No passing records were set, and no attendance marks were shattered. But what was characterized as “an historic day for college football” kicked off Monday afternoon in the basement of Washington’s Wardman Park Hotel, where the committee that will choose the four teams taking part in the sport’s inaugural playoff gathered for their first meeting.
The playoff’s basic format has been established: Starting with the 2014-15 season, college football’s top four teams will meet in two semifinal bowl games during New Year’s weekend. The victors will meet the following week in a national championship game that’s expected to generate so much interest that ESPN reportedly paid $7.3 billion to secure the playoff’s broadcast rights through 2025.
Between now and Dec. 7, 2014, when the four playoff teams will be announced, a panel of 12 men and one woman (former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) will meet behind closed doors to hash out the package of statistics they’ll rely upon in ranking the nation’s top teams. They also will establish early on a “recusal policy” that spells out just when a member with ties to a school being voted upon must bow out of the voting.
While no decision on either issue is expected to be reached during this initial gathering, which runs through midday Tuesday, the panel’s chairman, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, voiced confidence that their work would produce a better outcome than any system that preceded it.
“Football fans around the country have been calling for a playoff for some time,” Long told reporters before the group launched into closed-door conversations in earnest. “This committee gives us a chance to bring all the information all together in one place and make a decision based on the protocols and policies and procedures we put in place. . . . There will be controversy, but in this group, we’ll be able to defend our decision.”
A quick scan around the room confirmed the obvious and impossible-to-avoid: Not one panel member is without a strong tie, if not more than one, to a particular conference or school.
In addition to Long, the committee consists of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez; Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, former superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy; Southern Cal Athletic Director Pat Haden; Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice president; West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck; former Mississippi and NFL quarterback Archie Manning (the lone member not present Monday); Tom Osborne, former head coach and athletic director at Nebraska; Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich; Rice, a Stanford professor and former provost; former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese; former USA Today college reporter Steve Wieberg; and Tyrone Willingham, former head football coach at Washington, Notre Dame and Stanford.
Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff as well as the system it will replace, the oft-criticized Bowl Championship Series, pledged to make the proceedings as transparent as possible. To that end, the panel will release four interim rankings leading up to the Dec. 7, 2014 selection date and publicize the protocol behind it. It’s not clear what factors will be weighed beyond strength-of-schedule and head-to-head results.
Committee members won’t travel the country to watch high-profile games, as bowl-selection officials typically do, but instead will rely on metrics, discussion and debate to rank teams.
And while no one wanted to take a stab at how they’d hypothetically parse the difference between 8-0 Baylor and 8-1 Stanford — widely considered fourth and fifth (or perhaps fifth and fourth) behind Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State at the moment — Rice conceded she was watching games more intently this season with an eye toward next season’s work.
“It’s not so much to say, ‘Here’s how I would rank them,’” Rice said, “but ‘What ought I be looking for? What am I seeing in this game that might help me when we get together for discussion?’”