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Forde-Yard Dash: Former Playoff Committee Members Dish on 2020's Unique Challenge

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (historical markers commemorating a former football power sold separately in Tallahassee):

MORE DASH: September Winners, Losers | Heisman Watch


The College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal its first set of rankings Nov. 17, which is seven weeks from now. The committee still plans to meet weekly in person in Grapevine, Texas, which will mean a lot of airplane travel and hotel stays for a group that is not the youngest. Hopefully they all maintain good health.

At the point of the first rankings, Big Ten teams will have (at best) played four games, and Pac-12 teams two. Clemson, meanwhile, should be eight games into the season and SEC teams seven games in. So, how complicated is that task going to be? The Dash asked three former committee members for their thoughts. The takeaways:

It’s going to be a tough job (11).

Mike Tranghese, former commissioner of the Big East Conference, who was on the CFP committee in 2014 and ’15: “I’m glad I’m not sitting on that committee. Through the years there hasn’t been a lot of controversy—after the fact doesn’t count—but this year there probably will be.”

Oliver Luck, former athletic director at West Virginia and vice president of the NCAA, who was on the committee in 2014: “The full body of work has really slimmed down. The obvious answer: It’s going to be more difficult. I don’t envy Gary (Barta, Iowa AD and committee chair) and their team. If it’s Week 2 for Oregon State and Week 7 for Wake Forest, you almost need a flip chart—what week is it for this team?”

Herb Deromedi, former coach at Central Michigan and a committee member from 2016-19: “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, but I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision (this year).”

It’s going to be more subjective than ever, due to lack of comparable data and common opponents with so few nonconference games (12).

Deromedi: “We had the ability to evaluate the strength of a conference. It was one more way of making an assessment. The ability to check nonconference games, that really helped you put it together.”

Tranghese: “The nonconference games were such a big factor. I don’t know how you deal with this and the discrepancies in number of games.”

Luck: “There might be a temptation to project, instead of just looking at what’s in front of you. You might say, ‘Geez, this team didn’t start until Nov. 7. If they had played more games. ...’ “

Which means the eye test looms large (13).

Luck: “To a certain degree, there’s always been an eye-test component. In my year (2014), when Ohio State put it together at the end of the year, they just took your breath away.”

Tranghese: “My term for it is personal objectivity. You have your own personal belief, while maintaining objectivity. I think it’s going to be each committee member saying, ‘In my heart, I feel these are the best teams.’“

Coaches seem more likely than ever to be heavy influencers (14). The current roster of coaches: Ken Hatfield (Air Force, Clemson, Arkansas) and R.C. Slocum (Texas A&M).

Deromedi: “I think one of the factors that will weigh in very strongly, the coaches on the committee will play a significant role. Those individuals sharing their thoughts will be a key factor. I’m sure there are others on the committee that can provide input, and that’s one of the beauties of the room—from one to 13, everyone could share their impressions. But they don’t all have the title of former coach.”

Luck: “Anything Tom Osborne said, everyone listened. A coach’s voice resonates with everybody.”

Tranghese: “My two years, we had Tyrone Willingham, Tom Osborne and Barry [Alvarez]. When Tom and Tyrone talked, everyone listened. They would talk about pure football. I asked them the same question I would ask the former coaches on the basketball committee: ‘One game, season on the line, you’re coaching, you want to play that team or this team?’ That’s when their professional expertise weighed in.”

Beyond a disparate number of games, there are other new factors coming into play (15).

Luck: “Do you take into consideration that the left side of the offensive line was out (due to the virus) for a team? How does that factor in? … There also are some opportunities for Group of Five teams to be recognized while other teams aren’t playing. Central Florida looks awesome. Marshall is ranked. It’s really neat that they’re getting their chance.”

Past committee decisions have been relatively controversy-free. The first one was wild, though (16). That’s when Ohio State leap-frogged over both Baylor and TCU in the final rankings to grab the fourth playoff spot, then went on to win the title.

Tranghese: “We were so split down the middle over Baylor and TCU. We thought TCU played the harder schedule, but Baylor beat TCU head-to-head. That was going to be a tough decision. Ohio State made it easy when they came out of the woodwork.”

There is always a lot of complimentary chatter from committee members about the working process. The praise is real (17), according to those who have been through it.

Tranghese: “We had incredible camaraderie. We didn’t always agree, but we got along terrifically. Because of that, people expressed how they felt. I’d like to think this committee, because of the pressure, they’ll come together.”

Deromedi: “I don’t think anyone felt inhibited. Everyone weighed in, and often times they put another perspective on it. I never saw it get heated. There were differing opinions, definitely, but we had some unbelievable discussions. Sometimes deciding between two places would take 30 minutes. People wanted to be so thorough.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (18) was an original committee member and served from 2014–16. That was negatively received by some folks who weren’t quite ready for a woman from outside the traditional college sports boys club to be part of the process. She more than held her own in the room.

Tranghese: “She was an absolute superstar. So smart, so good. I told her, ‘You’re the type of person who should lead the NCAA.’ The first meeting, someone addressed her as ‘Madam Secretary.’ She said, ‘Whoa, stop. My name is Condi Rice.’ Everyone called her Condi after that.”

Luck: “Condoleezza, she said to the group, ‘As we walk into that room, we leave our biases at the door.’ “

The complications facing the CFP committee will also be there for the NCAA tournament basketball committee (19).

Tranghese: “The limited number of nonconference games is going to make that job very difficult as well.”

In a year when very little about American life is fair, expect plenty of ignorant squawking from various programs and fan bases about unfair CFP rankings. Whatever. Difficult as it may be, there is at least a playoff to put on (20).

Deromedi: “There may be controversy, but there also is excitement.”

Tranghese: “They have to come up with something. But it greatly beats the alternative.”

MORE DASH: September Winners, Losers | Heisman Watch