IOWA CITY — A 13-member blue ribbon panel of college football experts and national leaders will guide the sport through its transition from the Bowl Championship Series to a four-team playoff beginning next season.
The panel was announced Wednesday and the names include former coaches (Barry Alvarez, Tom Osborne, Tyrone Willingham), former players or current school officials (Archie Manning, Pat Haden, Oliver Luck, Dan Radakovich, Jeff Long), national leaders (Condoleezza Rice, Gen. Mike Gould), former administrators (Mike Tranghese, Tom Jernstedt) and a journalist (Steve Wieberg). They all understand the level of scrutiny involved and the required transparency for it to function successfully.
“I think I’ve experienced plenty of heat in my life,” said Rice, the former United States Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
The committee’s charge is to select the four best college football teams based subjectively but with relevant criteria. The semifinals will be played within two bowls but the championship is held outside the structure and is bid out independently. In 2014, the Rose and Sugar bowls serve as semifinal hosts. The Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach bowls will rotate as national semifinals every three seasons. The committee also will determine pairings for the four other upper-echelon bowl games.
Among the primary factors used to select teams for both the playoff and the bowls include win-loss record, strength of schedule, league championships and head-to-head results. Special consideration will be given to teams who may have lost a game without vital player (such as a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback) but was dominant throughout the season.
The committee, which is headed by Arkansas Athletics Director Jeff Long, will meet five or six times during the season in Dallas and provide top 25 rankings every other week. The members will be assigned a region or conference outside their current zone — Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletics director, will stay away from the Big Ten, for instance — and evaluate other games. None of the members will be paid.
While the specific criteria is far from established, strength of schedule is a key element in separating teams. That’s especially true of non-conference scheduling.
“I believe we’ll look back in three, five, seven years of this playoff and say, ‘Look what it’s done to enhance non-conference scheduling,’” College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said.
While the members represent different institutions and regions, all believed they could be fair and objective when evaluating the best teams. If there’s a conflict of interest, the panelist will be recused.
“We’re checking our loyalties at the door,” Manning said.
“I think that’s our responsibility to judge the teams as we see them,” Alvarez said. “We have access to their games, we’re going to have access to multiple statistics, and that’s our responsibility to judge the best teams.”
The upper bowl structure will prove nearly as controversial for the committee as selecting the four-team playoff. Champions of the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and ACC conference earn automatic bids to either a semifinal or a major bowl, along with the highest-ranked champion from outside the power conferences. Some bowls have arrangements with certain leagues — Rose with the Pac-12 and Big Ten; Sugar with the SEC and Big 12; Orange with the ACC and either the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame — while the Fiesta, Cotton and Peach bowls have non-specific availability. If a bowl, such as the Rose, hosts a semifinal, a league champion that doesn’t qualify for the four-team playoff shifts to a non-specific bowl.
But gone are the days where the major bowls select teams based on tradition or ticket sales. There also is no limit to how many teams from a league can qualify for the semifinals or upper-echelon bowl game
“The bowls will not have a voice,” Hancock said. “The team will be assigned by the committee.”
Geography will not play a role for semifinal match-ups, but it is a factor for the bowl games, Hancock said.
While many panelists previously had objected to a playoff, all rallied behind its merits Wednesday.
“Having a semifinal will add to the excitement and the interest,” said Luck, West Virginia’s athletics director. “I do think this system is well thought out. It’s solid and an improvement.”
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