Thursday, May 1, 2014

CFP Protocol: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The College Football Playoff management committee hammered out a series of protocols over a two-day meeting in Dallas that concluded Wednesday. The 10 FBS commissioners, along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, laid out procedures for the 13 members of the selection committee as the CFP begins its inaugural season in 2014.

Until Wednesday, how the 13 members should go about their business was mostly guesswork. Now at least we have some clarity, as the CFP power brokers should be commended for their decision to strive for transparency.

That said, there remains many other questions and challenges ahead. Here's my look at what the committee did right and where it might have left itself open to criticism:

The Good

Weekly standings: The committee, after all, decided to go with a weekly release of its own top 25 poll starting Oct. 28 and then every Tuesday until the final matchups for the two playoff games and four other CFP bowls are announced on Dec. 7. The standings will air live on ESPN at 7 or 7:30 p.m. with chairman Jeff Long on hand to explain the rankings.

The data: The CFP has retained SportSource Analytics to provide the data platform for the committee. The members should have a wealth of statistical information to help them with ranking the teams as opposed to be the selection committees of other NCAA championships who lean heavily on the unreliable Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

The Bad

Five-step procedure: The committee laid out an extremely convoluted protocol where it takes at least four votes and most of the times many more to establish the top 25 rankings that it will release every Tuesday. This is an unnecessarily cumbersome procedure that doesn't actually enhance the strength of the rankings.

Tuesday release: Whereas the BCS standings were released each Sunday night in the second half of the season, the CFP will wait an extra 48 hours to unveil its rankings. While the fact that committee members will meet in person each week (sorry, Skype) has merit, the real reason why we must wait until Tuesday night is without a doubt television. ESPN has a Monday night football game to broadcast.

The Ugly

Recusal policy: Though most committee members have ties to at least one (and most several) FBS programs, the protocol bars them from voting for schools they current draw a paycheck from. This decision actually puts six teams at a distinct disadvantage: USC, Stanford, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Clemson and Arkansas. I had advocated and maintain that stance even more now: There should be no recusal policy at all.

The "best four teams": These are allegedly the teams that will be put into the CFP playoff field, according to Long, and at least that vernacular goes against the committee's previous commitment to reward conference champions. The nebulous concept is exactly what gave us the all-SEC debacle in the 2011 BCS title game, and the committee would be better served not to give in to this and stick with its original plan.

Overall, the committee has shown itself to be sensitive to public opinion as best attested by its decision to release a weekly ranking. But even the best-intentioned plans are just that—an idea—until it's put to test in a true trial-by-fire inaugural season of 2014.

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