The new four-team College Football Playoff is here.
It isn’t the sixteen- or even eight-team playoff that we all wanted. But it’s a playoff, an honest-to-goodness playoff, and it beats the nothingness of bowl games and the mathematical coldness of the BCS.
Here’s how it will work, in the simplest terms possible.
There will be four teams. The No. 1 team will play the No. 4 team in one semifinal. The No. 2 team will play the No. 3 team in the other semifinal.
The four teams will be picked by a 13-person selection committee. The committee is made up of current and former college football people, many of whom are athletic directors (the full list of members is below).
The selection committee will meet once a week, and start releasing a weekly top-25 ranking on October 28th. The 13-person committee will meet, discuss, and rank the teams from one to 25. The top-four teams in the final ranking will make the playoff.
This season the two semifinals will be held at the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California) and the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, Louisiana) on January 1. The committee will put the higher-seeded team in the more convenient location with respect to geography and potential homefield advantage. So if Florida State finishes No. 1, they will get to play in New Orleans rather than Pasadena. If Oregon finishes No. 1, they will get to play in Pasadena rather than New Orleans.
The winners of those two games will play the championship game on January 12 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Where the Cowboys play.
Members of the selection committee will recuse themselves from the discussion if a school they are associated with is involved. The members are as follows: Jeff Long (Arkansas athletic director), Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin athletic director), Mike Gould (former superintendent of the Air Force Academy), Pat Haden (USC athletic director), Tom Jernstedt (ex-NCAA VP), Oliver Luck (West Virginia athletic director), Archie Manning (ex-Ole Miss quarterback, father of the Mannings), Tom Osborne (former Nebraska coach), Dan Radakovich (Clemson athletic director), Condoleezza Rica (former secretary of state), Mike Tranghese (ex-Big East commissioner), Steve Wieberg (former USA Today college football reporter), and Tyrone Willingham (former college football coach).
The committee has a rough list of criteria for how to decide which team is “best.” The selection committee lists the following factors as things they will consider when picking teams: winning conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents, and injuries.
Here’s how the voting process will work within the selection committee (check out the full protocol here):
- Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
- Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
- In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
- Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
- Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.
There’s still a bunch we don’t know.
While we know the selection committee’s procedures and criteria, we don’t know how different factors will be weighted. Will a team be heavily penalised if it doesn’t win its conference title? Will a team with one loss but a weak schedule get leap-frogged by a team with two losses but a strong schedule? Will a team be taken out of playoff consideration because a star player gets hurt in the last game of the year? Is there a distinction between picking the “best team” and picking the “most deserving team?” And on what side of that distinction does the committee sit?
In a few years we’ll have a full set of data and we’ll know what the committee is looking for. But in Year One, it will be a process of discovery for everyone.
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