SAN JOSE -- The leaders of college football have entered a bold and exciting new era, in their traditional bold and exciting way:
They've appointed a committee.
I speak, of course, about the new 13-person panel of "experts" who, beginning with the 2014 season, will select the four teams that will compete in a playoff for the national title.
The panel's names were officially released Wednesday, and there were no real surprises. Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice was on the list, as expected. And she survived her first day on duty without the benefit of ever having buckled up a chinstrap. Certain louts had previously criticized the placement of a woman on the committee.
Rice, in a conference call, had the perfect answer when a reporter wondered if she could handle the heat from rabid fans whose team she might fail to support for the four-team bracket.
"I've experienced plenty of heat in my life," Rice answered.
Yes, let's see. What's a more critical task? Analyzing global security data as a presidential cabinet member? Or analyzing statistical records on whether LSU or Clemson might be the fourth-best team in the country? In my brief contacts with her, I can testify she knows her football.
The committee's other members also dripped of intelligence and integrity, so no one should complain about their appointments except cheating programs -- and we all know there are none of those in the college game.
We also learned details about the committee's selection process. But, honestly, anyone who says the new format will either work brilliantly or be an utter failure is purely guessing. It's too early. Yet now that we've seen the general outline, I can definitely tell you where both the great possibilities and potential pitfalls lie.
Here are three ways the new era could go spectacularly right:
1. In the conference call, panel members all sounded sincere and committed. Ty Willingham, the former Stanford and Notre Dame coach, said he'd have accepted the appointment even if it meant studying video and information "24 hours a day." But it shouldn't be that demanding. The committee's sole tough task, in one sense, is to decide which college team is fifth best -- because only the top four will reach the semifinal bracket. So, really, by the time December arrives, the committee will be examining very few teams.
2. Wire service and computer polls are not part of the formula -- and the panel won't meet in person for the first time until midseason. This should eliminate the unfair break that certain teams receive simply because they get ranked in the top five in August, then stay there, while other unbeaten teams have to slowly climb the rankings ladder and may never reach the top four.
3. One selection "principle" that committee members are ordered to consider is "strength of schedule," just as with the NCAA basketball tournament committee. Praise be. This might lead to fewer ridiculous mismatches in nonconference games (Alabama vs. Georgia State, Baylor vs. Wofford). Although I'm not holding my breath.
And here are three ways the new era could go spectacularly wrong:
1. Selection rules state there "will be no limit on the number of teams that may participate from one conference." Which means we could theoretically end up with four SEC teams in the semifinals. If that happens, it wouldn't be good for the sport. Part of the playoff intrigue is seeing champions of different conferences facing off. Let's hope the committee breaks any selection "ties" by picking an undefeated league champion over another's runner-up.
2. No one will question the panel's knowledge or work ethic. But one fear is that many of them have been involved in college administrative duties -- which means they've had to make decisions based on the big business college football has become. And we all know that some programs (Notre Dame, Michigan, USC, Texas) are proven to produce bigger TV ratings and better business than others. If one of those teams receives the edge for a top-four spot in a close call over a worthy but less-glamorous team such as Boise State, there will be murmurs.
3. The committee is charged with choosing the proper semifinal sites for the four teams and is supposed to weigh criteria such as "convenience of travel for its fans" and "home crowd advantage or disadvantage." I predict this will turn into the most controversial annual issue. How many Oregon fans and students will travel to, say, New Orleans or Dallas, for a semifinal game against LSU -- with the knowledge if the Ducks win, it would require another trip the next week to some other city? And how fair would that be?
All of this bears watching. But at day's end, committee member Oliver Luck was correct in saying the four-team playoff "is a significant improvement over the BCS." Now, could you please let Prof. Rice get back to her video study? I hear she's already breaking down intelligence reports for 2014 from the Mountain West and Big 12.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org.