Late Wednesday night some details leaked out about how the selection committee for the upcoming playoff will operate.
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told the South Bend Tribune:
[A] selection committee will be charged with not only designating the four teams to play for the national title, but creating weekly standings of what it considers to be the top 20 teams from midseason on.
“We didn’t want the top four teams to just come out of the blue at the end of the season,” Swarbrick said.
This could mean very disappointing things are about to happen, or it could mean some very good things. So let’s look at what the committee needs to avoid, and then what they should implement.
Things to avoid
(1) An ordered ranking of teams 1-20. Putting the teams in order opens up the rankings for criticism and questioning, reinforces the flawed “slide them up, slide them down” recursive ranking method, and encourages relying on impressions based on a incomplete season. As Matt Hinton of CBS Sports puts it:
By publicly ordering the teams, though, instead of simply dropping the playoff field in December like stone tablets from a mountaintop, they’re also helping undermine borderline decisions and publishing a readymade rebuttal for critics. (“How could they pick Oregon when their own rankings said Stanford was better?”)
(2) Any type of poll that doesn’t include the voters’ explanations. We’re reaching a point where just a list of teams isn’t going to meaningful. Especially when the people creating the list will also be picking the playoff field, their thoughts on each team will be far more important than their listed ranking.
(3) Selectors who can’t devote all their time to the duties. Obviously, people with a full-time job that requires them to focus on non-football duties during the week need not apply. The selectors need to spend all weekend watching games, then the rest of the week digesting, dissecting, and discussing the state of the sport. This should rule out administrators at most levels. Presidents, commissioners, and athletic directors all have too much else to deal with to be focused on college football teams and games.
(4) Selectors who have an obvious association with one team or conference. This means former coaches, former administrators, former players, former anything. If they’ve been employed by, donated money to, or played for any team that might be involved in the playoff discussion, they should not be on the committee. There have been various voices calling for the committee to accept inevitable biases and try to even them out. This is an absurd idea; the only way to truly balance biases is by an unwieldy, enormous committee with one member from each team.
(5) Selectors working in the media. Any member of the media needs to be worried about a different kind of conflict of interest. As Paul Myerberg notes: “While the media might bring a level of objectivity to the proceedings, writers don’t own their objectivity to the sport itself – they owe their sense of objectivity to the reader, and you can’t cover the sport while serving as one of its key decision-makers.” More on this later.
Things to implement
(1) A tiered grouping of teams, starting midseason. Have the committee put teams into a few groups, based on accomplishments up to that point, and ordered as if the season were to end at that moment. Tier I: Would definitely be in the playoff (contains 0-4 teams); Tier 2: Under strong consideration for the playoff, definitely in a major bowl (2-6 teams); Tier 3: Needs some help for the playoff; strong consideration for a major bowl (4-8 teams); Tier 4: Outside the playoff picture, needs some help for a major bowl (6-10). The teams should not be ranked within the tiers; the tiers are only to give a rough grouping of where teams stand, and both upward and downward mobility should be clearly implied.
(2) Written majority and minority opinions on the playoff field. Take a cue from the Supreme Court, and have the committee release a clear and well-reasoned explanation for why specific teams were included and excluded. If there are teams that have a legitimate argument for inclusion but don’t make the field, have those arguments be presented and addressed by the committee as well. A short version of these explanations should be released each week, getting longer and more detailed as the year goes on.
(3) Selectors as full-time paid employees of the College Football Championship. The selectors need to be able to devote attention on par with that of a full-time job. This will allow them to spend the time necessary on each team, as well as express their opinions on the important teams and games from week to week. If the selectors are paid employees, the seriousness of the job should be evident; with good pay, selector positions will be prestigious and coveted–those doing a bad job risk being removed. The playoff will generate plenty of money to pay these selectors a very generous salary (If there are 15 selectors, each with a $300,000 salary, that’s still less than one percent of the estimated yearly playoff revenue).
(4) Make the College Football Championship Committee (CFCC) an independent, self-sufficient media entity. [This is, admittedly, the most far-fetched idea of the lot] Hire the best of the college football media that you can get, from various regions of the country, to be on the committee. Have them cover the sport and their selection process exhaustively. Bring in some print journalists, some online, some TV; have them watch games, discuss the teams, and then let each release their weekly thoughts through the CFCC.
Writers can produce their columns, TV personalities can record a short segment, and all of it can be disseminated through the CFCC and made available to the rest of the media. A small sub-committee each weekend could cover specific games, with all members watching multiple games over the course of the week before holding a roundtable discussion and releasing the weekly tiered list.
The committee members would be employed exclusively by the CFCC, and hold no other jobs. Their primary duties would be as decision-makers in the sport, their secondary ones would be covering the decision-making process; this is how the fifth “thing to avoid” above is addressed. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this committee?
Unfortunately, Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the BCS (for two more years), spoke on the Mandel Initiative Podcast and the Dan Patrick Show this week, and described in a bit more detail what he expects the selection committee to look like. In both interviews suggested that the committee will have 10 to 20 members, and that the members will likely be current administrators, a la the committees in other NCAA sports. This clearly isn’t set in stone, but if it is the end result, let’s hope there is heavy pressure on the committee to keep open and accountable on a weekly basis.
Got your own ideas for the selection committee? Leave them in a comment, or let us know by tweeting @plus2plan.