Is the College Football Playoff process too taxing, and is the committee too old?
With the first CFP Rankings of 2016 at hand, it is time to look at the voting group's makeup
The all-powerful College Football Playoff Selection Committee will be a person down before a vote is cast this week.
Bet you haven't noticed. The committee is supposed to be comprised of 13 folks, but because of attrition, it will be down to a Debating Dozen for the third time in two years.
In that span, three members have left for health reasons.
Archie Manning was one of the original 13 but took a leave of absence in 2014, citing health concerns relating to knee surgery. He formally left in March 2015.
Former USC athletic director Pat Haden collapsed on the sideline prior to the 2015 Notre Dame game. Two weeks later, he resigned from the committee shortly before the first CFP Rankings were released.
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr left in August because of unknown health reasons and has not been replaced.
That raises a key question as we start Year 3: While CFP committee membership may not be hazardous to your health, is it too taxing for the participants?
The current committee ranges in age from 43 to 77. The average age is slightly more than 61. That's about three years older than the also-powerful NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee, average age 58.5.
"Overall, no, this committee is not too old overall," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock, "The committee has gotten it right both years and that will happen again this year. These 12 people are highly respected, and they have a great perspective on the game."
That NCAA men's basketball committee is the closest comparison. The 10 members are similarly respected administrators (unlike the CFP, no former coaches).
The big difference is the basketball selection committee meets once a year, in March, to select its bracket. That is nothing compared to the six-week slog the CFP committee endures.
The weekly travel, said one person associated with the process said, "absolutely killed me."
That should be no surprise. Former member Mike Tranghese traveled more than 1,700 miles weekly from his home near Providence, Rhode Island, to the CFP meetings in Dallas. Haden flew 1,400 miles each week for six straight weeks from Los Angeles.
" ... My doctors advised me to reduce my traveling," Haden said upon his departure from the committee.
|2016 Committee member||Experience|
|Kirby Hocutt (chair)||Texas Tech AD|
|Barry Alvarez||Wisconsin AD|
|Jeff Bower||Former Southern Miss coach|
|Herb Deromedi||Former Central Michigan coach|
|Tom Jernstedt||Former NCAA executive VP|
|Bobby Johnson||Former Vanderbilt coach|
|Jeff Long||Arkansas AD|
|Rob Mullens||Oregon AD|
|Dan Radakovich||Clemson AD|
|Condoleezza Rice||Former U.S. Secretary of State|
|Tyrone Willingham||Former coach (three schools)|
Radakovich takes the school's private plane from tiny Clemson, South Carolina, to Atlanta on Sunday night then flies commercially to Dallas. On the way back, a staffer may meet him in Atlanta to get him up to speed on school dealings before flying back to Clemson.
All of it is, as they say, hectic. But there is no shortage of folks willing to join the exclusive club. It's great to have on your resume. It's great to wield that power.
It's an honor.
"Many, many people would love to serve on this committee. It is a prestigious posting," Hancock added. "I feel the same way about the men's basketball committee -- and, in fact, all other NCAA sports committees. Do not underestimate people's altruistic desire to give something back to the game.
"Because of the tremendous passion that comes with the popularity of FBS football, this committee is probably the most scrutinized."
But is the process -- for lack of a better word -- overwrought? Through two years, the process has become a weekly exercise in parsing words of a committee chair who says as little as possible to the media.
Remember the consternation caused over Jeff Long's "13th data point" comment two years ago? A case can be made it literally led to the Big 12 to add a championship game beginning in 2017. And who could forget "game control" just 12 months ago?
We come to praise the Arkansas AD, not rip him. He emerged each Tuesday with a wink and a nod, playfully sparring with media, who were trying to mine information.
It remains to be seen how big a celebrity Hocutt, Long's replacement, will become as the new face of the CFP.
"No, we do not believe [six weeks] is too much," Hancock said. "In the planning stages three years ago, we did consider compiling rankings only one time. But we knew fans would enjoy this way much more than if we just dropped rankings on them after the conference championship games."
In this case, would it be easier for the CFP committee to meet via online video to save time, travel and stress? As one who has gone through the mock selection process, that's a difficult to answer. Technology gains say yes. But as one CFP source noted: There's something to be said about looking into a person's eyes.
Would an every-other-week approach allow time for the season to breathe? The committee sort of painted itself in a corner in 2014 when TCU fell from third to sixth in one week despite beating Iowa State by 52 points.
The selection process since has been smoother, more obvious. The 2015 Football Four were just about a consensus -- Oklahoma, Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State. From the faraway perch of Nov. 1, 2016, this season looks the same.
The top four teams -- Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington -- conceivably could absorb a loss and still be conference champions. At least through two years, winning a conference seems to be a delineating point.
The CFP represents the first time college football has used a widely accepted ranking system without any tangible numbers attached to it.
In the old bowl era, there were the polls with voting totals and first-place votes to scrutinize each week.
In the BCS era, there were two human polls and six computers factored in. But in the CFP, a dozen individuals produce a weekly top 25 behind closed doors. In that sense, it's not unlike the College of Cardinals electing a pope. Puff of smoke and all that.
The committee does not release or discuss publicly specific voting totals for their top 25.
"We wanted the first ranking to take place after enough games had been played to allow a good evaluation," Hancock said. "Obviously, everyone is well into conference play after nine weeks. Again, nine weeks just felt like the sweet spot, and it is."
Overall interest in weekly rankings has become appointment TV on Tuesday nights. That's better than can be said about some of the games. Ratings for the CFP Semifinals dropped 36 percent last year when they were televised on New Year's Eve.
As for the committee's logistics, Hocutt arrives as early as Sunday night. Others arrive Monday.
They have two days to assemble the top 25. Very powerful, important people are back at work Wednesday morning having taken two days out of their week. Willingly.
That brings it back around full circle for the Debating Dozen. Why is 13 the magic number? The travel, wear and tear won't get any easier. Does the committee need to be perhaps bigger to take attrition into account?
"We figured the ideal size would be somewhere between 12 and 18," Hancock said. "We wanted enough committee members to give us to a wide range of perspectives but not too many to stifle conversations ... There's no magic number. We settled on 13 because it felt right -- it was not too small and not too large."
Attrition on the committee
* Former West Virginia AD Oliver Luck left after the first season in 2014 to take a job with the NCAA. Hocutt was named Luck's replacement in February 2015. This season is his first as the committee chair.
* A month later, in March 2015, Manning left and cited health reasons for the decision.
"I was honored when I was chosen to be on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee," Manning said in a statement. "But as I look ahead to the various commitments I have -- to my family, numerous time obligations around the country and to other conflicting demands -- I have concluded that I won't be able to return to the committee."
* In October 2015, Haden left because of health concerns. That same month, he collapsed on the sideline at the Notre Dame game. Haden's health has improved, according to a school official. He remains an ongoing consultant on the Coliseum renovation project.
* Carr, 71, stepped down in August. He did not respond to messages left for him.
"We regret that Archie, Pat and Lloyd had to step down. All did so for slightly different reasons--not all the reasons having to do with age," Hancock said. "As you know, there are five classifications of committee members: former coaches, players, administrators, journalists and sitting athletics directors. We also strive for geographic diversity. The former coaches, administrators and journalists bring great wisdom and experience to the process. Their viewpoint and ability to judge teams is tremendously valuable to the process. The best opportunity for younger people is former players, and I expect we will continue to spend time on that classification in the future. But this group gets it right, and that's our objective."
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