The folks running the College Football Playoff are banking on the public to trust the process because of the people involved. Condoleezza Rice. Tom Osborne. Archie Manning. And so on.
"The members of the Selection Committee are an outstanding group of people with high integrity and excellent judgment," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock.
I, for one, agree with both that statement and that sentiment. I trust the people (specifically in this case, but in general when it comes to college athletics) and trust the basics of the process – put 13 reasonable folks in a room and they ought to be able to pick the top four teams in America.
It won't always be neat, of course. There will be disagreements with the choices and seedings. Some years there will be intense ones. Some years it'll be simple. A selection committee isn't a perfect system but there is no perfect system when trying to choose four teams out of a field of 128, especially with limited (12-13 games) and disparate (few common opponents) data to work with.
Division-I college football is wild. It's played in 41 states by schools big and small, religious institutions, military academies, state schools, city schools, rural schools, you name it. That's the beauty of it. It's not neat. It can't be neat.
In the end, you get some people together and pick the playoff field. The dynamics of the group force everyone to be open and honest. Opinions on a team that may not appear reasonable to start, can be argued until it might make sense. It'd be best if there were a little more intellectual diversity on the panel (particularly someone with an advanced statistics or even a background in setting point spreads) but whatever.
These are good people. It'll work fine. This isn't that complicated.
Except, the College Football Playoff is making it seem complicated – really, really complicated in fact.
The flaw in how the system is being set up isn't the system – 13 people pick four teams – it's how they are trying to guard against unwarranted criticism. You'll never generate enough rules to eliminate screams for additional transparency or the elimination of individual bias. You're going to get called a liar and a cheat and get deluged with emails featuring the subject line: "your biased."
It's like the playoff has no confidence in itself, no willingness to at the end just sit there and say, 'Hey, here's the field, it's the best we could do, deal with it.'
It gives critics life by creating all of these rules and requiring secret ballots and weekly top 25 polls – polls are mathematically unsound to begin with and really, a top 25?
This system is setting the committee up for some serious heat.
Want a bad idea? The committee will meet in person six times, beginning on Oct. 28. Why in person? Who knows? Why beginning in the middle of the season? Who knows?
Whatever debates people will have on October 28 will almost assuredly be sorted out during the next six weeks of the season. Yes, we really like that currently 7-0 team but when they finish the season 9-3, what exactly was the point of discussing them in the first place? And why did we subject ourselves to getting blasted for under or overvaluing a team when assigning any value at that moment offered zero benefit?
The committee should meet once, in December, the day after all the games are played and all the available data is in and, in truth, opinions, friendships, rivalries and voting coalitions haven't been formed via weeks and weeks of meetings and pointless polls.
Wait until the committee starts loathing each other because they have to fly to Texas each week and spend hours and hours away from their jobs and families to debate futile items like which 5-2 team should be ranked No. 22 in early November. Omaha World-Herald columnist Dirk Chatelain said this looks like a plot from "The Office." I just hope they serve bourbon in the meeting room. They'll need it.
Then, for more fun, each week the committee will release its top 25 poll (why?) on national television (branding opportunity!) where it'll be explained and defended.
This is monumentally dumb.
The playoff can claim that each poll exists independent of the previous or following week but that isn't how the fans are going to take it. The truth is, polls have long shown the voter tendency to "weight teams" – i.e. when someone is ranked No. 1, they stay No. 1 regardless of fresh data.
Why subject yourself to that possible pratfall?
More importantly, why have fans assume that a team is thought of one way – in the top four or out – only to have it change in the final week, which will absolutely cause massive complaints about politicking and bias and cheating. Sorry Kansas State, we know we had you at No. 3 last week, but …
The best strategy is to release nothing to the public (because there is nothing to release) until a single and final decision is made – and then release everything. Instead the playoff has it backwards and will release unneeded information for a month and a half and then keep each person's ballot secret in the end, which is the opposite of "transparency."
Have fun with that. If the committee is so honorable (and it is), then it should let its votes be known.
Most of this stuff was so easily avoided. They didn't avoid it. They'll find out the hard way that they should have. This looks like a system created by Washington politicians.
There's good news though. In the end, the inevitable criticism against the committee members – the intensity of which is mostly self-inflicted – will help force change, both in the process and the playoff itself.
The best playoff available to college football has eight teams in it, with automatic bids given to the champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. That gives everyone in a major conference a chance to pay its way in. If you don't win your conference, you can't truly complain.
The three at-large spots will go to great teams that didn't win their league, independents and party crashers from outside the big five.
Play the first two rounds on campus and use seeding to reward the great clubs with home-field advantage. Let the sport's great stadiums and gameday environments shine, rather than antiseptic bowl sites.
The reason an eight-team playoff won't expand to 16 or greater (a reasonable concern) is because conference championship games (the Big 12 will get one) will serve as de facto play-in games and have far greater television value than the first round of a bigger tournament. Something like the ACC title game would now annually become a huge deal.
The monetary incentive to hold at eight will keep it at eight.
When that happens, the committee will have an easier job. Hopefully by then, they'll have done away with the weekly polls, the secret ballots, ballots altogether, the TV show and all the other things that they'll soon wish they never invented.
The strange thing is, the committee is good, it really doesn't need to hide and apologize. It's just acting like it does.
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- American Football