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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Go With Administrators on the Committee

Mathematically – don’t stop reading – you’d think that having an uneven number of individuals on the to-be-named selection committee would get rid of the chance of a tie; you know, with four people picking one team for the fourth spot and four picking another team.

That’s probably not the case. Here’s one reason: you could make the case that the committee must reach a consensus when it comes to picking the four teams that compete in our future college football playoff. There should be a unified front, goes this line of thought.

Again, that’s probably not the case. What the committee needs more than anything – these are the two must-haves – are transparency and objectivity. No closed-door meetings followed by rambling, unspecific explanations. And no root-for-the-home-team mentality. That’s a definite.

Does the committee need to have representation from each conference? No, not exactly. What the committee does need is no heavy presence from one league. The number of members can vary: the committee can’t have as few as four members, you’d think, but it’s also not mandatory that the group have 16 members or more – then you’re getting into Harris Poll territory, and we don’t want that.

What will define the selection committee more than size is its makeup. You’ve heard the arguments for selecting from one of five groups: media members, former coaches, former players, current university administrators – athletic directors, presidents, chancellors and the like – and retired university administrators.

Erase the final option. Again, taking on past administrators went horribly awry in the Harris Poll, which was an embarrassment. Likewise with former players currently not associated with the sport in any fashion: take them off the list.

You’re left with former coaches, active university officials and members of the media. The idea of using retired coaches is frightening; legends like Bobby Bowden, Barry Switzer or Lloyd Carr will lend some respectability to the committee, but that’s all – I wouldn’t count on any retired coach to put in the sort of due diligence this endeavor demands.

And there’s the fact that, believe it or not, former coaches do have certain allegiances to friends, conferences or individual programs – a school where a former coach once worked, for example. This isn’t the group I’d go for if I was looking for objectivity.

Angling for media members to serve on the committee is a nice idea, and it lands page views, and the general theory does have a point: media professionals aren’t beholden to any program – except those with the best press box spread – so there’d be no conflict of interest.

But it’s just silly. While the media might bring a level of objectivity to the proceedings, writers don’t own their objectivity to the sport itself – they owe their sense of objectivity to the reader, and you can’t cover the sport while serving as one of its key decision-makers.

Throw the idea of media professionals serving on this committee out the window; any writer worth his salt shouldn’t even consider this conflict of interest, and if they did, a good editor would firmly let him or her know that they’re stepping well outside the lines.

That leaves current university personnel. It’s not just the last choice; it’s the best choice, if the only choice based in any degree of realism. The F.B.S. should simply follow the lead of the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament selection committees – appoint eight or nine administrators on a short-term basis, perhaps for two or three years, and select a committee chairman.

The most recent men’s selection committee ran as follows: one chairman, Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway, and nine fellow members. Six of the nine members were athletic directors; three were conference commissioners – from the Big 12, the Big Sky Conference and the West Coast Conference.

Committee members serve five-year terms on a rotating basis: two are replaced every year. This promotes fresh blood onto the committee fairly regularly while also doing the most to give each conference some sort of representation.

This past spring, the committee – and remember that this is basketball – featured representatives from the Big East, the Southland Conference, Xavier University, the Big 12, the Big Sky, Wake Forest, S.M.U., Utah State, L.S.U. and the West Coast Conference.

With fewer teams and fewer leagues in the F.B.S., you’d think a similarly sized committee could properly represent the level in its entirety. Of course, and as you can see above, some conferences would be “represented” by one of its athletic directors; the A.C.C., for example, is “represented” by Wake Forest.

The only area where the F.B.S. could improve the selection process is by opening up the voting process. Don’t simply put the chairman on television and have him explain – make the voting public, and have each member come forward and explain his or her selection rationale.

The reason for increased transparency is simple: Unlike in basketball, the committee isn’t choosing between borderline at-large bids. Instead, the committee is selecting what four teams will play for the national championship. The process is akin to asking the basketball committee to select the Final Four based on the regular season and conference tournaments.

This is a job left to the professionals, not to former coaches – who couldn’t be blamed for being biased, I suppose – or to media members who shouldn’t place themselves into the story. Neither should even be an option.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    Disagree on this one. I want guys that know their stuff. Guys that think about the sport 24-7. Beat writers are out. You want guys with a national perspective and more importantly national knowledge. That means a very select group of media. For instance, in DFW, there are only two candidates who merit consideration.

    From a sitting panel, you look at who the 8-10 schools under consideration and then select those with no obvious allegiances. Agree on the transparency. Each member must release his ballot to the public.

  2. [...] itself (the eight or sixteen teams would be better crowd), some are going to be unhappy with the selection process itself (I suspect I’m going to wind up in this bunch, but I’m keeping an open mind for now) [...]

  3. BobJ says:

    I’m not sure what good releasing a ballot publicly would do. Once the decision is made, it’s made. If the selections are based on consensus, if all committee members agree, which they should on a decision of this magnitude, then all ballots would be the same.

    This selection isn’t so difficult, anyway. In any year, there is sometimes one, most of the time two, rarely three, and never four, teams who are acknowledged as having a claim to being the best team in the country. Last season, that was LSU and Alabama. As long as the acknowledged contenders are in, the other teams are so much window dressing.

    Any controversy would likely surround the #4 team. In any season there might be a number of teams that would have a claim to being #4, but that team would lose in the first round, anyway. Last season you could have had your pick from Oregon, Stanford, Wisconsin, and Boise State. None of them would have stood up to LSU.

    The only thing I’m concerned with is (a) where will all the new money end up, and (b) will the players get any of it?

  4. Dave says:

    Paul for selection committee!

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