New playoffs won't solve old problems

Published October 16, 2013

| FoxSports

The idea was to get the yelling to stop and the credibility to rise (in addition to getting the revenues to multiply). But the first time anyone gave any thought to the new College Football Playoff system, it was to yell about credibility.

It was about Condoleezza Rice and whether she was a legitimate pick to be on the selection committee. The truth is now that the 13-member group has been officially released, and the former Secretary of State is on it: She'll be fine.

The other truth: Criticism of her selection is a great example of a fundamental flaw to this system. It's not about whether Rice is credible but about whether Joe College Football Fan can ever find anyone credible.

"Obviously, she's made world-class decisions over her career,'' CFP executive director Bill Hancock told me. "She's good at analyzing and discerning facts. But she knows this game. She's been around this game a long time. And as provost at Stanford, athletics reported to her. So she had to know the game. It's part of her job.''

You've heard the arguments, including the dumbest one that overwhelmed all others: A woman shouldn't be picking which teams play for the national title. But there have been other arguments, too. Do you have to have played the game to make these choices? Should you have worked around college football on a daily basis? At least analyzed it every day for a living? And isn't Rice just a fan?

"Listen,'' Hancock said. "If you know this game, if you can make difficult decisions under scrutiny and you have good judgment and can discern among different facts, you belong on this committee.

"She knows this game. If she hadn't known this game, she would not be a part of this committee.''

Commissioners of the big five conferences gave lists of recommendations for who should be on the committee. Hancock said the master list was over 100 strong at one point, and though he wouldn't specify who suggested which member, he did say this: More than one person suggested Rice.

The new system is going to be a serious improvement over the BCS. But it's still flawed because there are no set criteria. Strength of schedule doesn't have to be considered; neither do conference championships.

Nothing does, other than the opinions of 13 people on the committee, which was officially announced Wednesday even though its members' names had been leaked weeks ago.

We have no idea how those 13 will choose. And more important, we have millions of college football fans who have to trust.

Hah!

No way. This is about to become the nation's second-biggest sporting event, after the Super Bowl, and it demands credibility in the selection process.

But it is not in the nature of college football fans to think there can be anything unbiased, at least not anything that says anything other than what they think. To put it politely, at times college football fans aren't the most rational.

This sport is a passion play, an emotion, a nerve ending. That's actually what makes it so special. But there is zero chance anyone on any committee is going to be acceptable.

The problem here, frankly, is that the people who have run failed systems before are somehow able to hold on to power. In the olden days, teams went to bowl games, with specific conference champs headed to specific games. Then, the polls decided who the champ was.

Polls? No way. We needed objectivity. We needed a national championship tournament. But that would mean getting rid of the bowls, and the bowl people were in power.

So they started matching up the top two teams in a title game, in what would eventually become the BCS. That way, fans could have the championship game and the bowls could keep their power and money. In the end, computers and polls and computer-determination of strength of schedule all factored in.

And now, in our last year of the BCS, if we looked back honestly we'd say it really didn't do that terrible of a job. Sure, it picked Nebraska for a title game one year when it didn't even win its conference, had gotten drilled in its last regular-season game and was ranked No. 4.

And you know what the cry was? The computers were biased, based on human programming.

See? There is only one way sports champions can be determined to people's satisfaction. On the field. Or the court. Or the diamond. Or in the ring.

Now, we're going back to people deciding.

We have former and current athletic directors and coaches, NCAA officials, former media members. The committee includes Tom Osborne, Ty Willingham, Pat Haden, Archie Manning, Barry Alvarez and Rice.

They will take their - here is the danger word in college sports - bias into their decisions. Each of these people looks at the game in a unique way. Alvarez and Haden can't possibly see football the same way.

Now, you can say that's a problem for NCAA Tournament in basketball, too. But first, conference champs get into the tournament automatically. Then, the committee picks the rest of the field. And frankly, when the 69th-best team is left out of a basketball tournament, it's not quite as serious as when the fifth-best football team falls short of a football playoff.

"I spent 16 years working with the NCAA Tournament, and I can tell you that team 69 many times was extremely unhappy,'' Hancock said. "So I've heard people say that, 'Now, Team 69 shouldn't feel as bad as Team 5 in our deal.' I'm not sure I buy that. It's still their team; they're still disappointed they're not going to be in the event.''

I disagree, as the argument against Rice has gone, that you need someone who had a fist in the dirt of a football game or has broken down film to select this final four. Mostly, this committee needs the intelligence to grasp the incredibly obvious and not to base decisions on whether Ohio State's offensive line has better technique than Oregon's.

But there is no way a committee without set criteria will appear unbiased to college football fans.

My idea: They should have had an eight-team tournament. Take the champs of the big five conferences and then let a committee pick three at-large teams. Of course, that would mean more games, and hits, in a sport threatened by concussion fears. So maybe more adjustments would be needed, too.

When will the backlash start for this tournament to expand to eight teams?

"People were talking about that,'' Hancock said, "the day we announced the four-team tournament.''

The original article can be found at FOXSports.com: New playoffs won't solve old problems.

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