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Insider

Potential issues for selection committee

7/1/2013
BCS executive director Bill Hancock is in charge of selecting the prospective committee members. AP Photo/Reed Saxon

So the College Football Playoff has a name (as generic as it may be). It has bowls and sites lined up to host games (even the Yankees want in). It even has a 12-year television deal in place (yeah, it's with us).

But what it still doesn't have is a selection committee. Or even a template for a selection committee, at least not one that we know of. At last month's College Football Playoff meetings, whenever the attending commissioners were asked about the makeup of the room that will determine which four teams will have a shot at the title, they jointly pointed toward executive director Bill Hancock. They'd just handed him a list of 100-plus prospective committee members and told him to start making calls to gauge interest.

"We give him the names and he'll do the contacting," said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. "We're going to get great football people with a lot of experience and credibility. We'll get that at the core."

As Hancock jumped on the phone, so did I, curious to get the take of those whose lives will be most affected by the names that will end up on the final roster of the playoff selection committee. What are their concerns? Who do they want to see walking out of the room each fall with the final list of four? Many wanted to talk, but few on the record. That's easy to understand.

"Who knows?" one former athletic director told me. "I might be on Bill's call list."

There were several concerns that came up repeatedly, no matter who I chatted with. These are their biggest issues, four in honor of the four playoff teams the committee will be selecting.

1. The committee can't be too big

The number that keeps popping up whenever the size of the committee is discussed is 12-18, representatives of the 10 conferences, plus a group of "at-large" members.

The overwhelming opinion of those whom I chatted with would like that number to lean way more toward the 12 than the 18. A few suggested keeping it even smaller. The concern is that too many voices, particularly with what seems likely to be a room of people with very diverse backgrounds, will lead to too much noise and not enough progress.

"I served on the NCAA tournament selection committee for basketball," one longtime AD explained. "That's a 10-person panel and that was plenty. You have to keep in mind that every member of a committee like this, no matter how strong their constitution, is being bombarded with opinions from dozens or more people around them. The more members you have, the more chaos you're inviting."

The basketball committee is responsible for selecting 68 teams. The football committee will have to choose four, plus the participants in the highest non-playoff bowls, the near-misses. On paper, that would seem easier. It won't be. It will be, as ACC commissioner John Swofford has said, "intensified and accentuated" compared to basketball. A smaller group might better handle that pressure.

Another former college hoops committee member also lobbied for smaller, with a sociological argument.

"My background is law," the former committee member said. "Studies have shown than smaller juries invite more productive discussions. When you get into a dozen or more people, there's a tendency for just a few people to dominate the room."

2. The committee roster needs to rotate

Again pointing to the basketball model, many applauded the benefits of staggered, rotating terms of service. NCAA tournament selection committee members serve five-year terms, but those terms are spaced out so that anywhere from one to three old members rotate out, with the same number rotating in every year. In other words, no two committees are the same. And everyone has to move on when their term is over, preventing any crusty old "this is how we've always done it!" members from swaying the room or bogging down the process.

"I am a big believer in keeping the room fresh," UNC-Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose said to me this spring, as the 49ers prepared for their inaugural football season this fall. In 1999 she became the first woman to serve as a member of the basketball selection committee. "That staggered model also allows for there to be a veteran presence in the room to work with the rookies. But not too veteran."

Obviously, this can't be done in the College Football Playoff committee's first few years. But, as suggested by two different ADs, after perhaps the third year of the committee, they could begin rotating.

3. The role of athletic directors

On most topics, everyone agreed. On this topic, there was significant division. Easily the biggest concern of all involved is inviting too many conflicts of interest into the room. But how do you ensure that the people in that room are as educated as possible on the current game and current business of college football, but that those people won't also be looking out for the best interests of their school or conference, even if that bias comes from the subconscious of the well-intentioned?

The 2013 NCAA tournament selection committee was made up of six athletic directors, three conference commissioners and one associate commissioner. But the CFP commissioners have said they won't be on the committee. As for athletic directors, some have suggested they shouldn't be on the committee at all, while others have said they should be the only members. And some of those prospective ADs have already said they don't have the time or they simply don't want any part of the scrutiny that will undoubtedly come with the gig. It was Florida's Jeremy Foley who told reporters flatly, "If asked, I will not serve."

"So, if not the athletic directors, then who?" asked a university administrator. "The university presidents aren't going to do it. Quite frankly, university administrators aren't qualified. We're a little too busy to be watching games all week."

4. The "legends" factor

Playoff commissioners have continued to hammer home their committee talking points of "greatest college football minds" and "the most prestigious in college athletics." That has led to assumptions that at least some part of the committee will include some "old guard" members, particularly retired coaches, former players or even emeritus media members.

On one hand, some of those I talked with pointed to the success of the Legends Poll, which has been voted on by a panel of former coaches since 2008. It's a 17-man roster full of Hall of Famers, from Vince Dooley to John Robinson to Frank Broyles. The panel receives DVDs of games each week and then participates in a lengthy conference call discussion before sending in their ballots.

On the other hand, there is concern that former coaches would create a weak link -- or at the very least an easy target -- when it comes to concerns about bias within the panel.

"The good news about the Legends Poll is that it has created this pool of potential playoff committee members who are up to speed on the current game of college football and the evaluation process," one AD explained. "The bad news is that it will be hard to put just one or two of these guys on a committee without catching hell, even if it's misguided. I can hear it now, 'You guys have Bobby Bowden on the committee? You know he's never going to vote for Florida or Miami!' If I'm honest with you, that will probably be in the back of my mind, too."