Remember the BCS?
Remember some of the terms and people we came to know during its 16-year quest to determine the teams that would play for college football’s national championship?
Quartile ranking. (For statistics majors only.) David Rothman. (Not to be confused with David Lee Rothman.) Peter Wolfe. (Not to be confused with Peter and the Wolf.)
Quality wins. (Ole Miss over Presbyterian on Nov. 8 wouldn’t qualify.) Colley Matrix. (It has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves.) Double hosting. (Two media parties instead of one!)
The Coalition for Athletics Reform. (Attaboy, Scott Cowen.) And Harris Interactive. (RIP.)
As Lee Corso (and Tony Soprano) would say, “Forget about it.”
When the College Football Playoff’s selection committee reveals its first set of standings Tuesday, prepare yourself for a completely different way of ranking teams: the eyeball test.
“The reality is, that’s the best thing they have to go by,” said Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, one of the media participants in a recent mock selection conducted by the CFP. “They’re giving them lots of statistics — too many, in fact, because some of them like yardage aren’t useful. But then they don’t have any credible way of measuring strength of schedule, which is supposed to be a very important factor in their decisions. That’s a big problem for me.”
But ultimately, Palm, one of the first practitioners of college basketball bracketology, is a supporter of the new system, which expands the championship field from two to four teams, seeds the teams for the semifinals (one of which this year is the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the other being the Rose Bowl), makes the pairings for four other CFP bowls and eliminates the traditional polls and computer rankings from the equation.
Supposedly. The 12 committee members — it was 13 until Archie Manning dropped out this week with health problems — who are a mixture of former coaches, current administrators and others with longtime connections to college football, aren’t forbidden to look at the Associated Press and coaches polls, or the computer rankings that are still out there. But they can only use those that are “completely transparent.”
Since the coaches poll — now officially the Amway Coaches Poll, which may mean a lot of fired coaches are now selling Amway products — doesn’t reveal how its voters voted until the final one, that means the committee can’t use it until then.
However, the American Football Coaches Association is still presenting the championship trophy. Go figure.
“Hang on and enjoy the ride,” said CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock, who has evolved from a spokesman for the commissioners during the BCS days to overseeing a staff of 13 in well-appointed headquarters in Irving, Texas, that exerts far more organizational and financial control over the process than in the past.
It does look like a wild ride, though, as most college seasons are.
This one has seen conventional wisdom toppled as schools like Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arizona, TCU and Utah have put themselves into the equation — if not for the Final Four (the NCAA jealously guards the rights to that name) but for the other CFP bowls. Traditional contenders like Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and LSU are out of the picture before Halloween.
Also, expanding from two teams to four means that one loss, maybe even two, for the teams in the Power Five conferences plus Notre Dame does not end their playoff hopes.
“Obviously every college football season is exciting, which is a big part of why it’s the great sport that it is,” Hancock said. “But you are seeing some schools maybe people aren’t used to seeing contending for the top, and that’s great for the sport. And we haven’t gotten to November yet, when things really get unpredictable.”
Odds are that at least half of the top four teams in Tuesday’s initial standings will be semifinalists come Jan. 1.
Using the BCS standings as a model, in 14 of its 16 years, two or three of the top four teams in the first set of standings were in the top four of the final ones, including three of four in the past four seasons.
Only once has a team — Colorado in 2001 — that was unranked the first week risen to the top four at the end, and in those days the BCS only ranked 15 teams. In 2006, LSU started out at No. 18 but finished third.
And while some might argue that the BCS formula recently getting three of the eventual top four right the first week shows that the old system was working, especially after it became more weighted towards the human polls in 2005, Palm holds that that’s a result of “poll mentality,” the reluctance to demote teams that might not win in convincing fashion while doing so to teams that lose close games to higher-ranked foes.
Case in point: Despite going down to the last play on the road at Florida State last week, Notre Dame fell from fifth to seventh in the AP poll and eighth in the coaches. Palm moved the Irish up to fourth in his power rankings.
But Mississippi State’s sweep of top-10 foes LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn propelled the Bulldogs past FSU for No. 1, a rare event that Palm says shows poll voters may be more flexible in their thinking these days.
“The committee’s standings will probably wind up looking a lot like the polls,” he said. “And it could be that the polls start tracking the committee, even though they’ll be a week behind.”
No matter. The polls, which have played a part in the national championship process since 1936, are now irrelevant. But there will be weekly rankings, albeit without any indications of the margin between schools, a crucial fact if your school is No. 5.
“The voting doesn’t work that way,” Hancock said. “But we did feel like having weekly standings was necessary instead of just dropping the final four in from a cloud and that it’s going to create a lot of discussion on leading up to the weekly release and then afterwards. That can only be good for college football.”
The release of the standings will come on Tuesdays in part because that means the CFP won’t have to compete with the NFL for the spotlight, as the old Sunday BCS release did. (The playoff pairings will be announced at 11:45 a.m. Dec. 7. That’s 15 minutes before the early NFL kickoffs — smart.) But it’s also because of the way the committee works.
The 12 members will meet at the CFP headquarters on Mondays and Tuesdays for the next six weeks and then from Friday through Sunday for the final week of the regular season — some after viewing games in person on the Saturday before and after watching all or parts of any of the weekend’s games on Sundays, thanks to technology provided by the CFP.
The deliberations will be much like the NCAA basketball selection committee: voting for a top 25, breaking them into subgroups for discussion and then voting again.
The CFP is providing ample analytical material so teams can be compared, but there’s no major tool like RPI in basketball. And in the mock session, Palm said, the only strength of schedule tool was the records of a team’s opponents. So it’s basically up to the committee members’ personal opinions, which can be arrived at by whatever manner they choose. But, Hancock said, due diligence is not an issue.
“We’ve been working towards this for two years now,” he said. “We know there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny, and that’s as it should be. But I feel really good about our process and especially the committee. These are people who know the game, and I’ve come away so impressed with their desire to get it right.”
Ultimately, in addition to the four semifinalists, the committee will make the pairings for the Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach bowls, which will rotate as semifinal sites over the next 12 years.
But it’s the semifinals which will gain the most attention. No. 1 will meet No. 4, and No. 2 will meet No. 3 — with the proximity of the two top seeds to the semifinal sites determining who plays where. With the heavy southern tilt at this point of the season, an SEC team could be the home team in the Rose Bowl. The championship game will be played Jan. 10 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I think the semifinals are going to feel like championship games have because you’re going to get 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 with the winners moving on,” Hancock said. “That element adds even more excitement.”
If things hold up as they are now, the Sugar Bowl likely will have two teams from within driving distance of New Orleans.
“Right now, your guess is as good as mine, but whoever we get, it’s looking lights out for us,” Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan said. “It was very important to the Sugar Bowl committee that we be part of the playoff rotation and especially to be locked into our traditional prime-time New Year’s Day time slot for the next 12 years.”
But this being the son of the BCS, there are already calls for expansion to at least eight teams, even though the current contract runs through the 2025 season.
Since conference champions are not guaranteed spots in the playoffs, already at least one of the Power Five winners will be shut out.
The thinking in some quarters is that there will be pressure to reconsider, especially with the additional money another round of playoffs would bring in. Already the CFP has a $600 million annual TV rights fee from ESPN, triple the old BCS pot.
Hancock said expansion is not going to happen.
“Everyone went into this with their eyes wide open,” he said. “This format is just right.”
Maybe so. But, as we’ve learned, when we’re talking about the BCS — er, the CFP — all things are tweakable.