Chuck Carlton: Transparency a priority for football playoff selectors

The key: being able to answer with some specificity why four teams made the cut and who didn’t.
Apr 16, 2014

 

The NCAA men’s basketball selection committee finished watching the Final Four pay off at A&T Stadium to months of meetings and research.

Their football counterparts just finished working through the recusal processes for the first College Football Playoff, which will end in Arlington on Jan. 12, 2015.

The two groups are linked beyond their common championship destinations. The basketball committee served as a prototype for the football playoff counterpart. Last week, current and former members on the basketball side offered thoughts to the football committee that includes athletic administrators, ex-players, Hall of Fame coaches and a former Secretary of State.

The key: being able to answer with some specificity why four teams made the cut and who didn’t.

“When the chairman is asked why did four go in and five didn’t, I think they have to be prepared with answers, and I think they will,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who chaired the basketball committee for two years.

In at least one way, the football selection committee will be taking the two most difficult aspects of the basketball committee — selecting the four No. 1 seeds and who makes the tournament — and combining them into one.

The whole process will be magnified.

The first team left out of March Madness wasn’t going to win the title, based on historical data. The nation’s fifth-best football team, perhaps undefeated or with just one loss, can reasonably dream of a national title. There will be no seventh-seeded UConns in a four-team playoff.

“In quality, the decisions are going to be difficult,” said Oklahoma athletic Joe Castiglione, who serves on the men’s basketball committee. “There will be razor-thin margins between teams that make it into the playoffs and teams that are on the edge of being selected. That’s the challenge of it all.”

Transparency will be a key, Castiglione said, and not just for the fans. Coaches, players and ADs are interested in the committee’s criteria.

“People just want to know the rules of the game and how decisions are going to be made,” Castiglione said. “Maybe the decisions don’t always work out the way they want, but as long as there is a level of consistency and they understand which elements are going to matter most.”

And that means, Castiglione said, as teams are “preparing for the season, going through the season and are judged at the end of the season, those metrics are consistently applied.”

Like Castiglione, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis could have a more than passing interest in the process after the Spartans won the Big Ten title last season. He likes the idea of a committee with plenty of data at its disposal as a start.

“In basketball, you can’t make a selection just by looking at the numbers,” Hollis said. “You have to have a sense of what they look like. What they look like has to be reinforced with numbers.”

One recent example: Right or wrong, the committee declined to put SMU in this year’s basketball field, in large part because of its underwhelming nonconference strength of schedule.

At least there was a rationale. The football committee faces a tougher cut.

“They’re selecting four from probably 12 that are going to be very worthy candidates,” Hollis said, “and you do have to have something to come back and say, ‘This was the data we looked at, here were some of the factors and this was important.’ ”

The football committee, which met in Grapevine, Texas, just before the Final Four, will forward its recusal proposals to the conference commissioners who oversee the playoff. That was thorny enough, with the possibility for conflicts of interests in school, conferences, alma maters and former employers.

Playoff executive director Bill Hancock noted that college presidents in approving the playoff told the committee to emphasize strength of schedule, winning conference championships, head-to-head results and results against common opponents, guidelines he called “very much common-sense factors.”

The next meeting is likely to come in August, Hancock said.

Expect maybe half-a-dozen rankings, and none before midseason. Outside of the over-reaching guidelines, each committee member will be on their own to what really matters, Hancock said.

“This will be the 13 people subjectively making decisions independently and those decisions being compiled through a series of ballots,” Hancock said. “There won’t be one single paramount metric.

“Each person can use the subjective data he and she wants. Their opinions will be compiled through a series of ballots to produce rankings.”

At the end of the process, with a nation watching and emotions high, will the committee be prepared to provide some clarity?

“We have said from the beginning that transparency is very important to us,” Hancock said. “Nothing has changed.”

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