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USATSI

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. -- College football needs some good news. There it was last week sitting casually in a lawn chair in a suburban Kansas City park.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock will turn 70 the second week of the 2020 season (as it is currently scheduled). That's why we reached out to him -- for hope, optimism, succor.

Hancock is one of the most optimistic people on Earth. He could watch a train derailment and convince you it was a wedding reception. He's that good at seeing the bright side.

We met in the summer shade near his home one morning last week, catching up while social distancing. Trying to make sense out of what's happening and what's ahead.

While Hancock won't guarantee there will be a college football season, there's a bit of philosopher in him that tips his hand.

"When you're in the middle of a blizzard, you think it's going to snow forever," he said. "But it's not. August will get here."

Yes, but will we see games at the end of that month? (The season is scheduled to kick off Saturday, Aug. 29.) The Power Five commissioners are expected to decide at least the near-term fate of the season next week.

"For me, I'm just waiting," Hancock said.

This season's CFP (again, if there is one) would be the most unique in the event's short seven-year history. Think of a season interrupted by the coronavirus. Think of the possibility of conference championship games not being played. (Remember that extra "data point" that doomed the Big 12 in the first CFP six years ago?)

What would the CFP do then to select teams?

"The conference says to the committee, 'Here's our champion,'" Hancock said.

More questions hang in the air like a boomed punt. Hancock said there has been "belt tightening" in his office anticipating a possible downturn in ESPN revenue due to a truncated season. (ESPN pays an average of $475 million annually to the FBS in playoff revenue. Hancock said the CFP office keeps a portion for operating expenses.)

Forfeits are a "non-issue," if there is a COVID-19 outbreak that affects the season.

"[The committee will] decide based on what happens on the field, and if a player can't play [due to the coronavirus], it will be like a player is injured," Hancock said.

This is the last season for six of the 13 members on the CFP Selection Committee due to complete their terms. That begs the question of what would happen to the CFP itself if there is no football?

The 2021 College Football Playoff semifinals are scheduled for the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Friday, Jan. 1. The CFP National Championship is set for Hard Rock Stadium outside of Miami.

If there isn't a season, would those sites be skipped in rotation or just pushed back a year? Those cities and bowls have invested big bucks to be part of the CFP.

Some cities and/or bowls seems destined to miss out as part of the rotation of sites. There doesn't look to be room if the season is canceled. The playoff is halfway through its 12-year contract with ESPN.

"We haven't discussed it," Hancock said. "We will talk about it when the time comes. Changing the rotation would be complex. Of course, much about these times is deeply complex. Adaptability is indeed the key word."

There's a lot the CFP hasn't discussed. At least not in person. How can it? The committee hasn't met in person since December 2019. Zoom has become a convenient tool.

For example, how would the committee evaluate teams that are only able to play six games versus teams that play nine this season? That could happen.

"They can tell," Hancock said. "They can discern. 'Hey, they're good.' That's why we have a committee. If this were simply a data-driven system, I'd have my doubts. If there wasn't a human committee, I wouldn't be as confident as I am."

In other words, they'll use the eye test.

As far as that old data-driven system, Hancock was in charge of that, too. You might remember it. From 2005-13, he oversaw the old BCS.  

Hancock is the face of the CFP, but it is the conference commissioners and team presidents who oversee the playoff. Hancock doubles as the best-guy-you've-ever-met welcoming you into college football's postseason.

He's been around so long, it seems like everybody knows him. The Oklahoma graduate spent 13 years running the Final Four. He's the spokesman for a selection committee that basically isn't allowed to speak about its selections (except for the chairman). He is a published author. In 2015, Hancock was named among the 10 most influential persons in college athletics by CBS Sports.

So when he speaks, Hancock projects a combination of knowledge and gravitas in a prisoner-of-the-moment state.

"We are certainly planning to play this year," he said of a game that is out of everybody's hands at the moment.

Only the coronavirus can blow the whistle to begin and end the season on time. But even if games are played, when will we see full stadiums again?

The CFP is "thinking" about modeling its venues for reduced attendance, Hancock said.

"For me, 1918 is the model," Hancock added. "We got through the Spanish Flu and things returned to normal, and they will again.

"We got through that; we will get through this. Medically and scientifically, we are way better than we were in 1918."


CBS Sports also discussed some other college football-related topics with Hancock. Here's a short question-and-answer session.

If you had a college-aged football playing son, as a parent, what would you tell him about playing right now?
Hancock: "I'd tell him to play. You're in a great place on campus with all those people looking out for you. I would understand other parents who don't."

What do you think this season is going to be like, generally?
Hancock: "Not normal. We're all going to look back in 20 years and say, 'Remember 2020, how bizarre it was?' But we're going to say we all got through it."

The only way there wouldn't be a playoff is if there are medical concerns at the end of the season. How much do you worry about that?
Hancock: "You worry about what you can control. I don't stay awake at night worrying about it."

Finally, how will college football look coming out of this?
Hancock: "I think it will be the same. I don't know how long it will be to get there. There is so much passion [for college football], it'll be the same. Eventually."