Committee Football: Selecting a Champion is Still Tricky

By Chad Peltier on February 13, 2013 at 3:45p

"A committee is an animal with four back legs." — John le Carre

The setup sounds deceptively simple: 14-20 experts sit around a table, look at the same objective data, and select the top four college football teams in the country. 

Incredulous CoopCoach Coop wants to represent the Big Ten

While the upcoming college football playoff system was designed to be more simple than the current Bowl Championship Series, its designers are coming to find that fewer moving parts doesn't make the process of selecting a champion any easier. 

With recent news that the playoff selection committee will consist of 14-20 members, with at least one from each of the ten FBS conferences, it's an opportune time to discuss just how difficult this job will be and why some may soon miss the BCS.  

Let me be clear: I have not and will not be shedding any tears for the current BCS bowl system in its final year, but we need tempered expectations for the playoff system. 

To begin with, the whole "settle it on the field" argument is misleading anyway – the better team always wins the game, right? If that were true then the transitive property would actually carry some weight

According to ESPN:

The selection committee will receive a "jury charge" from the commissioners. In ranking the teams, the committee will consider strength of schedule, where the games were played, conference championships and whether teams lost games because of injuries to key players.

These seem like legitimate metrics to judge the top four teams in the country (though I'd also suggest they look at some Football Outsiders statistics), but even when looking at common objective data, it is simply difficult to make comparisons based upon limited information. Here's the truly scary thing: If the playoff selection committee were comprised of 14-20 Nate Silver clones, the best four teams might not get selected and fans would still complain.

In fact, that's one of the reasons why the BCS computer rankings were introduced in the first place. They use objective information to rank teams without bias and without the corrupting influence of college football pundits. It partly abstracts the ranking process away from any individual or group, sheltered from conference lobbying, flashy offensive performances, or good stories.

Obviously not from this season...Maybe fans should reconsider support for playoffs

There’s no way four football teams will clearly align in a tidy fashion. This past year, Notre Dame and Alabama would have been obvious choices. Then who? Florida? Georgia? Oregon? Kansas State? Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel was playing better than any of them.

It’s the same dilemma every year. Only now, instead of blaming six computers, 59 coaches or the Harris Interactive Poll for perceived injustice, fans will have a tidy list of targets.

We now think that a committee of people, each of whom brings specific bureaucratic interests to the table, will be able to more accurately agree decide which four teams are eligible to compete for the national championship.

As Bob Copeland once said, "To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent."

There are certain to be conflicts of interest within the committee and the battle lines are already clear: the Big Ten advocating conference champions vs. the SEC fighting for multiple spots in the playoff, non-AQ representatives arguing for Boise State, or conferences that haven't sent a team to the playoffs in a few years (ACC, Big East, B12) fighting for a shot. 

Furthermore, how will the four to ten extra spots on the committee be distributed between the conferences? Should the larger conferences get an extra representative? Or should they be (relatively) unassociated?

While I've painted a gloomy picture of the playoff selection process, it's nonetheless likely to result in more interesting and diverse matchups for fans, an increase in tougher scheduling during the regular season, and at least give non-traditional powers an increased opportunity to win it all.

With a least one representative from each conference, it is certain that at least the committee will likely never suffer from groupthink – the membership will be diverse, there is no clear member hierachy, or a real incentive to seek unanimity over individual interests. 

And there is a chance that Ohio State's interests will be represented directly through John Cooper, who has previously expressed an interest in joining the committee. 

While any committee member will face ludicrous pressure from individual irrational fans – imagine some members of Buckeye Nation pressuring Coop to vote for a 6th or 7th ranked Buckeye team, for instance – a school has a lot to gain by placing an alum or former coach onto the selection committee. 

This is especially important because going undefeated won't guarantee a spot in the playoffs. Gene Smith and Urban Meyer understand this and have focused their efforts on scheduling marquee out of conference games, increasing the number of conference games, advocating for better recruiting across the Big Ten, and (hopefully) supporting Coop's spot in the committee.

