Does the College Football Playoff Committee Have Too Much Power?

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Does the College Football Playoff Committee Have Too Much Power?
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

If there's a constant in college football's changing postseason, it's that there's usually something to gripe about. 

The old bowl system didn't always put the top two teams against each other, so the BCS was created. But the BCS was too controversial, the computer formulas too arbitrary. The years 2004 (five undefeated teams), 2007 (when No. 1 Mizzou and No. 2 West Virginia lost in Week 14) and 2011 (the Alabama-LSU rematch) proved to be difficult for determining the best teams. 

So, a four-team playoff was created to let more than two teams play it out on the field. 

The College Football Playoff, which begins this season, won't eliminate controversy; on the contrary, it enhances it since the field is expanded.  

The College Football Playoff's executive director Bill Hancock, the former executive director of the BCS, hasn't exactly put anxious minds at ease either. Via Vahe Gregorian of The Kansas City Star, Hancock said the voting process among the 13-person committee will involve plenty of "common sense": 

So if there’s any secret sauce this time around, Hancock said, it’s 'common sense.'

That means logical criteria such as strength of schedule, conference championships won, comparisons of head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incentivizing margin of victory).

The issue with Hancock's explanation is that "common sense" is too vague of a concept. What might be common sense to one person might not be to another.

For that matter, how wide-ranging is the definition of common sense within the committee? Getting everyone on the same page sounds like a near-impossible task. Consider, for example, this statement from Arkansas athletic director and committee chair Jeff Long, via ESPN's Brett McMurphy:  

Q: What information will the committee members consider when voting? 

A: 'I think you’re going to get 13 different views,' said Long, the committee chairman. The members will emphasize win-loss records, strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head results and results against common opponents. 

Strength of schedule has been touted as an important playoff prerequisite, but it's possible, if not likely, that it is weighed differently among each committee member. Who knows, in time the metric may become obsolete. 

Long also raised eyebrows when he explained in April what the committee would be concentrating on.  

"We don’t think in terms of most deserving on the rèsumè," Long said via Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News"We’re focused on the best four teams and the best ranking in the [playoff] top 25. Again, our focus is the best, not deserving."

We're parsing words, but there's nevertheless a distinct difference between "deserving" and "best." If the four most deserving teams aren't selected to the playoff, then what was the point of the regular season?

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Between statements from Hancock and Long, it's easy to see why there are trust issues among fans and media toward the selection process. There's a lot of decision-making power at hand for 13 men and women to be doing something on good faith. 

There's criteria for voting, to be sure—McMurphy broke down the five-step process in April—but public statements from the CFP come across more as a plea for trust. And fans are rarely the trusting type.  

The BCS, for all of its issues, at least had formulas and computer rankings it could point to. They were convoluted but accessible all the same—not to mention capable of taking the blame. 

Of course, the BCS was also subjective because it had human elements. Its standings were formulated by a three-pronged approach using the the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Harris Interactive College Football Poll and an average of six computer rankings. 

The selection committee is essentially getting rid of the BCS middle man, which was not human. While it's more efficient, consolidating that power is scary. One vote here is far more influential than in the days where the Associated Press determined national champions. Determining a playoff field is important to fans. Leaving that responsibility in someone else's hands is not easily done. 

When the final playoff rankings are revealed on Sunday, December 7, the fears or hopes of many will be confirmed. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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