Selection committee helped bridge divide, will lead to fan satisfaction
CHICAGO -- We've spent much of the past 14 years bashing the gentlemen who brought us the ever-clunky BCS. Today, it's time to offer a rare salute.
You don't have to be a fan of the four-team playoff the conference commissioners settled on Wednesday to know that the sport's overlords agreed on several principles that will inarguably bolster the sport. Perhaps you feel it's not enough. Perhaps you like the status quo. It doesn't matter.
Provided they get the necessary green light from the Presidential Oversight Committee as soon as next week, the commissioners will soon rid the national championship selection process of the arbitrary voter polls and secretive computer ratings that frustrated so many throughout the BCS era. Whatever new metrics emerge will not include an unduly influential preseason edition.
The commissioners also intend to reward teams that schedule challenging nonconference games rather than playing eight home games and loading up on cupcakes.
And, as departing Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said Wednesday: "[What] we're going to do is reclaim New Year's Day and New Year's Eve for college football. These are [going to be] the games you can't miss."
Surely any right-minded college football fan will be elated about all of that.
According to participants in the room at Wednesday's decisive meeting, the key compromise that finally brought any remaining holdouts on board was the concept of a selection committee charged with emphasizing specific criteria. Most of the power-conference commissioners -- the Big Ten's Jim Delany, the SEC's Mike Slive, the Big 12's Bob Bowlsby and the Sun Belt's Karl Benson -- have served on the NCAA basketball committee, which follows much the same blueprint.
"It's important we have a system that chooses teams with agreed upon principles, that people know what they're getting into, and the committee is well represented [geographically]," said Delany.
This noticeably rational and measured mindset marks a stark contrast to how the BCS was initially established in the late '90s. Then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer -- no mathematician, mind you -- devised the first BCS formula by having his minions test out various computer ratings on past seasons to see if they spit out a desirable title matchup. Real scientific stuff. Over the next few years, every time a new controversy arose, the commissioners made some new tweak to address it: removing some computer polls while adding others; eliminating margin of victory; adding, then removing, a "quality win" bonus.
"The more we tweaked it," said Delany, "the less confidence we inspired."
While the commissioners needed to agree on a new format in time for television negotiations this fall, they still have two years before implementing a playoff for the 2014 season -- which means they have two years to develop a fully grounded selection process.
The most obvious issue will be who serves on the committee. Fans conditioned to years of blatant biases in the coaches and writer polls will undoubtedly be suspicious of whichever individuals get tapped. Panelists will inevitably have ties to certain schools or conferences.
"I don't have a formula for who that person is, except nobody is going to put forward someone that doesn't have good knowledge of the game, good reputation for integrity and the ability to stand up and take criticism," said Delany. "You don't have to be a coach or player, but I'm sure most of the people will have been coaches and players."
Others don't necessarily believe the committee members need to have "former" in front of their titles. After all, said ACC commissioner John Swofford, the basketball committee is comprised of active commissioners and athletic directors.
"The basketball committee, they do an excellent job year in and year out," Swofford said. "There's going to be some criticism and controversy. That's probably unavoidable."
The commissioners would likely attempt to negate conflicts of interest in two ways. For one, the panel would be comprised in a way that ensures equal representation for every conference. And, much like the basketball committee, panelists might not be allowed to discuss their own conference's candidates.
The latter could prove problematic given football's much smaller participant pool. As Delany points out, 31 conferences get a berth in the NCAA basketball tournament. In football, 79 of the 80 teams to finish in the top four over the past 20 years currently reside (after realignment) in one of just five conferences.
"I think [a football committee] might be a little bit larger, just because you have a situation where there will be lot of recusals," said Delany. "Individuals that get appointed to a conference, if their conference is involved in the discussion process, will have to have a significant recusal process. I don't think you can be left after the recusal with too small a number. I don't know what the number is, but I don't think it's nine or 10."
All of those details need to be hashed out. So, too, do the specific criteria and metrics the committee will utilize, though two common refrains among the commissioners are a desire for more transparency and an emphasis on strength of schedule.
Weighing schedule strength could prove beneficial beyond just the playoff. Unlike the AP and Coaches' Poll, which tend to place the most importance on simply not losing, a committee could theoretically elevate, say, an 11-2 Pac-12 team over a 12-1 Big Ten team if the former played three power-conference foes in September, while the other played three MAC or FCS schools.
"How do you encourage people to play [tough games]?" said Delany. "And I'm talking about our people and other peoples' people. I don't think we served ourselves particularly well with the 12th game."
He also feels strongly about the undue influence of preseason polls, which, by setting a pecking order before a single game is played, often wind up following teams even after they've played 13 games. "The more we refrain from evaluating teams until they play" Delany said, "the better off we are."
Mind you, Delany has spent the past 14 years protecting a system that relied on the very polls and computers he now wants abolished. He and his colleagues could have spared themselves some ridicule by coming to this epiphany a decade earlier.
But the advent of a full-fledged, bracketed event has got the sport's power-brokers thinking more seriously about the stakes. For that, we tip our hats.
College football's new postseason will still have its share of controversy. But if a playoff prompts an increase in riveting nonconference games, a more sensible selection process and a more climactic January, college football fans will have much less about which to complain.