Hopefully Buckeye fans won't ever have to miss the BCS era. 


Comments Show All Comments

Northbrook's picture

A le Carre refrence! Excellent.

Riggins's picture

Couldn't the representatives "recuse" themselves similar to a judge if the school they were associated with was in the running for a 4-team playoff discussion?
Just have an expanded committee of alternates that could be drawn from.  I.e., if Ohio State is in the discussion, Coop could step away, and someone from, say Iowa (or wherever), could step in as the B1G representative.
I don't know how this would work for the SEC representatives though.  Those guys all wear 14 hats now anyway, so they'd need some other way of finding an impartial representative.

BucksfanXC's picture

Coop would be a solid choice. He would probably have to recuse himself often. Might as well pick an Iowa guy to start off. Then in the years when Iowa makehahahaahaha... I couldn't even finish that.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

CC's picture

I'm still not sure why we don't take bcs 1-4.  There would be very few arguments the best team in the country is ever left out.

d5k's picture

Because the BCS is a terrible formula.  Not that the selection committee is a better solution unless they suddenly become much smarter than the basketball committee and pay attention to statistics.

cplunk's picture

The BCS relies on the polls, which in turn are extremely dependent upon what people thought in the pre-season.
the committee will, theoretically, start from scratch. A one loss team that started the season ranked #2 will have no advantage over a one loss team that started the season unranked.

Earle's picture

Why does John Cooper always look confused?

Snarkies gonna snark. 

fear_the_nut70's picture

2-10-1 might do that to anyone.

northcampus's picture

Dream scenario.  A one loss Michigan team (the single loss compliments of Ohio State, of course) fighting for the 4th spot.  Cooper, with the deciding vote, chooses another team, knocking the Wolverines out of the playoff.  As he walks out of the selection committee war room, Coop mutters to himself with a smirk, "paybacks are a bitch."

Earle's picture

Actually, I think the dream scenario would be beating Michigan in the regular season to give them their only loss, then beating them again in the NC game.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

QBYBuckeye's picture

1, 2,  and 3 will be easy.  It's #4 that will be a killer. 

New York Buckeye

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Compared to the NCAA bball tournament, dealing with "bubble" teams in the 4-team cfb playoff will be way more excrutiating. 
In bball, by the time the committee gets to the bubble teams, they will have already accounted for what they figure are the best 30-35 teams in the country - either automatically (conference tourney winners) or without any thought (higher-ranked at-large teams). Rarely will bubble teams make a deep run in the tournament. Yes, cbb fans complain about teams that get left out, but these omissions are not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Consequently, the NCAA bball selection committee could half-ass the bubble selections, if they wanted to (actually, they put a lot of thought into them).
In comparison, picking the 4th (or 3rd) team in the 4-team cfb playoff will be of monumental importance. And for many seasons - like in 2012 - there won't really be any "right" answers.


This much is certain. I will NOT watch a playoff of 4 SEC teams. I won't watch a playoff of 3 SEC teams, either.They want to let in the SEC champ and the SEC title game loser, that's fine, but if this becomes an SEC playoff circle jerk I hope every non-SEC fan out there boycotts every TV broadcast and every live game. Fine, if OSU doesn't deserve to be in the title game then so be it. But make this an SEC love fest and you can forget it. I wont even turn on my TV.
I personally cannot see a scenario where the don't expand the field. My guess is 3 seasons and we'll be at at least 8 teams if not more.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

buckeyedude's picture

I agree with everything you've said. My first thought was, "the very first year the #5 team is going to be screaming bloody murder" for being left out. I could see it going to 8 teams very quickly.



