Welcome to College Football's Playoff Era

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Welcome to College Football's Playoff Era
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Playoffs? You want playoffs, and finally, you've got playoffs.

Nearly a century-and-a-half after the first college football game was played in 1869, a playoff will decide the national champion in college football's highest division. In this, the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament will be held at the end of the season to determine the 2014 champion.

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the CFP, is understandably stoked.

"The playoff will be extremely popular, the fans will love it," Hancock predicted when he spoke to Bleacher Report. "It's a joy to be involved in something that will be an iconic event."

 

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A New Era

Hancock mentioned the "bracket" aspect of the CFP, which is no doubt foreign to top-division college football but familiar to all NCAA championships, particularly the men's basketball tournament, which he ran for more than a decade. The CFP won't be March Madness, as it's only a four-team, three-game tournament, but it's a significant departure from what decided the mythical national championship in the past.

College football is used to having polls crown its annual champions. The Associated Press writers poll was founded in 1936, followed by the coaches poll with its various sponsors beginning in 1950. The Bowl Championship Series, which began in 1998 and lasted 16 years, pitted the purported top two teams in the regular season in a one-game championship showdown.

The BCS used a combination of polls and computer rankings to determine its top teams, a practice that will be discarded by the CFP. Instead of 170-plus voters and six computers, a 13-member selection committee will decide which four teams play in the playoff, as well as eight other teams for the four prestigious CFP bowls.

 

The Committee

The 13-member committee includes five current athletic directors representing the five power conferences, as well as retired administrators, coaches and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They are to serve two- to four-year terms, as the committee membership will eventually have turnover on an annual basis.

Meet the Playoff Selection Committee
Member Institution Job Alma Mater
Jeff Long (Chair) Arkansas* AD Ohio Wesleyan
Barry Alvarez Wisconsin* AD Nebraska
Michael Gould Air Force (ret.)* Superintendent Air Force
Pat Haden USC* AD USC
Tom Jernstedt NCAA (ret.) Executive VP Oregon
Oliver Luck West Virginia* AD West Virginia
Archie Manning Ole Miss (ret.)* NFL player Ole Miss
Tom Osborne Nebraska (ret.)* AD Hastings
Dan Radakovich Clemson* AD Indiana (PA)
Condoleezza Rice Stanford* Faculty Denver
Mike Tranghese Big East (ret.) Commissioner St. Michaels
Steve Wieberg USA Today (ret.) Sports writer Missouri
Tyrone Willingham Stan./ND/Wash. Coach Michigan State

* Recusal policy applies

 

How It Will Work

A protocol has been set up for the committee members, who will vote each week beginning the last weekend of October to determine their collective rankings. These rankings will be made available to the public each Tuesday until the final weekend of the regular season, when the playoff field as well as the other CFP bowl participants are announced.

"I feel very comfortable with the selection process and the transparency of our setup," said Hancock, who along with committee chair Jeff Long will be the lone voices of the committee during the season. "I really believe the committee's protocol is excellent and our recusal policy is even a little more stringent than for the NCAA tournament."

Nine committee members must recuse themselves when their respective institutions are discussed during their weekly meetings in Dallas. The committee will take a series of votes to settle on the pecking order of the teams under consideration each week.

The actual process is a bit complicated and perhaps unnecessarily convoluted.

Every week, each committee member will submit a "best 25" ballot in no particular order, then another series of balloting will narrow that down to six, and finally three. These steps will be repeated until all 25 teams are seeded.

The committee members will be tasked to pay close attention to all major matchups each week in order to be prepared for the balloting. While no computer rankings will be used to determine the rankings, the CFP has contractually enlisted the services of SportSource Analytics, which will provide numerous data sets at the disposal of the committee members.

But ultimately the final choices will be at the sole discretion of the 13 members, whose balloting each week will be anonymous, with each sworn to secrecy on how he or she voted.

CFP Schedule (2014 Season)
Game Date Site
Semifinal No. 1 Jan. 1, 2015 Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Semifinal No. 2 Jan. 1, 2015 Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Championship Jan. 12, 2015 AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

*All games televised by ESPN

This year, the final pairings will be revealed on Dec. 7, and there will be controversy. Whereas during the BCS era the No. 3-ranked teams were usually the aggrieved, in the CFP regime that snub will be keenly felt by No. 5 instead.

That's OK, Hancock said, as the committee will be fully prepared to defend its decisions. Besides, debates and arguments are simply part of the very fabric of college football.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Hancock said. "Sure, teams will be disappointed, especially those that came very close, but there will always be debates, as that's a reflection on the popularity of college football. That'll never change, and we don't want it to change."

 

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