Tall task for the unlucky 13
Condoleezza Rice Talks Panel Selection
It's Dec. 7, 2014. The day after the end of the 2014 college football season. A date that will live in infamy.
The inaugural College Football Playoff Selection Committee has quickly tapped three unbeaten teams for the first four-team playoff: Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. Yet they are deadlocked over the fourth and final team, and the debate is growing contentious over four one-loss teams: Notre Dame, Arkansas, Stanford and UCLA.
"It's got to be Stanford," says Tyrone Willingham, who was fired at Notre Dame but is still loved at Stanford, where he is presently a volunteer assistant coach for the women's golf team.
"Excellent point. Well-reasoned, as always, Tyrone," replies Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state and current Stanford professor.
"Well, it can't be Notre Dame or UCLA," contributes USC athletic director Pat Haden. "It just can't. Everyone who has eyes can see that."
"Look, folks," interjects committee chair Jeff Long, athletic director at Arkansas. "We're getting sidetracked. Let's stick to what's important. Arkansas is in the SEC. My position is in no way influenced by who signs my half-million-dollar-a-year paycheck. It's just, well, the SEC. You guys know what I'm saying, right? SEC?"
Long makes eye contact with glowering Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. Long averts his gaze and begins to whistle nervously.
Barks Alvarez, "Put a sock in it Long, you sneaky, no-good, coach-stealing son of a bucket!"
Sixteen hours later, the committee announces Notre Dame as the fourth team. Fighting Irish fans are thrilled with the wisdom of the committee. "The Committee Got It Right!" a column in the South Bend Tribune exalts.
Yet fans of the 119 other FBS teams, with varying degrees of wide-eyed zeal, are united in the opinion that the committee was hopelessly biased, corrupted by the perceived economic benefit of picking the Irish. SEC fans are apoplectic over the first playoff featuring just one SEC team, as surely the playoff was created with the unspoken purpose of putting at least two and perhaps three SEC teams into the semifinals. And Pac-12 fans, other than hopelessly conflicted USC adherents, are carping about obvious -- obvious! -- East Coast bias.
CFP Selection Committee
Get ready, selection committee. The torches, pitchforks and message boards will be coming your way very soon, writes Ted Miller. Story
The College Football Playoff selection committee wasted no time appointing a woman, despite the initial outcry at Condoleezza Rice's inclusion, writes Andrea Adelson. Story
Committee blends members with broad ranges of experience across college football, writes Ivan Maisel. Story
Message boards are aflame. Fans arm themselves with pitchforks and torches and head to the homes of committee members!
Well, maybe that's a little too much. But only a little. This is college football, after all.
Folks, there is a good reason the College Football Playoff selection committee has 13 members. It will be unlucky to be in that room roughly 14 months from now.
Are there worse jobs in the world than one that guarantees you'll incur the wrath of an impassioned fan base of a wronged team -- or teams? Maybe. For example: parking enforcement in Manhattan, Lindsay Lohan's personal assistant, telemarketer, Kim Jong Il's personal chef, member of the House of Representatives.
No, actually none of those are worse. Well, other than being in the House.
The parody above on potential biases is only part of the problem, but it is an unavoidable one. If you want the committee stocked with people who know and care about college football, they are going to come ready-made with their own personal attachments, to a single team and/or an entire region.
Reasonably assuming a baseline of integrity, you'd have to think they'd be assiduous in trying to resist allowing those biases to overwhelm their contributions to the process. Of course, reasonable assumptions are not really part of being a college football fan.
Further, getting 13 folks to agree on prioritizing a mostly subjective and shifting set of criteria is going to be a challenge. How much will strength of schedule really matter when it runs counter to the eye test? Should a seeming tie go to a team from an un- or underrepresented conference? Does a spectacular overall body of work eclipse a head-to-head defeat? What is the value of winning a conference title? What role will sophisticated analytics play in a room full of old-school folks? Will market size play an unspoken role due to multibillion-dollar broadcast contracts? As in: Are Notre Dame, Texas and USC going to have natural advantages over Boise State, TCU and Mississippi State?
And while there will be eventual compromise due to time constraints, there certainly won't be unanimity, at least not on an annual basis. So will there then be any cracks in the process, with some off-the-record finger-pointing after a controversial decision?
This isn't about picking Nos. 64-68 for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It's about making distinctions between elite college football teams with frenzied fan bases that believe they are deserving of a shot at their favorite sport's ultimate prize. In many cases, the final decision really won't have much more justification than a coin toss.
BCS controversies? They'll pale in comparison to what's ahead. It's one thing to get mad at computers and rant about an opaque process. It's another entirely when human beings are to blame.
In the 1999 movie "Office Space," three disgruntled office workers hurl an offending fax machine into a vacant lot and proceed to beat the crud out of it with the song "Still" by the Geto Boys playing in the background. It's a fun and cathartic scene. It always seemed like the perfect scene to sum up how many felt about the BCS system.
The College Football Playoff selection committee will provoke even more aggravation. But now the offending fax machine becomes a gaggle of unfortunate human beings.
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