The creative minds who came up with the name College Football Playoff for the, uh, college football playoff that arrives in 2014 were not thrilled when the runner-up and third-place finishers leaked out.
Who can blame them? The two other finalists — “Blame It On The Selection Committee” and “Selection Committee Witness Protection Program” — don’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Those titles do, however, describe what is in store for the committee members who select the four-team playoff that will see its first national champion crowned on Jan. 12, 2015. When the besieged Bowl Championship Series meets its demise after the upcoming 2013 season, the fans’ wrath will fall upon the committee assigned the task of replacing the BCS system that relied on polls and computers.
Who will make up this committee has yet to be determined, primarily because the College Football Playoff pooh-bahs, who met last week and will reconvene in June to further advance the process, realize that the selectors must have thick skin and thin agendas. Transparent, even. Consider the conspiracy theories that surface each year when the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee announces the 68-team field. And that’s nothing compared to what the football playoff committee will face. This is a four-team decision with national-championship implications, not 10 people in a room deciding between a seventh Big Ten team or a strong mid-major that lost its conference tournament.
“I’m not saying it will be impossible. It will be difficult,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said.
It also will be a public undressing for the committee members, who likely will number between 16 and 20. Immediately upon being named, each member — anonymity will not be tolerated — will undergo scrutiny unlike anything seen in college sports. Twitter will explode if a selector’s résumé includes anything suspicious.
Controversy being contagious, any hint of partiality toward a particular conference, school or individual — e.g., friendship between a committee member and coach — has the ability to undermine the playoff system.
In the age of social media, nothing will remain hidden. And that is even before the four teams are announced. Afterward … well, anyone who thought the playoff would eliminate debate over which schools deserve a shot at a national title have not been paying attention. More schools will have reason to complain because four spots are up for grabs, not two. Instantly, a cry will go up to expand the playoff to eight teams. Those cries will fall on deaf ears until at least 2026, when the 12-year contract between the participating conferences and ESPN is scheduled to expire.
Twelve years of committee members being targeted as untrustworthy nincompoops — where do I sign up?
“Priority No. 1 is impeccable integrity,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
And how’s this for added pressure? The selection committee gets no warm-up. The system has to work seamlessly out of the blocks, in 2014, because first impressions will be final.
“We need to get it right,” current BCS and new playoff executive director Bill Hancock said.
What does right look like? No former coaches should be part of the selection committee. No athletic directors, either. The selectors must be above reproach. Even the most trustworthy college administrators would be seen as susceptible to the temptation of engaging in partisan politics.
Who does that leave? Here’s an idea: Survey current players, who know which teams gave them the most trouble. Many would vote for their own teams, of course, but who would they vote second? Third?
Creativity will be required of those who select the committee, and of the committee members themselves, when it comes time to vote. Rely on computer analysis? Eyeball test?
The BCS took plenty of heat. The selection committee will feel the fire, too. The timid need not apply.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.