The Process: Intro To The Process

The CFP Process: The Process
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What are the College Football Playoff committee voters doing? What’s the process they’re going through? How does it all work, what are the problems, and what are the positives? What’s happening to determine who the four playoff teams are going to be, and who’ll be in the other big bowl games? 

I got to go through the entire process as part of the College Football Playoff media mock selection committee in Dallas a few weeks ago. As someone who lives and loves to dive into the minutiae of how the college football world works, this was as fun as it gets – it was truly an honor to be among the smartest writers in the business. 

Having gone through the entire process from start to finish and seeing how it works, here’s what the real College Football Playoff committee is going to go through as it creates a top 25, the top bowl pairings, and most importantly, decides on the four teams for the playoff. 

Everyone grabbed the role of one specific real committee member to play. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm became Barry Alvarez. George Schroeder of USA Today turned into Oliver Luck. ESPN’s Heather Dinich bristled at the idea of playing Condi, until she took it on. Yahoo’s Pat Forde became Ty Willingham – mainly because the resemblance is uncanny- and so on. Several of us had to double up and combine forces, and I got to team up with Mr. SEC, Tony Barnhart, as one half of Archie Manning’s brain and thought process. (This was all done before Manning had to bow out.)

We all got to work in the same room in the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine, Texas, that the real committee members sit in, and we all sat in the exact same positions they’re in – Manning would’ve been flanked by Luck on the left and Rice on the right. We went through all the same protocols and all of the same paces with one notable exception – each real committee member has an iPad with all the official CFP-sanctioned stats at their disposal, while we all used the big screens to compare and contrast teams and get through the discussions. 

In the simulation, it was our job to create the top 25, big bowl pairings, and four playoff teams for the 2008 season, mainly because it would’ve been the wildest and most controversial year in the BCS era to figure out. 

It was the season when Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all went 11-1 in the Big 12 South with the three beating each other. There was an 11-1 USC team that lost to Oregon State early on, but destroyed everything else in its path on the way to a Pac-10 title. There was an 11-1 Penn State that beat Oregon State and went on to win the Big Ten title, but lost to Iowa late. Utah and Boise State were both 12-0, and Florida and Alabama staged an SEC championship game for the ages, with Tim Tebow and the Gators pulling off the win in the fourth quarter over the unbeaten Crimson Tide. However, Florida had a blemish, losing at home earlier in the year to Ole Miss, sparking the historic “Promise” speech. 

What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the thoughts, arguments, and discussions as we went through all the steps, focusing more on the process than the actual debates about whether one team deserved a certain spot over another. It was fascinating and revealing, and considering this is the inaugural year of the playoff and the committee process, it seemed like Chairman Jeff Long, executive director Bill Hancock, and the rest of the playoff top guns learned as much from us and how this might work than we probably did from going through the paces. 

– Playing the role of Archie Manning, Tony and I first compared and contrasted our top 25 at the end of the 2008 regular season, and needing to remember that the bowl games hadn’t been played yet. We had to ignore that Utah ended up beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Florida beat Oklahoma for the national title, etc. And this created the first big question mark – as Archie, and as the member with the SEC ties, were we supposed to give the SEC the benefit of doubt and the upper hand when it came down to two teams? We were instructed that we weren’t – we were supposed to rank according to our beliefs, regardless of conference – but to start, Tony and I put in Alabama over USC in our initial top four, along with Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. 

– Even in hindsight and with all the stats available, coming up with a top 25 wasn’t easy. The top 15 wasn’t hard, but it was rough getting 20 to 25. As it turned out in the process, it was really, really important at every step to get the order exactly as we wanted it. 

– The first step was for each member to plug in his or her top 25 into a laptop. The submissions then went to a main computer at the back of the room that was instantly tabulated and calculated to come up with 25 teams chosen from the 13 voices. 

– One key aspect to this, each submission and everyone’s individual rankings aren’t revealed. There is no disclosure among each of the committee members unless they choose to make a point, so no one knew our top 25 and we didn’t know anyone else’s, and that’s a problem. The anonymity within the room allowed the freedom to vote however we wished, but it’s also easy to hide, and as the voting went on, there were mistakes that could’ve been corrected on the fly and had to be fixed later. It’s one thing not to reveal to the public what the individual committee members’ votes are, but in this room, and with the process closed off to the outside world, it would’ve been better if we could specifically lobby, argue and debate any member we disagreed with, and vice versa. 

– On the computer screen was the countdown … 10 .. 9 … 8 … and then everyone made their picks into the blind system. 34 teams ended up available overall in the pool, but the first discussion became about the top six teams in the debate.