These days, Jeff Long’s Twitter mentions should come with disclaimers. Don’t let your children near them. Latex gloves should be required before scrolling through the endless stream of scorn.
Every week on Tuesday night—right when the Arkansas athletic director and College Football Playoff committee chairman exits his live appearance on ESPN for the Dallas airport—the outrage and passion pour in through an outlet driven by instant access.
Although Long could easily ignore the expletives en masse, the repetitive misuse of “your” and the other personal attacks, he doesn’t shut them out entirely. In fact, Long takes in this feedback—at least to a reasonable threshold—as he winds down after a long couple of days.
“When I’m crawling onto that commercial flight home, I might just flip on Twitter and take a peek to see who’s riled up most,” Long said. “But I really don’t let it affect my outlook on my day job at Arkansas or my job on the committee. I know that fans are passionate and understand. Some of them cross the line with the way they express themselves, but I skip over those pretty quickly.”
This is the life of the College Football Playoff ambassador: airplanes, obscenities and countless hours of work that will undoubtedly be underappreciated. It requires skin as thick as armor, a wealth of football intellect and the unique ability to establish an opinion and then let go of these strong thoughts when explaining collective reasoning to the football world.
Long makes up only 8 percent of the committee influence—the same as every other member—although his impact on this process is far more significant. He is the face and voice of a new playoff system, delivering weekly joy to four fanbases and serving as the grim reaper for all others.
Anger will no longer be directed at a faceless computer program; it will be sent in bulk to a man who, despite the seemingly impossible task, was constructed to handle it.
Part 1: Gathering Intel in a Football Cathedral
The grim reaper just finished explaining his fabulous new football-watching palace. You can hear the joy in his voice as he describes his viewing quarters, a room he perfected knowing just how his Saturdays would be spent.
“I splurged on myself,” Long said. “I have a wife and two daughters and no hobbies, so I typically spend money on them and not myself. But I did splurge back in the summer. I bought three 4K televisions.”
Long’s voice practically beams when he describes in detail the resolution differences between 4K technology and HD. And as he paints a picture of his den—one as clear as the picture in his 65-inch centerpiece and the two 60s surrounding it—you start to see where job and passion collide.
@jefflongUA how drunk were you guys? Notre dame #10 ole miss #4 ??— Ryan pierce (@thaatguyry) October 29, 2014
On any given Saturday, Long copes with the same eyeball and screen limitations that you do, even while operating with a dream setup. When three televisions won’t cut it, Long will stream another game on his iPad. And if the game streaming on his iPad grows in intrigue and importance, he’ll promote it to one of the larger televisions and reshuffle the entire room, like a bar owner meeting the demands of vocal patrons.
The only demands Long has to meet are his own, which are different from most athletic directors'. He has to see everything, understand everything and, eventually, be able to articulate what he and the committee observed as a collective unit. Thanks to his football-laced background, this task is easier for him than it would be for most.
In his former life—before he had his first administration gig—he was a college football player and then a college football coach. Long played at Ohio Wesleyan and followed up his playing career with coaching stops at Miami of Ohio, North Carolina State and Michigan among others. It was during these coaching days that he learned the nuances of watching film and assessing performances in a different light.
“I am definitely watching football differently than I have in the past and really looking at it more back to my coaching days early in my career where I was looking for how teams were playing, attacking defenses and preparing for offenses,” Long said. “I slipped into being more of a fan over 20 years of not having to coach, so that’s come back out in me watching it more like a coach.”
Before the committee began meeting each Monday and Tuesday, Long was watching roughly 20 hours of football every week. Now that the committee meetings are taking up a good chunk of his time prior to the reveal of the latest College Football Playoff Top 25, Long says his viewing time is down some, although still in the range of 15 hours.
He loads up his DVR, views the coaches’ tapes when they become available and also spends his Saturdays much like you spend yours. If you follow Long on Twitter, you know—despite the intensity of his schedule—he’s up well past midnight with the rest of us football degenerates, waiting until the last meaningful late-night matchup has concluded.
Hey @CFBPlayoff fans, who is still with me?— Jeff Long (@jefflongUA) November 9, 2014
This isn’t necessarily anything new for Long, though his reasoning behind watching games deep into the night has evolved.
“I was always staying up late to watch Pac-12 games because if my own team was playing that day, I really used it to unwind,” Long said. “I couldn’t go to bed early because I still had the adrenaline rush of my own games on a Saturday, but now I might have three of them up at once.”
Part 2: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
It’s not just the endless hours of tape and live results.
In fact, the actual information-gathering portion is only a small part of the process for Long, who still has to be an athletic director at a major SEC program all while trying to sort through the various quirks of a new playoff system. As a result, his weekly schedule is anything but ordinary.
