Listen to the conversation below:
The Football Bowl Association has engaged Winthrop Intelligence—helping college athletic administrators increase revenue and make high-stakes decisions—to compile a statistical examination of the 2012-13 Bowl Season, and present a third-party look at the state of post-season football.
Ryan Matthews, Winthrop’s Managing Editor, recently sat down to discuss the state of the coming NCAA football playoff with Wright Waters—Executive Director of the Football Bowl Association—and Bill Hancock—Executive Director for the Bowl Championship Series. We wanted to get some insight into the formation of the new playoff system and maybe hear a few war stories from two veterans of college football.
First, how did the playoff come into being?
Folks have been talking about a playoff in college football for 40 years or more. A year ago, the conference commissioners said to themselves, “can we do a playoff and maintain the regular season and maintain the bowl experience for the athletes?” Those two elements were critical and they talked about it over many, many hours, over a six-month period and concluded that, yes we can, and so we have the playoff that we’re going to have.
What variables (Strength of schedule, conference championships, etc) will the selection committee weigh when choosing the 4 teams, and how is this different than the current system?
Well, it will be different in that it will be a human decision, as opposed to more of data-driven decision. We don’t know exactly what all the committee will consider, but we have a pretty good idea. And it will be a common sense decision.
It will be: who did you play, when did you play them, where did you play them; of course, did you win or lose, who was injured when you played, how was the weather, what has your opponent done since. Everything you can think of, that an individual should use to choose between teams is what the committee will use.
I’ll ask Wright to weigh in on that.
I think it’s an incredibly positive direction, Bill. Football is the ultimate team sport and I was never convinced that football could truly be measured numerically. And so the ability to put together people who have the experience and integrity to be involved, and the ability to look outside the data.
Take the data as a starting point, but really drill the data down and understand what happened. Was the quarterback hurt on that particular day? You get different results. I think it’s the only way it works, and the group is incredibly brave to take it on. But I think it’s the only answer.
What are some challenges that the group that’s planning the playoff has faced thus far?
Certainly it’s the selection committee composition and the protocol, and issues relative to the format. Where will games be played, how will they be conducted, how will we be sure that the bowl experience for the athletes continues, what about ticket prices, what about ticket allocations? And we’re really down to the nuts and bolts, here. And there’s plenty of work that remains, but it’s exciting work, and it’s work that we all enjoy.
What would readers be surprised to know about the playoff system and its creation?
Let me weigh in on that, Bill. The thing that always jumps out at me is that the people in the room always have the interests of college football at heart, and they see the issue, not only as determining a championship, but also in support of intercollegiate athletics on a lot of different campuses. I’ve always felt during my years, that no one in the room was opposed to a playoff, but no one could find a model that answered all questions.
What will surprise people is that the group was always having conversations and always trying to do what was best for the game and best for college football, and I think it just got to the point that the public’s outcry was such that we said okay, if we’re going to do this let’s do it, but this is the best of the options available. Bill may disagree with that, but that’s one man’s opinion
I think Wright nailed it. Oh, there might have been one or two in the room who just did not want a playoff several years ago. Of course, there were many in our industry who just did not want a playoff.
You have to remember that this is higher education, these are college students. For one thing, we have an academic calendar that we must adhere to. We have institutions that are having final exams anywhere from December 4th – December 20th. So that eats a huge chunk of month that would have to be devoted to a big old 16 team playoff. We have a second semester we have to be cognizant of.
We also have a limit number of games that these young people can play. These are not 30-year-old men who can play 16 or 17 games in a season. I’m very confident that the playoff that we have come up with meets the needs of higher education, and meets the needs of the young people. We’re very excited about it.
How do you think the playoff system and selection committee’s involvement will impact the scheduling philosophies of FBS programs?
I don’t know that we know yet. You don’t know … you’re probably going to go a couple of years and see the results before knowing. When we were using the computer polls they all had a strength of schedule component. But obviously the people polls were really more focused on wins and losses. So I think you’re going to have to wait and see how this committee reacts to what’s important to them.
Is strength of schedule the issue? Is wins losses—you know, we’ve had the debate forever in basketball, about home games away games and how those are measured.
I know there’s one league out there now that’s already making some moves to improve strength of schedule. It’s probably also as much as anything about protecting their league and protecting their brand, which has always been very good. I think you’ll have to wait and see. What do you think, Bill?
I think wait and see. The first time a team finishes number 5 or number 6 in its non-conference schedule, and suffers by comparison, I know you’ll get that school scheduling better in the future.
It’s certainly happened in the past, you’ll remember. A couple of years ago we had a team that was undefeated and had been in the mix, but they had played two FCS schools and that didn’t compare to the other teams ahead of them. They certainly changed their scheduling model.
I hope that’s the impact, because if it is, it’s a really good thing. If we can get more non-conference games with a higher profile I think that’s good for college football.
Given the inherent scrutiny facing the selection committee, and the new untested selection process, how will the BCS determine if the committee gets it right every year?
You know, there’s always going to be contention here. The contention now is between 2 and 3, and that’s going to move to 4 and 5. I always believe that the more teams in your playoff field, the more teams believe they have a chance to be in your field. We’ll see how that goes in the future.
There’s a great book out there called Score Casting. It talks about the perspective of a fan looking at their own team. Particularly into the officiating of their own team and how difficult it is. There’s always going to be, as Bill says, questions raised about 4 and 5; and 4, 5, and 6, whatever those numbers are.
But I do think that the real test will be, at the end of the day, if the 15 to 20 members of the selection committee look at each other and say, “We got it right.” And as long as you have the right people in the room and they feel like they got it right, that’s all you can ask.