administrators at the table best serves the sport -- and the Big Ten.