The third edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings has been settled, and once again, arguments abound. How can you leave two conference champions out? When will they expand the field? Where are my Western Michigan Broncos!?
The disagreement over this year’s rankings seems to be far more widespread than the previous two years. Rather than just angering one of the lesser Power Five conferences with a perceived snub, the committee also managed to anger a whole new subsection of fans: those who love championship games. After Ohio State was given a CFP spot over the actual Big Ten Champions – two-loss Penn State (which also beat OSU head-to-head) – the outrage over the system reached a new level. “Why even have championship games?” shouted the slighted.
When you look at the protocol set out for the committee, there are definitely areas that angry Nittany Lions fans can highlight to justify their outrage. Mainly:
When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:
- Championships won
- Strength of schedule
- Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
- Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
Penn State could check off two bullet points over Ohio State real fast before debating the others; but the committee clearly thought these teams weren’t comparable at the margins. And remember, the committee is a lot like anyone currently reading this: a fan of college football. Its job was to pick the four best teams in the NCAA, and like a lot of us, they decided that the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game should get a chance to play for a title.
What’s most intriguing about the Selection Committee is that this year’s decision doesn’t really set a precedent moving forward. The 12-person committee is constantly rotating in new members on three-year terms, so next year’s iteration may end up caring way more about championships than this one. But before we look at how things could change going forward, let’s meet the reason your favorite team was (probably) absent from the postseason.
Your 2016 CFP Selection Committee
On their way out…
Kirby Hocutt, Chair
Where you know him from: He’s been the athletic director for Texas Tech since 2011. You know those storied Red Raiders? They won a Big 12 track and field championship in 2014! Yup, the man has an eye for success.
How he got there: He replaced Oliver Luck as the Big 12 representative when Luck was offered a position with the NCAA. He was appointed chair this year because he’s “a natural leader,” and because, of all the committee members, he least resembles a potato.
Where you know him from: He’s a Hall of Fame coach who led Wisconsin to its only three Rose Bowls. Winning titles with the likes of Brooks Bollinger, Ron Dayne, and Darrell Bevell running his offense, Alvarez is clearly a footballing wizard.
How he got there: As the Badgers athletic director, Alvarez fills the roll of Big Ten representative. But he also has the only impressive resume of any of the five former head coaches on the panel.
Where you know him from: Former coach of Vanderbilt. Compiled a 29-66 record over eight seasons.
How he got there: This position is punishment for past misdeeds, like introducing the world to Jay Cutler.
Where you know her from: She may have had a wee hand in pushing American into a little conflict called the War in Iraq. Naturally, that makes her an authoritative voice on college football.
How she got there: She was chosen so that when you complain about the committee being a bunch of old, out-of-touch white people, they can gesture her way.
Where you know him from: He’s the general manager of the Detroit Pistons. Wait, no, that’s the wrong guy. This Jeff Bower coached the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles for 18 years. I can’t say I know much about that program, but I can take an educated guess at where it’s located.
How he got there: There was clearly an emphasis on bringing in the expertise of former coaches, while also guaranteeing their old programs would never be in the conversation.
Where you know him from: He coached Central Michigan for 16 years (proving my above point).
How he got there: Who understands the current college football landscape better than a man who last coached a non-power program more than 22 years ago?
Where you know him from: He was the guy who made March Madness awesome.
How he got there: I guess if he could make college basketball’s Final Four one of the biggest weekends of the year, he should be able to help make the football playoff awesome, too, right? Basketball and football are similar…
Where you know him from: He coached three prominent NCAA programs: Stanford, Notre Dame, and most recently Washington. He transformed the Huskies from a down-on-its-luck team to a national laughing stock in four years flat.
How he got there: All former coaches know stuff, even ones with the worst coaching record in Washington’s modern history. At least his bad memories from Seattle may explain why hasn’t recused from talking about the Huskies.
Where you know him from: He’s a retired sportswriter for USA Today.
How he got there: Who would better understand the flaws in the selection process than a man who covered the sport back when the National Champion was decided by polls?
Where you know him from: He’s the genius who hired Bobby Petrino to run the Razorbacks. That went so well!
How he got there: He provides a voice for the oft-overlooked and underappreciated SEC. (Hahaha! No seriously, why does the SEC need a rep? It’s just widely accepted that they’ll get what they want.)
Where you know him from: You don’t. You’ve never heard of him.
How he got there: Reppin’ Oregon and the Pac-12.
Where you know him from: The only athletic director whose conflict of interest actually mattered this season, Radakovich heads up Clemson sports.
How he got there: Rounding out the Power Five representatives, he brings the not-so unique perspective of the ACC.
Where the CFP Selection Committee is Headed in 2017
So with a third of this year’s committee leaving (and unable to be re-appointed), next season’s playoff heads in a new, exciting direction.
For starters, there couldn’t be a more interesting time for new Big Ten and Big 12 reps on the committee. With the Big 12 going back to a championship game next season, it will be their new athletic director’s responsibility to explain why Oklahoma is somehow a more legitimate team because it beat one of their inferior conference opponents twice.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten was the first conference to send a non-champion, and even though the commissioner himself called it the right decision, the new rep from the conference could have a differing opinion, especially if Sandy Barbour gets the position.
The committee is also losing its most controversial member, with Condi’s time coming to an end. Often skewered for her perceived lack of football knowledge, she became the easy scapegoat for anyone looking to point out the folly of the CFP system. Will she be replaced by another member who will raise eyebrows, or will the CFP play it safe this time and choose another old coach from a middle-tier program?
It is in the protocol to choose “people with experience as (1) coaches, (2) student-athletes, (3) administrators, (4) journalists and also (5) sitting directors of athletics,” so it may be hard to shoehorn another wild card member in. But it should be a point of emphasis that the committee has a wider range of viewpoints other than “he coached in the northern mid-west, and he coached in the southern mid-west.”
I personally hope they do shake it up. (Maybe that guy from the Dr. Pepper commercials was a former student-athlete?) The playoff is still in its infancy, and doing the same old thing every year won’t help it grow. It appears we’re still years away from expanding the playoff field, meaning we might as well make the best of the four spots we do have. Bring on more members who are open to the idea of sending non-conference winners. It might welcome more controversy, but it also might welcome fewer Alabama blowouts in the semifinals.
Whoever rounds out next year’s committee will be under more scrutiny than ever, as college fans have transitioned beyond the point of “at least it’s better than the BCS!” to “why does this system have so many problems?” Just remember, these are hard working semi-qualified people making difficult selections, and they deserve your sympathy as well as respect.
Now watch four teams go undefeated next season and eliminate any potential problems.
Feature Photo Credit: Penn State (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/].
Let's have fun and keep it civil.