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Playoff selection committee will bring new controversy, but it's time for change

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I know some of my colleagues are rolling their eyes at the thought of having a selection committee pick the four teams that will play for college football's national championship. I share a lot of your concerns.

There are all kinds of problems with a committee that chooses only four teams. There is going to be a lot of complaining and moaning and gnashing of teeth. Yes, in some years it's going to get ugly. There will be charges of bias. There will be charges that the fix is in for the big conferences. I get all that. It's going to be messy.

But at the end of the day, here are five reasons why the commissioners are headed toward a selection committee:

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1. We already have a selection committee. It's called the coaches poll and the Harris Interactive Poll. Understand that every tweak that has been made to the BCS standings during the past 14 years has been to accomplish one thing: To make sure the final BCS standings better reflected the human polls. Three examples:

 2000: Miami beat Florida State head-to-head in the regular season and both finished with one loss. The Seminoles went to the BCS championship game ahead of the Hurricanes. Tweak.

 2001: Nebraska didn't win its division of the Big 12 because it got hammered by Colorado 62-36 in its final regular-season game. The Buffs beat No. 3 Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. Nebraska was No. 4 in the two human polls, Colorado was No. 3 and Oregon was No. 2. But when all the numbers came in, Nebraska played Miami in the big game and got embarrassed. Tweak.

 2003: Southern California was ranked No. 1 in both human polls but the BCS standings put LSU and Oklahoma in the BCS championship game. USC was awarded the AP national championship, the last time the title was split. Tweak.

So the BCS formula evolved to the point where two-thirds was weighted toward the human polls. The computers became the tiebreaker only if the polls were in disagreement. So, in fact, you had 59 coaches (who admittedly don't watch games other than their own and their opponents) and 115 voters in the Harris Interactive Poll serving as a selection committee.

Doubt it? Every year since USC was No. 1 in the polls and left out in 2003, the human polls have had the same two teams ranked in the top two spots. In every case those two teams played for the BCS championship.

So if you already have a selection committee, why not get one where the members have to watch games, study data and ultimately have to sit in a room, debate the teams and come to a decision?

2. Having coaches vote on the BCS title game is a direct conflict of interest. There are coaches and their friends in the profession who have bonuses in excess of $500,000 for reaching a national championship game and winning it. I believe in the integrity of the coaches and their desire to do the right thing. But in a process that involves this much money there cannot be even the APPEARANCE of a conflict of interest. The refusal by the coaches to reveal their votes except for the last ballot is no longer acceptable. The coaches poll has a great tradition and should be maintained. They have an important voice. But it can't be used to decide multimillion-dollar matchups that benefit themselves or their friends.

3. Ditto on the computers. When the BCS formula first started, the computer polls were put in to have a nonhuman element in the process. It was a good idea. The guys who ran the computers said "Hey, trust us." They would not reveal their methodology and, frankly, I wouldn't have released it either. It is valuable intellectual property.

But the world has changed a lot over the past 14 years. Five of the six computer polls still won't tell the public how they arrive at the rankings. That is no longer good enough.

The computer polls are a very useful tool. But now they will be among the many tools that are used by a selection committee.

4. The college football fan is much more sophisticated and engaged in the process. For all of the fussing and cussing about the BCS, it has made college football the second-most popular sport in the United States. Thanks to multiple sources of information and the rise of social media, the fans are much more knowledgeable. They want -- and deserve -- more transparency in the process. The selection committee won't do its deliberations in public, but it will get a set of guidelines and points of emphasis. That's a big change. And at the end of the process a chairman will have to stand in front of everybody and justify why these four teams were selected.

Is that complete transparency? No. But it's more accountability than what exists in the current system.

5. It is simply time for a change: The commissioners have spent 14 years defending the BCS against the critics who want a playoff. Now that they have finally created a four-team playoff (which won't satisfy a lot of those same critics), it simply makes no sense to stick with the old formula. This is a fresh start and so there has to be a complete break with the past. A selection committee is something completely new. Even the BCS name, as our Dennis Dodd reported this week, should go away.

It won't be less controversial. In fact, a four-team playoff will actually be MORE controversial once it is in place. Why? Because last season there was basically only one team (No. 3 Oklahoma State) that had a legitimate argument that it should have been in the top two. When we go to four teams, there will always be at least 3-4 teams that claim they were as good as No. 4.

Understand that this playoff is not going to end the arguments. But any product -- from cars to laundry detergent -- has to eventually go to the marketplace with something new. For college football, a four-team playoff with a selection committee is that new product.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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