Last week in this space, I asked that media members be kept off of the selection committee for the four team college football playoff. The gist of that post was that the risk of getting a horribly biased blowhard or three on the panel that chooses the most significant bowl pairings was too great.
The BCS has long been derided as a system corrupted by power and money, and rightfully so. But at the end of the model runs and final poll ballots, the BCS usually got it right and pitted the two best teams in the country against each other to determine the national champion.
With a yet to be formulated selection committee, how certain are we that the best four teams in the country are chosen to play in the three game slate? Fans won’t stand for a slate that features the four highest ranked conference champions at the expense of leaving out a one-loss team that didn’t win its division. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Alabama all deserved their shots at the title despite not winning their conference. Would any of those three teams make in the four-team field in 2014?
In the BCS system, one coach, one athletic director or one conference commissioner had little chance of effectively influencing the outcome of the selection process. One or two votes may have been influenced but the poll participant pool was sufficiently large to dilute such influence and make it unlikely that a less than deserving team made it in the big game. Now, there are two big games.
With no more computers and a single selection committee—which could end up being much smaller than the collective BCS poll participant pool—has the chance of corrupt influence increased, decreased, or stayed about the same?
Flash back to the 2004 season, when USC was paired against Oklahoma for the title and Auburn was left out. Tommy Tuberville lobbied very hard to get his Tigers into the game but was forced to “settle” on a Sugar Bowl berth.
But another coach was much more successful at influencing the system—Mack Brown. The Rose Bowl already had Michigan and really, really wanted to invite Pac-12 runner-up Cal. But Brown was having none of that. He took to the airwaves, whine incessantly and twisted enough arms and votes to ram the Longhorns down the Rose’s throat.
It’s really hard to corrupt a large process that selects only two teams. It’s much easier to Mack up a smaller process that selects four. It’s hard to fault a coach for acting in his program’s best interest and you can bet that the coach of a borderline 4/5 team is going to double-time his efforts to get his team in there.
The challenge is designing and operating a model that prevents a two-loss Big 10 or ACC champion from leapfrogging a higher ranked and clearly better one-loss SEC or Pac-12 runner up.
Keeping media members off of the selection committee helps get that system in place. Having a sufficiently large and sufficiently transparent selection committee does, too.
If the history of the BCS tells us anything at all, it tells us that for at least the first few years, there will be some jaw-dropping WTF moments in the selection process. Tweaks to the system in response to those events will eventually correct the flaws and we’ll have a credible and convincing process. But until then, don’t underestimate the ability of the decision-makers to screw this up.
And don’t underestimate the chances of a deserving team getting Macked out of a slot in the playoffs.