Earlier this month it was reported that, as expected, College Football Playoff committee member Tom Osborne would be recused when any talk turned to Nebraska. That made sense given the former coach and athletic director’s extensive ties to the school in Lincoln.
At the same time it was reported that the CFP’s full recusal policy, including specific, individuals recusals, would be released in a week. Just over nine days later, it has.
It was known all along the the five current athletic directors who make up the 13-person committee and will help choose the four playoff participants — Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, USC’s Pat Haden, Arkansas’ Jeff Long (committee chair) West Virginia’s Oliver Luck, Clemson’s Dan Radakovich — would be recused if/when the discussion came to their respective schools. Below is the full list of committee members who, along with the five current ADs and Osborne, can neither vote on nor discuss the schools to which they are currently attached:
— Lieutenant General Mike Gould, Air Force: the former superintendent of the Colorado Springs service academy.
— Archie Manning, Ole Miss, former Rebels star quarterback who still maintains deep ties to the school and the football program.
— Condoleezza Rice, Stanford, current professor and former provost at the university.
That leaves just four committee members who can discuss and vote on every potential playoff contender that comes up:
— Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice president.
— Mike Tranghese, former commissioner of the Big East Conference.
— Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter, USA Today.
— Tyrone Willingham, former head coach at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington, the last coming in 2008 (UW).
Those 13 committee members will hold the first in-person set of meetings Oct 27 (Monday) and Oct. 28 (Tuesday), with the first set of what are described as “interim rankings) Oct. 28. One of the biggest questions is, just how will those rankings be determined? While offering up a bit of a qualifier amidst its protocol release…
Ranking football teams is an art, not a science. Football is popular in some measure because the outcome of a game between reasonably matched teams is so often decided by emotional commitment, momentum, injuries and the “unexpected bounce of the ball.” In any ranking system, perfection or consensus is not possible and the physical impact of the game on student athletes prevents elaborate playoff systems of multiple games. For purposes of any four team playoff, the process will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.
… the CFP did detail exactly how the committee will arrive at its weekly Top 25:
1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.
It should be noted that, at no point in that five-step process, are committee members permitted to include any team from which they are recused on any of the lists mentioned above.
Of course, there were also notes attached to the five-step voting process (notes A-C dealt with recusals):
D. Between each step, the committee members will conduct a thorough evaluation of the teams before conducting the vote.
E. After the rankings are completed, any group of three or more teams can be reconsidered if more than three members vote to do so. Step No. 3 would be repeated to determine if adjustments should be made.
F. After the first nine teams are seeded, the number of teams for Steps No. 2, 3 and 4 will be increased to eight and four, respectively.
G. At any time in the process, the number of teams to be included in a pool may be increased or decreased with approval of more than eight members of the committee.
H. All votes will be by secret ballot.
So, are you getting all of this?
There’s other minutia detailed in the release, which you can read in full HERE, but there is one more important aspect of the CFP process that supersedes just about everything else mentioned thus far: criteria. As previously noted, ranking football teams is more art than science, but there is some specific data on which the committee will lean.
The protocol states that the committee “will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree (treat final determination like a tie-breaker; apply specific guidelines).” Why pedigree — i.e. history — should have anything to do with a specific year is a significant unknown, one that the committee should address immediately and abolish from its guidelines. Base the selections on that year, not how storied Program X may be.
One piece of data that the committee is not permitted to take into account? Polls that are released before any games have been played, which means, technically, the Associate Press and coaches’ polls cannot be a part of the discussion. For that, we should all be thankful.
One piece of data that will be taken into account? “[R]elevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.” In other words, if a star quarterback goes down early and that injury contributes to a loss or two but the team finishes strong down the stretch, that team will remain under consideration for a playoff slot. Conversely, if a star player or players goes/go down with an injury late in the season, that would be a factor that would permit the committee to disregard that team regardless of the record.
I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: anyone who thought the (rightful) end of the BCS era meant the end of postseason controversy in college football were sadly mistaken and embarrassingly naive.
Again, there’s a lot of relevant information in the protocol release, so I would urge you to click HERE to get the entire picture.