Dougger's picture

1) Chad, that transitive property website is hilarious and I am glad you shared it's existence with us.
2) The BCS era was really good to the bucks... if only we close 1 out of those two sec games we're easily the team of the decade with 2/3 MNC. hopefully we end the bcs era with a big fat W in everyone's face, and then continue with a lot more with a couple crystal footballs.
3) the one thing i do not like about this new system is that it will take into account "hot" teams.. the lack of these "hot" teams in the NC is partly what made it great - you gotta go wire to wire because the regular season is so important... i think the committee will take that away a bit

I like football

Bucks43201's picture

Let's just hope this committee is made up of people with actual real-life football experience. I hate when the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament committee puts together a committee that is not based on relevance. Instead it's based on diversity...or some "social justice" BS. And you'd have some women's studies professor or somebody with absolutely no clue about the sport, helping make decisions. Ridiculous. Forget the PC nonsense, NCAA.

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

OSU beat Sparty, Sparty beat Minnesota, Minnesota beat Syracuse, Syracuse beat Louisville, Louisville beat Florida, Florida beat Texas A&M, Texas A&M beat Alabama, therefore OSU is better than Alabama. 
Alabama beat TSUN 41-14, OSU only beat TSUN 26-21, therefore Alabama is better than OSU. 

Class of 2010.

German Buckeye's picture

I think eight teams would be closer to being a better product to determine the best team in the nation.  But you'd never get away from the whiners - sure the 9th place team and fans could argue, and I would hate to be that team, but I think most could live with that system better than 4 teams.  Don't think too many folks would argue with the final 8 AP this season playing in a playoff -  in order this season: Alabama, Oregon, OSU, ND, A&M, Georgia, Stanford, South Carolina.  #5-8 all had two losses (as did 9-13) - but you'd have strength of schedule, where they played and who they lost to to figure out the last couple of spots.  Where a program could cry foul is something like Boise St (who went 11-2 and finished 18th in th AP)  and Louisville (also 2 losses) who dominated an SEC team in a BCS game.  This system will STILL make winning all your regular season games IMPORTANT so you can crack the top 4-8 in the polls.  In any case we are DONE with the BCS after this season - time to move on. 

puff daddy's picture

i'd put A&M in front of ND


ShadyBuckeye's picture

Terrible idea. When it comes to college sports, EVERYONE has a vendetta or personal agenda on who they want to represent in the 4 team playoff. Just like I would. The committee would be made up of former coaches, players, AD's.... ugghh, have u seen how some of the coaches vote in the coaches poll??

jwarner6's picture

Anything has to be better than the current system, but I don't get the consideration for injuries.  Why is that a factor and how do you weight it?


ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I don't think I want anybody representing a conference on the committee.  I'd love to think you could find 14-20 perfectly unbiased people who not only analyze box scores and strength of schedule, but actually watch the games of the teams they're considering.  Even with all of that, you still have judgment calls, and ultimately somebody ends up butthurt.  The controversy just moves down the poll a couple of spots.
Think back to this past season.  Say OSU was eligible for the postseason, and won the B1G championship against Nebraska.  What does the playoff look like?  You have 3 clear choices - OSU, Notre Dame, Alabama.  Who's the 4th team?  Not so clear.  Somebody ends up butthurt that they didn't get in.
The butthurt for the CFB championship is much greater because the bar is so much higher to get in.  In CBB, nobody talks much about the "snubs" from the tourney because there are so many teams in the tourney.  If you got "snubbed", it's your own fault - you had a lot of room to better take care of your business.  In CFB, the team that barely missed getting in to the title game is a great team that may have the same record as a team who got in, and was determined in some subjective manner to be better.  That hurts more.  This is a very tricky process.

Class of 2010.

cinserious's picture

I say keep the bcs formula and put the final 4 teams in the playoffs. And I only say that because when the BCS system screws up, its always the 3rd or (maybe) 4th team that gets shafted. Its hard to imagine a 5th or 6th team in the final rankings getting screwed over.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

