Playoff selection committee faces serious questions

What would the committee do if Jameis Winston was charged with sexual assault? (USATSI)
What would the committee do if Jameis Winston was charged with sexual assault? (USATSI)

NEW YORK -- The college football playoff committee is composed of 13 members, which means 13 unique opinions, and possibly 13 different interpretations of what parameters should matter most in choosing the four best teams starting next season.

Confused yet?

College football postseasons are about generating discussion, and that’s exactly what was on display this week in New York as three committee members shed light on the looming selection process.

Inevitably, Wednesday’s session only accentuated the challenges of this four-team setup.

Yes, we know. You might want eight teams. Heck, half the crowd from the IMG athletics forum did too when asked by a panelist to raise hands if you think an eight-team playoff is on the way in the next five years.

Actually, the other half had it right.

What we have for awhile is a four-team playoff that could become a major freak show if not handled delicately. Perhaps that’s no surprise. There are at least four teams this year that make a compelling argument for the final two spots behind FSU and Auburn.

“If someone is left out, there was probably one thing they could have done on their own to be able to discount that circumstance,” said Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, one of five sitting ADs on the council.

Two things are certain after hearing from Radakovich, former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and longtime administrator Tom Jernstedt:

The committee seems ready to make tough calls based on much more than win-loss records and conference titles.

The committee must find a collective voice by next fall, or else decision-making will be all over the map.

Some committee decisions will be easy, like the committee not releasing a preseason poll.

But consider a few debatable perspectives that came out of Wednesday’s forum.

The first is the assertion that a team with late-season momentum – the hot team that’s ranked, say, fifth or sixth in the committee rankings – could jump a team ahead of them with an equal or better record.

“Those final conference games are going to be critical,” Osborne said.

For a comparison to this season, think about a two-loss Stanford or one-loss Michigan State getting in. Both looked good down the stretch and won a conference championship game. Both have looked dominant at times. Stanford plays in the Pac-12, arguably the second-best conference this year, so maybe the league should have a rep in the top four.

Also noteworthy is Osborne said he consults with former coaches that he knows for objective views on teams, including former Auburn coach Pat Dye, the same one who ripped Condoleezza Rice for being on the committee. 

For PR purposes, relying on objectivity from Dye would probably be a mistake.

Anyway, it’s clear teams can create momentum among the 13-person committee with a solid November, and the committee believes it can look favorably upon late surgers while considering the 15-week body of work of all teams.

Good luck with that, says Alabama and Baylor, both with one November loss, each with a loss in the final three weeks of the season but with solid resumes overall. If Alabama could tackle Chris Davis, it'd be playing FSU in January.

Then there’s the injury factor. It’s unclear how true the committee can realistically stay to the promise that teams that lost because of injuries can get in.  

For example, Jernstedt says he can see a scenario where a team ranked outside of the top four clearly because of injury could vault a team in front of it.

“I think it will come to that. It will be that close,” Jernstedt said. “The difference between four and five and six and seven and eight is so paper thin. Everything is going to go through a magnifying glass.”

That means this scenario is plausible: Michigan State loses early in the season because it was missing several key players to injury, vaults an undefeated No. 4 team anyway.

Or flip that scenario using, say, off-field problems. What if an undefeated FSU was left out of a playoff if Jameis Winston was charged with sexual assault? No chance, right? That team earned its way. Not sure the committee would have the gravitas to extract a clear-cut playoff team for that reason.

No doubt injuries should be considered, but to what degree must be determined by the committee.

“You have to look at the teams individually and their body of work,” Radakovich said.

The committee will do this without releasing individual votes for the top four, only a collective ranking. Despite the desire for full transparency, Jernstedt says releasing everyone’s ranking would be “too difficult to do.”

“How much is too much (information)?” Jernstedt said. “We want to do it the right way.”

With one vote, the committee will need one (or two) dominant voices in the room to corral everyone’s input and set the selection parameters accordingly.

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