Mock selection committee (cont.)
"It's one thing when you're leaving out the 69th team," said ECU's Holland. "It's another when you leave out the fifth team, and it's so dag-gone close. I was struck by the magnitude of what's involved, the money and everything else."
After digesting the call and following up with interviews with the athletic directors, SI came to a few conclusions. Some of the reverberations will be tangible, such as the notion that teams will no longer get away with playing a slew of Sun Belt schools. Georgia, for example, played a relatively weak schedule this year within the SEC, a fact that came up multiple times in conversations. With conferences getting more bloated and often adding mediocre teams, simply playing one's league schedule may not be good enough anymore.
No one has taken the scheduling notion more seriously than Smith, who recently added Oregon, Texas and TCU to the Buckeyes' future out-of-conference schedule with the playoff in mind.
"I think it's going to cause people to re-think how they're scheduling," Smith said. "It's good for college football. It really is."
Not as good for college football: the temptation for coaches to run up the score. For years during the BCS era, the sport's leaders tweaked formulas to negate the impact of margin of victory. But numerous participants in SI's call said that they realized style points will be more of a factor than ever.
"Even if you say you're not going to look at it, you're going to look at it," Luck said of margin of victory. "You have to grasp onto something. I don't know any way around not doing that."
Since there are so few common opponents, committee members on the call were constantly going back to any comparative scores. They referenced blowouts versus close games, for example Oregon's 49-0 win over an Arizona team that took Stanford to overtime.
"That scares me," Smith said of the reemergence of importance of margin of victory. "You know why. It's obvious. I did not think about or anticipate the experience would take me there."
Smith relayed a telling anecdote from his time as chair of the men's basketball committee in 2011. The group was debating the case of VCU, a controversial addition to the field.
"It really came down to someone in the room seeing VCU multiple times and saying, 'Guys, I'm going to tell you, this team is better than those teams and here's why.'"
Smith called it the "shirts vs. skins" conversation, meaning the committee members had to forget about uniforms, conference affiliation and history and rely on their eyeballs and instincts to determine if VCU belonged in the field. Obviously, the Rams did: They stormed to the Final Four that year, validating the controversial choice.
"At some point in time, you have to say, 'Who is better?'" said Smith. "The body of work and the data might not bring you clarity."
And in the case of a football committee, statistics may not offer much clarity either. It struck Smith how little available data there is for football compared to the reams that exist in basketball. The reasons are obvious: fewer teams, fewer games and less overlap between candidates.
"What are the acceptable metrics?" asked Stricklin, a self-described "numbers guy." He suggested engaging a numbers expert like Jeff Sagarin to "give you some other tools to compare with."
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said committee members will need to be intricately familiar with teams and will therefore need to block out large chunks of time each week to watch games.
"You're probably going to have to set exacting standards on what you're looking for," he said.
Interestingly, multiple committee members suggested that the difficulty of picking four teams could lead to the advent of a larger field. Livengood brought it up unprompted after the call. So did ECU's Holland. (It's likely not a coincidence that they represent leagues -- the Mountain West and Conference USA/Big East -- that will struggle to get teams into the top four slots.)
"I like the idea that this could lead to actually expanding the field," Holland said. "Of course you have to convince some presidents that's necessary."
The oddest dynamic of the call was that three of the ADs who took part in it ended up becoming major players in realignment within a span of 48 hours. This brought up some fascinating hypothetical ethical conundrums. If, say, Louisville was hoping for a Big 12 invite (it ended up in the ACC), would Jurich have been inclined to vote for Kansas State? Would Holland have favored a Big East team, as ECU courted that league for years? None of those topics came up during our mock call, but in this era of universities as free agents, it's hard to imagine that those scenarios won't exist. Luck said there must be trust in the room and that committee members must possess integrity that's beyond reproach.
"You'd like to think not," Stricklin said of perspectives being swayed by realignment. "But I can understand why you'd ask the question."
Stricklin and others said the SI mock exercise made them believe a bigger panel may be better. (No number has been set yet.) Multiple members were muted from the call because of conflicts, a virtual equivalent of making people leave from the room when certain teams were discussed. (Stricklin, as the SEC rep, couldn't participate in nearly half the discussions.)
Putting more people in the room could lead to more pressure deflected. Regardless of the final number, though, the committee members face a tough task.
"The eye-opening part of this whole thing is how much pressure is going to come to bear on those people," Livengood said, "and the scrutiny on the backs of those people."
Two years from now, a new era in college football begins with eyes wide open. This is not going to be easy.
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