Condi Rice on Playoff Selection Committee? Why That's a Good Thing

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Condi Rice on Playoff Selection Committee? Why That's a Good Thing
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Former Auburn coach Pat Dye became the latest to insert himself into the Condi Rice controversy by claiming all the former secretary of state "knows about football is what somebody told her. Or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football, you've got to play with your hand in the dirt."

I happen to think the ability to understand a spreadsheet and make sense of it is pretty important, too.

Rice's apparent inclusion on the panel that will decide the College Football Playoff field beginning next season has been derided by many, who invariably trotted out the tripe adage that "you have to have played and/or coached football" to understand football.

If that utter nonsense is true, then someone who hasn't served in the military should not be allowed to run for president, since that person could become the next commander-in-chief. And many of the current baseball front office executives should be immediately fired since they barely played Little League ball, if at all.

The fact that Rice—and others whose names have surfaced—are on the committee is a good thing. It shows the forward-thinking nature of the people (Management Committee) who will be running the College Football Playoff. It's not BCS 2.0, but something better.

Harry How/Getty Images

Since 2004, when the current formula was adopted to give decisive weight to the voters, the BCS has been nothing more than a beauty pageant dominated by groupthink. The 170-plus voters who took part in the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll typically were easily swayed by the media entities (read: ESPN and CBS) that have certain vested business interests. For example, the 2006, '07 and '11 SEC Championship games all served as infomercials for that conference and each achieved the desired effect.

The new committee is less likely to be under that kind of influence. The individuals on the committee have various backgrounds outside of football or athletics: Pat Haden was a lawyer and broadcaster before becoming USC's athletic director; Oliver Luck, an executive who developed Houston's new sports facilities; Michael Gould, with a distinguished career in the Air Force; Tom Jernstedt, a noted guru who ran the NCAA basketball tournament for 40 years; and a three-term congressman named Tom Osborne.

This committee essentially will be a jury, given certain rules to consider the merits of the case and, at the end, identify the four teams that should be in a playoff at the end of the season. Each member will be provided plenty of data as well as videos throughout the season. Don't think for a second that these people aren't football junkies, least of all Rice.

With all that information in hand, they'll render a considered decision; one that might still be controversial, but should be well-reasoned. They will have their own personal biases, but those should be mitigated with their collectively diverse backgrounds. They will argue fiercely for their points of view, but they also know the finer points of negotiations to reach the best consensus.

Rice's background, actually, is ideal in this—take it from someone who has somewhat of a similar background though nowhere close to her rarefied air. I have a post-graduate education in political science and co-founded the foreign policy news site RealClearWorld as part of my day job. My passion for poll number-crunching is only matched by my passion for football number-crunching. I never ran for office nor played football, though I've covered both as a journalist.

While Bismarck called politics the art of the possible, there's a very scientific element to it as well. The first course in many graduate PoliSci programs is often probability and statistics. Then come logic and game theory, as part of the effort to hone your skills in critical thinking. After that, you get to learn how to deal with irrational bad actors. In some ways, this kind of training is ideally suited for the NFL front office. In fact, baseball had a similar epiphany a decade ago and now teams frequently mine MBAs for general managers.

Football, at the professional level and at some colleges, is moving in that direction as well. A decade ago, there might've been only a QC guy or two breaking down data while fetching coffee at each team. Now, there are roomfuls of people doing just that, and growing. Whether these people have played football is basically irrelevant.

That brings us back to Dr. Rice. It'd be one thing if she's someone who couldn't tell a first down from a checkdown, but that's clearly not the case. This woman is the daughter of a coach who aspired to be the NFL commissioner. She might not have played football, but she knows plenty about evaluating performance, football or otherwise, and that's what she'll do on the committee.

So here we have a football nut who's helped to take down the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein, but eagerly signed up for something several notches below her pay grade to work on this committee. If anything, the only question really should be: Who's a better choice?

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