College playoff committee must invoke common sense with rankings

ATLANTA — In the coming weeks, FOX Sports South will offer an onslaught of football features, the happy result of information collected at the recently completed SEC Media Days (July 14-17 in Hoover, Ala.).

But today, we’re going to focus on a hot-button issue that resurfaced when Bill Hancock, the executive director of the new College Football Playoff, addressed the media with the impromptu task of slotting the Rose (national semifinal), Sugar (national semifinal), Fiesta, Orange, Cotton and Peach bowls for the CPF.

(For those who aren’t aware, the College Football Playoff will feature the top four programs from the college season, as selected by a panel of experts. The national semifinals will pit the 1 vs. 4 teams and 2 vs. 3 teams. The winners will subsequently play in the inaugural CFP national championship on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in North Texas.)

During his Wednesday time at the podium, Hancock used the final pre-bowl BCS rankings from previous seasons (2006, 2012, 2013) to hypothetically slot the 2014 bowls (conference-contract bowls, at-large bowls) — the six biggest events on the postseason calendar … leading up to the national championship game.

When citing the 2012 season, Hancock — formerly an executive director for the NCAA Final Four (basketball) and Bowl Championship Series (football) — essentially glossed over the BCS circumstance involving Oregon (No. 4 overall ranking) and Stanford (No. 6) and how it would apply to the new CFP structure.

Yes, the 2012 Oregon team had a scintillating 11-1 record heading into the bowls and was consistently ranked in the top 3 teams that year. And yes, Stanford had incurred two defeats earlier in the season (road losses to Washington and Notre Dame), suggesting the Ducks might have deserved a higher plane in the BCS rankings.

But Stanford also knocked off Oregon in Eugene that November, impressively holding the high-powered Ducks to a mere 14 points (including overtime); and two weeks later, the Cardinal tripped UCLA (for a second straight week) in the Pac-12 championship.

Which brings us to this: In the above scenario, I can tolerate BCS computers placing Oregon over Stanford, after crunching the hard numbers to find a non-emotional-based rankings order.

SEC Media Days Blog

But with the new 13-member College Football Playoff advisory committee — an esteemed group of football minds (chair Jeff Long, Barry Alvarez, Archie Manning, Tom Osborne, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden, Mike Tranghese, among others) and notable persons of character and integrity (former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Gould) — there has to be a common sense element within the new system.

In other words, if a pair of conference rivals are embroiled in a two-team rankings debate, the committee must exercise sound real-world judgment and always side with the head-to-head winner and eventual conference champion — assuming the overall records are somewhat comparable.

To avoid this reward system, especially with humans doing the work, would be patently absurd. And yet, I’m a little worried as to how the committee will fare in its first year of making hard choices.

That consternation carried over to when Hancock was asked if winning a conference champion would be held in higher regard than an elite-level program that didn’t win a conference title.

"I think the bottom line is, there are the criteria, they’re not weighted, it will be up to the committee members to use their subjective judgment to separate the teams."