With her admitted “dream job” as NFL commissioner presently occupied, Condoleezza Rice stepped into another influential college-football position and quickly fended off criticism that she lacked the experience to serve on the new College Football Playoff selection committee.
“With all due respect to my good friend Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue [present and former NFL commissioners], probably the most influential NFL commissioner was Pete Rozelle,” Rice told ESPN’s Colin Cowherd on Wednesday. “He never played football, so you can be a student of something and not experience it. I consider myself a student of college football. I am, Colin, after all a student of Russia, but I’ve actually never been Russian, either. You can know something from following it and studying it and I spend a lot of my Saturday with college football.”
Among others, ESPN college analyst David Pollack and former Auburn coach Pat Dye had questioned her credentials for the post. “All she knows about football is what somebody told her, or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television,” Dye had said. “To understand football, you’ve got to play with your hand in the dirt.” Two other members of the 13-person committee, which replaces the embattled Bowl Championship Series next year, did not play college football, either.
“I’ve been in enough positions to respect people who have different views,” Rice, the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration, told reporters in a conference call. “Not everyone on the committee has played football. I’m a student of the game and I believe that I will work very, very hard.”
The committee, chaired by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, will choose and seed four teams to play in national semifinals as well as compiling regular-season rankings. Rice, who presently teaches political science at Stanford and has worked there for 32 years, noted that she has experience in athletics from her time as the school’s provost.
“At Stanford, athletics actually reports for its operations to the provost — so athletic facilities, athletic budgets, issues of compliance. I actually hired Ty Willingham to be Stanford’s football coach after Bill Walsh stepped down [in 1994],” Rice, whose father was a football coach, told Stewart Mandel of SI.com. “It was actually not the first time I’d been involved in the hiring of a football coach. Back in 1988, I sat on a committee with a very small number of people that hired Denny Green, including doing interviews with all the major finalists, among whom was Pete Carroll, for instance. He was one of the people we had serious interviews with in 1988.”
Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former college football writer Steve Wieberg, did not play football, but only the selection of Rice drew fire for that resume omission. Pollack was criticized for his comments and later said he only wanted people on the committee who “eat, sleep and breath college football” without regard to gender.
“I don’t feel like I’m carrying a banner for anyone, except those who love college football. That includes women,” Rice, whose father was a football coach, said. “For me, this is trying to get playoff system right so that we can have outcomes in which players, coaches and fans know that people of goodwill and integrity are trying to make good judgments.”
Rice, who made sports history two years ago when she was one of the first two women chosen for membership at Augusta National Golf Club, will now help shape college football’s new playoff system. “The naysayers have spoken loudly,” ESPN.com’s Andrea Adelson writes. “Their negativity has earned the headlines. But the truth is, real progress has been made. It took 60 years for a woman to serve on the men’s basketball committee.”