NW Buckeye's picture

And, so the bickering begins....   Having a playoff system by selection will only increase the butt hurt and cause more ulcers.  Not getting selected as one of the top two is bad enough, but missing out on the top 4 will cause a lot of heart ache.  And, getting snubbed by an 8 team format will be even worse!!!  
I've said it before, and I will say it again, the only way to have a true meaningful playoff is to have the regular season be part of it.  As much as I hate expansion, I do believe we are headed to 4 "super" conferences of 20 teams (could be more with fewer teams each).  Divide those into 4 pods each and have conference playoffs with the winners of each pod.  League champions advance to a 4 team playoff.  That way, 1 out of every 5 teams have a shot at winning the whole thing.  What would be wrong with that scenario??  Eliminates all this selection BS.  It is so simple that even my 2 year old grandson could understand it.  That would only expand the season by 1 game over what they are proposing now.  What is so wrong about that?

puff daddy's picture

the precious bowls will have a fit. i like the idea.but i'm a rational person who has no interests($) to protect,keeping these cheerished bowls going has long  seen it's day.


buckeyedude's picture

Does the #9 team have a legitimate shot at winning it? Who was the #9 finisher this year, and could they have beaten Alabama?
I highly doubt it.



buckeyedude's picture

First off: good teams find a way to win, even when they have injured players. That should not be a consideration, IMO. If a team loses a game because they have an injured player, and they discount that game, then that game is rendered meaningless. Injuries are part of the game.
Second: I think Cooper is a good choice to have on the selection committee, but I worry about him trying too hard not to look like a Buckeye Homer, aka, Herbstriet.
Third: Can we petition Earle Bruce to be on the selection committee? He needs a hobby in his retirement, and playing dominoes all day long ain't cuttin' it.



cinserious's picture

John Copper is a southern good 'ole boy, he could give two shits what people think of his homerism. He wouldn't sell out like a young up and coming media punk like Herbie.
John Copper. Man. Myth. Element.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

81Alum's picture

+1 for Coach Bruce

KateUptonsLowerBack's picture

John Cooper. Been wondering for awhile now: any relation to Alice Cooper

Hovenaut's picture

Or Ben Cooper, Halloween costume maker extraordinaire......

buckeyedude's picture

John Cooper is no more related to Alice Cooper than you are to Kateuptonslowerback. :D



ARMYBUCK's picture

There will just as much crying foul with this system as the BCS.  Thats nearly a given considering there will always be a huge fanbase whose team is just on the cusp or the first one considered left out.  Thats alright though, its time for a change.  Worst case scenario though consists of a committee room filled with Mark May clones and our lone representative.

Menexenus's picture

Chad, thanks for the reality-check regarding playoffs.  Those who think a playoff will solve all of CFB's problems are smoking something.  All they have done is traded one imperfect system for another.  And at least the BCS was *public*!  You knew what things would factor into the rankings and how they would factor in.  Now the decisions will be behind closed doors.  Let's see how the fanbase howls when their favorite team doesn't make the playoffs when they were "supposed" to.
Mark my words, in 10-15 years, we will be back to something like the BCS.  It may involve 4 teams or 8 teams or 16 teams, but it will no longer be a selection committee.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

osubuckeye4life's picture

This will just lead to an 8 team playoff and then that will probably add to something like the NFL. 
I'm so conflicted because I think a playoff would be awesome.
However, eventually we would lose the excitement of "every game matters".
Plus, do we want a team with several regular season losses as the champion?
I know it makes for more excitement for more teams. I'm just not a fan of rewarding mediocrity. 
Look at the NFL. The NY Giants were dead in the water and limped into the 2011-2012 playoffs with a 9-7 record. Also, last year The Fighting Tebow's made it in at 8-8. Prior to that in '08 the Chargers also got in at 8-8. Finally, the most WTF moment was when the Seahawks got in with a 7-9 record!!!! (granted they upset the Saints). However, I don't want a team that is not over .500 in my playoffs!!!!

Knarcisi's picture

Every game would matter keeping it to 8 (no whining for 9th) and a home game for the top 4 seeds. The one or 2 odd bowls out in a given year get 9 vs 10 and 11 vs 12. 

acBuckeye's picture

An undefeated Ohio State team will NEVER be left out of a playoff spot when there are 4 slots available. Let's clear that up right now.
Second, I can see this playoff route ruining college football the way we know it years down the road. Might as well be NFL, Jr.