When the last meaningful game has finally ended somewhere past midnight and into Sunday morning, Long gathers as much sleep as he possibly can—which really isn’t much—before waking up and digging through the DVR and catching up on football action that he might have missed.
Sunday morning is basically an extension of Saturday. Long catches up on relevant football from the previous day, adding notes and details throughout. Once he has consumed all the football time will allow, he crafts his own Top 25 before he heads to the airport.
Late Sunday afternoon, Long leaves for Dallas. Once he arrives, he unpacks his items, reviews his materials once more—ensuring everything is in order for the day to follow—and again tries to stock up on sleep, the most valuable in-season commodity.
The next morning, Long meets with Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, to cover matters that need to be discussed before the group convenes. At 2 p.m., the College Football Playoff Selection Committee gathers, and the doors close.
“We work typically up until dinner at around 6:30 and we only take about 30 minutes for dinner. Then we go back to the meetings,” Long said. “We might work as late as 10 or get out as early as 7:30.”
What’s on the menu, you ask? Let’s just say the expense reports, as it stands, aren't exactly generating closed-door meetings with the accounting department.
The next day, the committee has breakfast at 8 a.m. before beginning discussions at 8:30. They allocate time until 2 p.m., though the group has finished early on more than one occasion.
Once the final point has been made and all differences have been addressed, the committee’s work for that week is complete. It looks so easy on paper, although the path to this point is anything but.
While the elite teams within and on the outskirts of the first four ultimately suck up the spotlight, a significant portion of the committee’s time is spent on teams you never actually hear about.
“We certainly look at more than 25 teams," Long said. “We stop ranking at 25, but there are a group of others outside that 25 that we’re assessing and evaluating. We probably spent more time on 21 through 25 in our discussions and analysis, which would lead you to believe that we talked a lot about those that didn’t appear in the Top 25.”
When the committee has agreed on all teams in the Top 25—or perhaps "compromised" is the appropriate term—the ranking is sealed and the room disperses. Not Long, though. His most agonizing portion has only just begun.
Part 3: Hello, World
This is the part of the job you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. It's where football opinion morphs into football messenger. After all, someone has to deliver the news.
For the remaining portion of Tuesday afternoon, Long has to let go of his own opinions. He has to remove himself from the stances he took just hours earlier. He has to distance himself from the countless hours of football he only just consumed and instead find a different voice entirely, a voice that represents an entire room.
And, most important to our interests, Long must prepare to justify the latest playoff standings on live television.
“The rest of the time I spend trying to prepare for the media that evening,” Long said. “I try to get the committee in my mind and get the thoughts of Jeff Long the individual committee member out of my mind. It’s important that I not just represent my view. I have to represent the view of the 11 others in that room. That takes some preparation.”
Although Long isn’t logging hours in front of the cameras—more like minutes—his brief Q&A with ESPN’s Rece Davis on Tuesday night following the release of the Top 25 is significant for many reasons.
For starters, we never were allowed to ask the BCS any questions about why it did certain things. Putting the committee chairman in the spotlight is a welcome change of pace to the process. It doesn’t mean we’ll always hear what we want or expect to hear—depending on the perspective—although this transparency is most appreciated. Better yet, it's entirely new.
“The toughest for me, personally, is sitting there with an earpiece in, staring at a camera lens and talking with Rece Davis,” Long said. “I get a question, and I have to very quickly put it into the context of how the committee would feel about it. Your first reaction is how you as an individual would answer that question. When I may seem unsure or delayed in my answer, it’s only because I’m trying to answer in the voice of the entire committee and not just Jeff Long.”
When the final question has been asked, Long’s work as committee chairman is complete, at least until the next meaningful game is played. He removes his earpiece, takes off his microphone and makes a dash to the airport.
It's at this moment that his job comes full circle with the previous week. Long is able to take off his chairman hat and throw on some more familiar Arkansas-branded apparel, at least until the next meaningful game is played.
“The two days of meetings for the selection committee are full days,” Long said. “They really take me out of the work at the University of Arkansas, and then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday back on campus are much more intense. It’s just much busier because you’re cramming five days of work into three.”
As Long tucks himself into an uncomfortable seat 35,000 feet in the air for the short flight home, he has a few hours to relax before returning to his full-time job and everyday life. It is his routine, although there is nothing routine about it.
Before Long stocks up on a few extra minutes of the season’s most valued commodity, the vocal and visual ambassador of college football's new postseason has one final item to address.
He cracks open his iPad, although this time he's not watching film. Instead, Long opens up his Twitter mentions to gauge the response, knowing well in advance some of the nastiness that awaits.
Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.