ATLANTA — Bill Hancock isn’t who you picture when you think of a college athletics power broker.
Bespectacled, measured in tone, with a smile always playing around the frame of his face, the 67-year-old executive director of the College Football Playoff is more than meets the eye. The former director of the NCAA Final Four has been a newspaper editor, a marathoner, tackled two cross-country cycling rides, climbed Mount Rainer and been an award-winning stage director in his hometown of Hobart, Oklahoma. He wrote a book about Hobart, and another deeply personal one called “Riding With the Blue Moth” about the cycling tour he undertook after his son Will died in the 2001 plane crash that claimed 10 members of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team and support staff.
Friday, before the frenzy leading up to Monday night’s CFP National Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia ramps up, Hancock sat down with reporters in the relative quiet of the CFP headquarters Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. In a free-wheeling two-hour conversation, Hancock touched on the possibility of CFP expansion, President Trump attending Monday’s game, undefeated UCF’s plans to declare itself national champion and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s new contract:
For the first time since LSU-Alabama in the 2012 BCS championship game, two teams from the same conference are playing for the national title. That game appeared to have spurred the creation of the CFP. Do you think the Alabama-Georgia game will have a similar effect?
I do not believe the LSU-Alabama game was the incentive to change to a four-team tournament. It was time to renew the BCS or not, and then we had that game. I suspect we would have had the CFP anyway. It’s convenient for people to say, ‘Aha, that was the reason,’ but I don’t think it was. The reason was BCS fatigue.
UCF has decided to raise a banner and declare itself national champion after finishing as the only unbeaten team in the FBS. How do you feel about that?
(Chuckle) They had a great season and a great performance in their bowl game (beat Auburn 34-27 here in the Peach Bowl). I’m enjoying their joyful exuberance.
Do you think what they’re doing detracts from the CFP championship game?
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How did you learn of President Trump’s plans to attend Monday night’s game?
I wasn’t part of it early, but the building (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) notified us. We can find a seat for him.
How will the president’s security affect logistics?
We’re telling people to arrive early and take MARTA (Atlanta’s subway system). At some time, streets will have to be closed. The gates are supposed to open at 5:30, so we’ll probably move that up a bit.
Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State have combined to make 11 of the 16 CFP semifinal appearances. Do you have any concerns about too few teams being involved?
No. The cycle will work itself out. The cycle turns over.
Clearly it came down to Alabama and Big Ten champion Ohio State for the final slot in the semifinals. How did the committee’s vote go down?
There are not really any final ballots. There were always other teams in the pool. But obviously it came down to those two. It wasn’t done Saturday night (before the teams were revealed Sunday, Dec. 3). Some committee members said they needed to come back and look at it again (Sunday).
Ohio State’s Denzel Ward became the first player to skip a New Year’s Six Bowl, electing not to play in the Cotton Bowl against Southern California. Does this trend have your attention?
All of us are looking at it. It’s up to the players, and we understand that.
Can you foresee a day a player, barring mitigating circumstances, might skip the playoff?
I’d be shocked if that happened.
When the CFP announced its host cities for the 2021-24 championship games, you touted the fact the game will be in 10 different cities in the first 10 years. Was that the objective when you started out or just something that you were glad happened?
We knew we wanted to move it around from the start, involve as many cities as possible. But we did not think beyond the first two or three years when we were putting this together back in the fall of 2012. But after the last round of bids, when New Orleans was named the host for 2020, we realized what an event we had on our hands. That was the germination for 10 for 10. In the latest round we didn’t even open the bidding process. We identified the cities where we wanted to go and negotiated with them. Cities appreciated not having to go through the whole process if they didn’t have a chance.
Did you take notice of LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s new $2.5 million-per-year contract, making him the first college football assistant to earn north of $2 million?
I think every sports fan noticed that.
How high do you think coaches’ salaries can go?
Do you believe the CFP has had a hand in that with the money being generated by the CFP for conferences and schools?
The biggest source of revenue in college sports is the conference television package. The CFP is a fair amount behind that, though they plug us into their budgets with their NCAA tournament money.
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The CFP began in 2014 with a 12-year contract for a four-team playoff. Four years in, do you see any interest in expansion?
It would have to come from the conferences, and there’s no interest.
Is it the same 12-year deal for your “New Year’s Six” bowls — the Sugar, Rose, Cotton, Peach, Orange and Fiesta?
The Sugar, Rose and Orange have 12-year arrangements. Those are set. The Cotton, Fiesta and Peach are for six years. In a little while we’ll look at whether to renew them or not.
Any work on replacing those three bowls by the 2020 season would have to begin …
Within a year. But those bowls have not given us any reason to change.