Friday, June 22, 2012

Keep media members off of the playoff selection committee, please

When the BCS commissioners flesh out the details of the still gestating four-team seeded playoff, the one group that should kept far away from the selection committee is the media.

The sports media folks already have venues for making their influence felt when it comes to ranking college football teams. Their print, broadcast and internet platforms give them a loud enough voice, but they also have this thing called the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

While there’s less conflict of interest in the AP Poll than there is in the USAToday Coaches Poll, there’s enough bias and outright incompetence to write books about.

For an extreme example, have a look at Craig James’ AP ballot.


Before anyone accuses me of unfairly using an anecdotal example as evidence of general media incompetence, consider this question: How trustworthy is a poll that would even consider giving Craig James a voice?

Thomas Watts at has an excellent post about the wisdom of having a selection committee choose the four teams who ultimately play for the national championship. He’s got a point—the human element of the BCS formula is responsible for matching Alabama against LSU in the 2012 BCS Championship Game. If the BCS got the matchup wrong, it wasn’t the computers’ fault.

It was the two polls. For all intents and purposes, what are polls if they aren’t just a big fat selection committee?

Do we really want to concentrate the human element into a smaller group and dramatically increase the chance that bias or incompetence screw it up?

The James example helps to illustrate the folly of including media on the selection panel. James wasn’t clever enough to conceal his level of asshattery. But there are many horribly biased members of the media who are clever enough and including even one or two of them on a panel of this importance is a risk we shouldn’t be willing to accept.

Don’t get me wrong. There are capable and at least superficially unbiased members of the media. Andy Staples would be a good one. Stewart Mandel is another. Tony Barnhart is trustworthy. Ivan Maisel is thoughtful and seems fair-minded. As much as I would like to see the analytical competence of Gary Danielson participating in the selection process, it wouldn’t be worth the risk of having someone like Skip Bayless or Jason Whitlock muck everything up.

If you’re going to have panel members who aren’t former coaches, athletic directors or conference commissioners, you’re better served by having bloggers on it. There are more of them to choose from, they’re at least as knowledgeable as your nationally syndicated morning talk show host and unlike said host, their bias is as clear as the colors of their blog background. Rather than concealing their bias they embrace it without letting it get in the way of delivering the truth.

Better still, go find six avid college football fans from around the country. Joe Sixpack consumes college football all day Saturday, from the opening credits of Game Day to the midnight wrap up on Sportscenter. They’re the real experts. They’re better equipped to pick the best four teams than the guy who turns a cute phrase in a thrice-weekly column and the guy who bloviates for hours on end during his radio broadcast. For far too many of those knuckleheads, picking the best four consists of “eenie, meenie, minie moe, they stay home and they shall go” then stroking each other on Twitter about their thoughtful and difficult selections.

We should recognize that empanelling a selection committee will introduce bias to the process and that there will be controversy over who gets those coveted last two spots in the four-team playoff. Let’s not feed the inferno of outrage by including people who already have sufficient venues of influence. The risk of some clown getting in there and screwing it all up is too great.

UPDATE: Just moments after this post went up, CBS’ Dennis Dodd posted his recommendation for a 50-person selection committee. The overwhelming majority? Media members.

The most glaring omission? Andy Staples. The nuttiest inclusion? Mike Bianchi or Glenn Guilbeau in a tie.

I rest my case.

UPDATE II: Bruce Feldman reads IBCR. Or, great minds think alike.


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