Pat Haden was wrong, but no way he should be off playoff committee

September 6, 2014

They have not even made their first decisions, and already the college football public is intensely paranoid about the new College Football Playoff selection committee. Case in point: the reaction to USC AD and committee member Pat Haden’s antics during the Trojans’ game at Stanford on Saturday.

To be clear, Haden crossed the line. If you didn’t see it, Haden came running down from the press box at the start of the fourth quarter and could be seen openly berating the officials.

He said later he received a text on coach Steve Sarkisian’s behalf expressing concern about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty the coach garnered for standing on the white part of the sideline. Haden’s attempted intervention came off like that of an overbearing little league parent.

But as ridiculous as it was, Haden was serving solely as a representative of USC athletics.

News flash: Most ADs rail about the officiating, just like their fans do. They just do it semi-privately in the confines of their private boxes.

But Haden is no longer known solely as the USC athletic director. The public is well aware he is one of the 13 people charged with selecting the four playoff teams. It’s an extremely visible role that comes with inordinate scrutiny.

And so, nearly as soon as his embarrassing outburst happened Saturday, there were calls for Haden to resign from the committee. I took an informal Twitter survey asking whether my followers agreed and I’d estimate about 60 percent said yes. The most commonly cited reason? He’s biased.

Well … yeah. Of course he’s “biased” for the Trojans, just as fellow committee member Barry Alvarez is for Wisconsin or chairman Jeff Long for Arkansas. That’s why the official committee recusal policy precludes them from discussing or voting on the schools that sign their paychecks.

Step back from the ledge, though, and get some perspective. Haden’s outburst over the officiating in a USC-Stanford game on Sept. 6 will have absolutely zero bearing on his ability to look at two completely different teams’ resumes three months from now and decide whether they belong in the playoff.

Appearances matter, obviously. A new sporting event trying to gain credibility with the public could probably do without one of its committee members doing sideline interviews during a game about texts and officiating. But appearances aren’t necessarily the same as reality.

Haden’s outburst made for some wild television, but it did not remotely rise to a level of embarrassment to merit removal from the committee.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to