College Football Playoff: Committee deserves criticism for first poll

On Tuesday, the College Football Selection Committee came forward with its first rankings of the year. As you probably know, these rankings are fairly meaningless until the last ones come out. Last year’s rankings were so convoluted and created a fair amount of controversy when, in the final week, they leapfrogged Ohio State over Baylor and TCU as the fourth team in the mix. Of course, given the Buckeyes’ performance in the two playoff games – and their ultimate ascension as the first playoff champion – it’s hard to argue with their choices.

This year’s first poll, however, will only add to the criticism leveled toward the committee itself, as well as toward the polls it releases in the weeks leading up to the final, and decisive poll.

Case in point, the Committee’s top seed is Clemson, a team which, in spite of its undefeated status, ranks only third in the Associated Press poll, and fifth in the USA Today coaches’ poll. The overwhelming No. 1 team in both of those polls, defending champion and equally undefeated Ohio State, ranks third in the CFP poll. LSU – a resounding favorite to make the playoff, and perhaps win the whole thing – is an easy No. 2 selection. But at No. 4 is Alabama – a team that lost to No. 18 Mississippi, recently struggled with unranked Tennessee and ranks No. 7 in both of the voting polls.

Left out of the mix? Undefeated Baylor, Michigan State, TCU, Iowa, Memphis, Oklahoma State and Houston.

Of course, many of those teams will resolve much of the controversy. TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State will all face each other in the next three weeks. Memphis and Houston will battle to be the American Athletic Conference’s lone unbeaten next Saturday. And in two weeks, Michigan State will try to become the first Big Ten team since 2013 to beat Ohio State. (That team was also Michigan State.)

But why include Alabama over other such worthy contenders? And why seed Notre Dame at No. 5, when the strong consensus among most pundits is that the Fighting Irish are a bit overrated. Notre Dame is barely hanging on among voters in the Top 10 of both polls. Somehow, the Committee looked at that and felt that it knew better than 125 voters, and bumped the Irish up to the first team out of the playoffs.

Rather than debate the credentials of the teams in this space, it seems more relevant to debate the credentials of a committee that seems perhaps even more random than the system they replaced. Currently, the committee includes:

  • Jeff Long, Athletic Director at Arkansas
  • Barry Alvarez, Athletic Director at Wisconsin
  • Gen. Mike Gould (retired), former Superintendent of the Air Force Academy
  • Kirby Hocutt, Athletic Director at Texas Tech
  • Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA Executive Vice President
  • Bobby Johnson, former head coach at Vanderbilt
  • Tom Osborne, former head coach and athletic director at Nebraska
  • Dan Radakovich, Athletic Director at Clemson
  • Condoleeza Rice, former Stanford Provost and U.S. Secretary of State
  • Mike Tranghese, former Commissioner of the Big East
  • Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter for USA Today
  • Tyrone Willingham, former head coach at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington

Basically, you have a committee largely made up of NCAA insiders, most of whom will share a singular point of view when putting together a slate of teams. And though the Committee represents seven different conferences (as far as the members’ backgrounds are concerned), it is clearly designed to maintain the status quo and keep party crashers such as Memphis locked out of the playoff. Honestly, Memphis or Houston could go 13-0 and still be locked out of the Top Four, relegated at best to a major bowl game.

When the NCAA basketball committee puts together its slate of 68 teams, it has a similarly small team of 10 people, all but one of whom is an athletic director. But this group also uses a very public Ratings Percentage Index, and is guided by a host of automatic bids that dictates almost half of the field. Most of the top teams are already in the field before the committee ever meets to determine the rest of the field, and where each team will be playing. This committee is shrouded in secrecy, and seemingly has no guidelines for its process.

Maybe even more pertinent, we should be discussing if four teams is enough. Trying to narrow the field to only four teams – instead of eight, or as in most playoffs, 16 or more – is putting way too much power in the hands of 12 individuals whose qualifications to do so is no better than yours or mine. I could handpick 12 reporters from across the country to put together an awesome four-team playoff, and they’d do a better job than this committee seems to have done arbitrarily (or worse, politically).

Certainly, the Committee must know that releasing such controversial rankings will only fuel the discussion to expand the playoff. And in spite of public statements that this playoff will never expand, there’s no doubt that they’ve seen just how much money the first playoff generated. And where there’s a seemingly endless supply of cash, there will always be a desire to access as much of that as possible.

Regardless, while this current system is certainly better than what we had before in the Bowl Championship Series, the Bowl Alliance, the Bowl Coalition, etc., it’s still clearly not good enough. More transparency – and better yet, more expansion – is needed.

Copyright © 2015 Doug DeBolt



About Douglas Blaine

Capnpen is a writer who was a newspaper and magazine journalist in a previous life. A college journalism major, he now works as an administrator, but gets his writing fix by blogging about a variety of topics, including politics, religion, movies and television. When he's not working or blogging, Capnpen spends time with his family, plays a little golf (badly) and loves to learn about virtually anything.
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