The Bowl Championship Series was never particularly good at explaining itself, perhaps because there wasn't much to explain.
College football's championship system wasn't so much a way to crown a champion as it was a way for bowl directors to maintain control of, and profit handsomely from, the lucrative postseason. They seized on the general disorganization and cronyism of college football and made bank. It was brilliant.
The new four-team playoff system starting in 2014 will be an improvement but what's stayed the same is the inability of the people operating the playoff – essentially the same people in charge of the BCS – from running directly into a public backlash that's mostly self-inflicted.
Over the past week the names of some of the people on the upcoming 12-to-18 member selection committee have been leaked. Already there is mass confusion, condemnation, bickering and even doddering old fool coaches making sexist remarks about the acumen of someone of the stature of Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
"All she knows about football is what somebody told her," Pat Dye, the former Auburn coach and athletic director told WJOX 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."
Dye has justifiably been roasted for his comments but he is echoing (clumsily) a common sentiment about the selection committee.
There are plenty of people who believe you have to "know the game." You have to have "played the game." You have to have "coached the game." You have to be able to break down tape. You have to know schemes and plays and clear eyes and full hearts and can't lose and oh who the heck knows what else.
All of that is nonsense. None of those things matter on a selection committee.
The problem is no one has properly and effectively articulated what the selection committee's job is, what its goal is or what the people on it will be asked to do to come to their conclusions.
Adding to the problem is that the selection committee thus far appears to be a blatant attempt to appease all the various factions of the sport. This looks like something out of Washington, appointments made mostly for what they represent. The BCS was always a naked political operation – all graft and gifts. Nothing's changed here.
Rice clearly brings a huge name and diversity. Archie Manning is an unassailable and famed former player. Steve Wieberg, a former sportswriter, is a way to placate the media. Five athletic directors offer accountability and access to the administrators who run things.
All of them are good people, honest people and people who are more than capable of doing the job of picking four football teams – it's not rocket science. That said, this is obvious pandering that undermines the group's credibility. The group would be better off with just college administrators, the way the NCAA selection committees operate.
It further becomes an issue when the committee's job is left open to individual interpretation rather than being clearly and repeatedly defined.
Here's what the playoff people should be doing – or should have been doing for months now. It needs to explain over and over and over that the selection committee's job is not to analyze the strength and weakness of each team's on-field schemes, let alone extrapolate out predictions on who would win head-to-head matchups. To do that would be folly and set the playoff committee up for unrelenting – and deserved – criticism. How the heck do you predict victory or defeat? How could anyone? One person may like defense over offense and pick a defensive team. And that would be completely invalid. Predictions are pointless and worthless. Always.
The truth is, and this needs to be pounded home and pounded home and pounded home, no matter how uncomfortable the initial grumbling and confused thinking of the Hand-in-the-Dirt brigade, you really don't need to know anything about football to select the field for a playoff.
The process should be about analyzing and weighing résumés (the most factual evidence available) and not predicting results (the most speculative exercise possible). To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.
Teams should get into the playoff based on what they've done, not what someone might think they will do. You could argue leaving it to a group such as the Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sets the early betting lines at most casinos, would be effective – and they'd certainly be the best judges – but that still would be based on belief, not accomplishment. Vegas is wrong all the time.
The committee will be wrong also, but the only way this process has any credibility is if it is based on looking backward not predicting forward. You lay all the tangible data out there and make a call. There will always be hurt feelings, but at least the process has some core value to it.
All of the NCAA's various selection committees operate thusly and the NCAA itself has done a tremendous job making the process clear to everyone. It's about winning games, strength of schedule, etc.
The NCAA itself doesn't have anything to do with the playoff and the playoff people haven't done much to explain themselves.
The committee would be fine if it was made up solely of quantitative mathematicians, some professors of logic or problem solving, basically people who are experts – or at least open – to analyzing teams of close accomplishment who unfortunately played disparate schedules. If they know what a first down is, great. It's not a requirement though. It really isn't. You could do blind résumés which don't even name the team and it would work.
It's long been proven that the people who run college football aren't much for the college part – book lernin' – but those skills are a heck of a lot more important than, as Dye claimed, knowing "what it's like out there when you can't get your breath and it's 110 degrees and the coach asks you to go some more."
That's just idiotic. That has nothing to do with anything. To even pretend he has a point is embarrassing.
Look, there's no good way to select four teams out of 125, especially when they play such disparate schedules. This is the best option available and far, far better than the BCS's use of computers and polls that spit in the face of science and math and were only employed because it effectively spread the blame around … don't scream at me, it's those dang computers.
There's nothing wrong with the current makeup of the selection committee. The group will do fine.
The problem is no one is explaining that this is essentially a math or logic equation, not an X and O breakdown. It takes some courage and repetition to break through to the Pat Dye mindset, but it has to be done, because there are plenty out there who agree with him.
If it's not done, then the playoff people are setting their own selection committee up to get unnecessarily and unfairly blasted.