College Football Playoff results won’t be perfect

IRVING, Texas — The task is simple, and yet, endlessly complex.

Rarely will there be a right answer, but beginning in 2014, there will have to be one answer.

The College Football Playoff selection committee’s 13 members accepted that task, and part of the job is accepting that just about everybody in the country thinks they’d be able to do it better.

“It will require long hours and thick skin, for sure,” executive director Bill Hancock said.

Selecting the committee isn’t all that much different than the committee’s job of selecting four teams. Plenty of solutions are acceptable, but all will be scrutinized. Pleasing everyone is impossible. What is possible is going about the process the right way, and in that respect, the College Football Playoff has been a success so far.

“The Management Committee started with only one goal, and that was to find people of integrity,” Hancock said. “With these 13 people, we’ve absolutely nailed that.”

Former players, former coaches, current athletic directors, administrators and journalists are all represented on the committee. None of the 13 will be paid. Perhaps it’s a little crusty without a member born after 1960. Two minorities are on the panel in Ty Willingham, who spent 14 years as a head coach at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice prevents the panel from being all male and brings in an outside perspective while still adding plenty of experience in athletics. She helped hire two head coaches at Stanford: Willingham and Dennis Green.

Individual ballots won’t be publicized, and the committee will host the first of its four meetings in October and release one agreed-upon, bi-weekly list of the top 25 teams.

Goodbye, preseason hype. Or at least we can hope.

The 25 teams will be ranked while emphasizing strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, games vs. common opponents (margin of victory will not be applied) and injuries if possible. At the end of the season, whether or not a team is holding a conference championship trophy will also be a major factor.

Committee members will be recused from discussion involving schools they’re associated with.

The committee will be doing this the right way, and is already meeting resistance. That’s part of the job. It won’t be perfect.

It will be better than what college football has gotten used to, just as the BCS was an upgrade from the archaic bowl system that prevented top teams from ever meeting on some occasions.

“We already have a great game, but we’re getting ready to make the postseason even better,” said committee chairman Jeff Long, who serves as athletic director at Arkansas.

Its effect could be positive on more than just the postseason, too.

“We expect this to lead to stronger non-conference schedules,” Hancock said.

That may take time, and punishment. This season, Louisville may play 12 games without a single ranked team on its schedule. How many—if any—one-loss teams would gain admission to the four-team playoff ahead of the Cardinals? It may have to be a few if the committee wishes to hammer home the point that tougher schedules are truly an emphasis and the comments today are more than lip service.
 
The goal of the committee is to find the four best teams in college football, not please millions of Americans.

Rice emphasized that she wanted to make sure people knew that the committee “grappled with these decisions in a serious way.”

They will. This is a committee that won’t be able to fully “check their biases” at the door, as numerous committee members said throughout the day. No one truly can. This is a committee full of people who do reek of integrity and experience.

There will be room to complain. Where are the advanced stats experts? What if Texas A&M is undefeated and Johnny Manziel breaks his leg in the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game? Why won’t original ballots of committee members be published?

The results will be unsatisfying for some, but only four teams can truly be happy with the outcome. Some seasons, the volume of No. 5’s complaints will be deafening. Some years, they’ll be drowned out by commands to sit down and not lose next time around.

The process is right and its intentions are in the right place. The results won’t be perfect, but the committee isn’t charged with completing a math problem. They’re charged with finding an answer to a question with no single correct response.

The only right response is one that can be defended, and based on the committee’s compilation, that won’t be too much to ask.