Musings from College Football Playoff meetings

LAS COLINAS, Texas – The College Football Playoff is still camouflaged by vague terminology to the point where that there’s only one truism.

Whom you play matters.

What’s evident at this week’s playoff meetings at the Four Seasons Las Colinas is the intricacies of this process – and how teams are judged in unique situations – will simply have to wait.

Even for those embroiled in the game.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, for example, is curious whether the Big 12 will be disadvantaged by not playing a conference championship game.

“There’s concern, of course,” said Castiglione, part of the playoff’s athletic director advisory board. “Until we fully understand how a team’s profile will be evaluated…It might turn out to be a benefit. We’ll find out here soon.”

Not that soon. Maybe eight months from now, when the inevitable one-loss Big 12 team is fourth or fifth in the final playoff rankings.

But the most certainly Playoff executive director Bill Hancock could give on Tuesday is that whether a conference plays an eight- or nine-game league schedule doesn’t matter, only the totality of a team’s resume.

Hello, SEC.

Any more definition would require hard guidelines or advanced metrics, which haven’t been part of the Playoff’s operating style thus far.

Hancock said no single RPI metric would be used in the selection process.

The playoff schedule is confusing enough, with six rotating 'playoff' bowl games with only two of them hosting the semifinals each year. No doubt the generalization of the selection process will force observers into subjective thinking.

“What matters is everybody’s schedule as a whole, all 12-13 games,” Hancock said.

That’s great for when the season is playing out but not so great for those looking for clarity on how the committee will operate. A faction of Big 12 leadership believes sitting that last weekend out keeps the league's top team safe. Some years that might be true – until it's not, and the fan base angst mushrooms.

The commissioners this week are taking a broad view at the process, including how rankings get released and recusal policies for selection committee members with conference affiliation.

Maybe, by week’s end, more clarity will surface.

Though no major decisions were made Tuesday, Hancock said consensus among administrators suggests late October will be the target date for the first selection committee poll release. The poll will go 1-25.

THE OL’ STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE ARGUMENT:  As the only power league with a nine-game schedule plus a conference championship game, the Pac-12 can make the case for the country’s strongest schedule, commissioner Larry Scott said.

“If you can find some stats to disprove it, I will backtrack,” Scott said.

The SEC could argue it plays the toughest teams but in many cases it doesn’t play those teams often enough. In a 14-team league with an eight-game schedule, SEC teams can avoid each other. Pac-12 champion Stanford played six games end-of-season top 25 opponents if you count Arizona State twice. The Cardinal and Sun Devils played in the regular season and the conference title game.

Scott said “ideally we'd run the race on a similar course” with conferences all playing nine-game schedules. That won’t happen with the SEC on Sunday announcing its commitment to eight games. The ACC could stay at eight, too, knowing it has a five-game-per year agreement with Notre Dame.

Scott has a point, though because of that toughs schedule his best team might need 10 tough conference wins to get access.

PLANNING THE PLAYOFF PROGRAMMING: ESPN brought several executives to the playoff meetings as it outlines its nearly $6-billion playoff investment.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will feature six playoff games, including the two semifinal games, and ESPN wants those games “packaged very tightly together,” ESPN senior vice president of programming acquisitions Burke Magnus said.

Which means, New Year’s Day games such as Capital One Bowl or Gator Bowl must be reshuffled. ESPN and the bowl games are evaluating that process.

“When the semifinals rotate through the six it’s not an unknown quantity – that’s important to us from a packaging and branding standpoint,” Magnus said.

The network will plan programming around whatever information the selection committee has to share during the season, Magnus said.

“There’s going to be a different cadence to the information,” Magnus said.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: The highest seed of the playoff will essentially get preference on semifinal location – in next year’s case, the Sugar or the Rose.

But the selection committee could face difficult matchup questions depending on which teams qualify. For example, if the No. 1 seed gets its pick, the No. 2 seed could get stuck playing, say, UCLA or USC in the Rose Bowl.

The solution to that: Get the top seed.

“Which do you prefer, seeding or location?” Castiglione said. “Protect the seed. If tams exercise the right to a higher seed, they should have preference.

DON’T FORGET: If UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero had to stress one thing to the selection committee, it’d be this – don't forget about seeds 5-12.

The committee seeds all 12 playoff bowl participants: Four semifinalists and eight teams in the host bowls.

“The implications of 5 and down the line are crucial,” Guerrero said. “The whole world will be focused on 1-4.”

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