November 29, 2012

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated convened a mock selection committee made up of 11 athletic directors from all FBS conferences and the independents, many of whom have served on the NCAA men's basketball committee, to pick a four-team college football playoff field. The 138-minute conference call was both enlightening and a microcosm of just how difficult the process will be when the actual committee choses the field in 2014. The ADs were spirited in their debate and consideration and quickly found out that the process was much more difficult than most of the public has imagined.

This isn't as simple (a relative term) as choosing the 37th at-large team (and the $1.2 million payout that comes with it) on Selection Sunday. This is much more intense, and even in a mock selection the committee members could feel the pressure. The difference between No. 4 and No. 5 is tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the unquantifiable exposure that participation in a playoff will bring.

Here are a few takeaways from the exercise:

• Informed, candid discussion will be crucial and the process must be transparent in order to gain the trust from member schools and the general public.

• The committee members will have to invest a significant amount of time and effort to see the teams play, and they must be especially qualified to process what they see.

• Regardless of the structure, a team (or teams) will always be left out. While this has been the case under the BCS, the new reality means an institution will have been voted in and, implicitly, another voted out.

• Committee composition has never been more important: commitment of time, connection to the game, ability to discern quality from luck. These talents steadied the ship in basketball. Quality decision-making by quality decision-makers will be key -- both real and perceived.

• The group will have to engage in sustained, open conversation throughout the season. There will great importance in establishing comfort and trust -- in knowing that the work at-hand will be the product of the group, not of the individuals. The more open the conversations, the better the decision-making.

• Injuries will take on a whole new meaning, from rehab time to partial availability. That's nothing new, but it'll be just as complicated.

• SEC commissioner Mike Slive's "Who you play and how you did" maxim (as basketball committee chair, circa 2009) is also prescient for football. Scheduling will become even more important as teams seek to give the committee the information it needs to make informed decisions.

The makeup of SI's committee was crucial to the process. We found quality people with real knowledge of the game and a sense to get it right -- and more importantly, to learn. A lot was decided in 138 minutes, but even more was discovered. That, of course, was the whole point.

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