The Real Problem with the CFB Playoff Process

The real problem of the College Football Playoff is not where Baylor, or any team for that matter, is ranked. Instead, what we need to focus on is the veil of ignorance the Selection Committee has attempted to pull over the public's eyes, given the fact that the Committee placed a special caveat in its own rules.

Note: The following article is not intended to argue for or against any team making the Final Four of the College Football Playoff. While this may appear on a Baylor oriented website, the intention is to neither critique Baylor’s place in the latest (or any) CFB rankings nor argue for or against any team. The following criticism is leveled only at the College Football Playoff Selection process and Selection Committee alone. In addition, the term “tyrant” is used in its most literal definition, that of an oppressive ruler. It in no way is meant to imply that anyone on the Selection Committee has political leanings or propensities one way or another, or that they have sympathies with popular tyrants of history. The same can be said of “oligarchy,” which simply means a small group of people having control.

As the most recent College Football Playoff rankings appeared on my screen last night I made it a point to switch off ESPN before Jeff Long made an appearance to justify the seemingly meaningless, yet controversial, numbered teams he and his committee had managed to come up with. While I did my best to avoid what Long had to say, my propensity for Twitter eventually superseded my desire to avoid his “logic” and I found myself scrolling through not just the fans’ reactions, but that of the national media as well.

Last night, the college football fan base was introduced to a new axiom from Long, who moonlights as Arkansas’ athletic director. While attempting to justify undefeated Florida State’s position in the latest poll, as well as Alabama’s jump to number one, Long said, “We look at the games, how they've played them, whether they've controlled the game. They’ve [, FSU,] had a number of come-from-behind victories." Thus the new doctrine of college football: game control.

Allow me to pause here and reiterate my point in the note preceding this article. In no way is it my intention to belittle what Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have accomplished these past one and a half seasons, or Alabama for that matter. The merits of both teams are a conversation for another time.

Continuing on, I awoke this morning to find the idea of game control had not sat well with fans of college football. Aside from the barrage of dumbfounded (and hilarious) mentions one can find with a simple Twitter search of “game control,” national writers across the board took up the cause of attempting to figure out what exactly this new idiom means for the sport. Even ESPN analyst Todd McShay used what he believed to be a legitimate measure of game control to show how the rankings did not reflect this new variable’s input.

Yet, the more I thought on the matter, the more I questioned how Long and the committee could possibly justify adding in new variables to the already convoluted model that is the College Football Playoff ranking. Are strength of schedule, head to head, conference championships, and common opponents already not hard enough to figure out without introducing game control and, side note, Alabama’s “kicking game?”

I decided to do some detective work on the matter and ran across the Playoff's Media Guide, which outlines not only who is on the committee, but also details the original proposal and the adopted (same) proposal for the procedures of the Selection Committee. Surely, the selection procedure, as fans and non-ESPN journalists have been led to believe, considers the following variables in the following order: 1) Conference Championships; 2) Strength of Schedule; 3) Head to Head; 4) Performance against Common Opponents. Otherwise, how can Long and the committee get away with phrases detailing how close numbers four through seven are, yet, “Baylor and TCU's body of work are not comparable enough that the head-to-head would kick in;” a paradox seemingly exists.

What I found, however, is that certain safeguards were put in place for the Selection Committee. Page 12 of the 2014-15 Media Guide begins with the following regarding the “Principles” of the selection process, “The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering [the four points mentioned previously]” (emphasis added). It seems as though the committee placed a seemingly small caveat in the rules that allows for them to introduce any variable they wish before taking into account the four main points of consideration.

This qualification, hereafter referred to as the Comparative Condition, allows for the committee to randomly and discretely operate behind closed doors, and it is the true problem with not just the Selection Committee, but also the entire College Football Playoff.

This mission statement is, in essence, a diatribe written against the BCS system and the general complaints leveled against it in previous years.

What are the effects of this Comparative Condition, then? First, it is necessary to outline the exact mission statement of the Selection Committee. Found on page 11, “Under the current construct [the BCS], polls (although well-intended) have not expressed these values; particularly at the margins where teams that have won head-to-head competition and championships are sometimes ranked behind non-champions and teams that have lost in head-to-head competition. Nuanced mathematical formulas ignore some teams who ‘deserve’ to be selected.” “These values,” referred to in the first statement are, according to the preceding paragraph, “championships won on the field and strength of schedule.” This mission statement is, in essence, a diatribe written against the BCS system and the general complaints leveled against it in previous years.

While this mission statement is laudable at face value, the Selection Committee is in no way beholden to it, thanks to the Comparative Condition. In effect, rather than providing fans with what was agreed upon and desired, a system more appropriate than the BCS, and fulfilling the Committee’s own mission statement, what has been created is a behind-the-scenes tyrannical college football oligarchy, whereby extraneous variables are considered first in order to fulfill individual agendas. On top of that, in the same way tyranny typically hides behind the public’s veil of ignorance, the Committee has sewn together just the same veil to blind the fans of college football and appear as statesmen attempting to better the sport.

For a group of people to truly consider the four variables outlined previously and honestly work as a better alternative to the old BCS system a rough and simplified logical proof would look something like this, where P refers to a proposition and C the conclusion based on the previous propositions:

P1: Most Power-5 conference champions are deserving of a spot in a four-team playoff.

P2: Most teams that prevail over a difficult strength of schedule are deserving of a spot in a four-team.

P3: All teams that prevail over another contender in a head-to-head matchup are deserving of a spot over the competing team in a four-team playoff.

P4: When P1 and P2 are met, but P3 is not, most teams that prevail in a more convincing manner (i.e. point differential) over a common opponent are more deserving than the other contender.

P5: Teams A, B, C, and D fulfill the following propositions more completely than the other contenders.

C1: Therefore, teams A, B, C, and D are the most deserving of competing in a four-team playoff.

Instead, the Comparative Condition, which is what the Committee operates under, crafts a different outcome; given a different set of available propositions, in this case the introduction of P6.

P1: Most Power-5 conference champions are deserving of a spot in a four-team playoff.

P2: Most teams that prevail over a difficult strength of schedule are deserving of a spot in a four-team.

P3: All teams that prevail over another contender in a head-to-head matchup are deserving of a spot over competing team in a four-team playoff.

P4: When P1 and P2 are met, but P3 is not, most teams that prevail in a more convincing manner (i.e. point differential) over a common opponent are more deserving than the other contender.

P5: Teams A, B, C, and D fulfill the following propositions more completely than the other contenders.

P6: The following five propositions are only true among “otherwise comparable teams” (CFB Media Guide 12).

C2: Therefore, teams S, X, Y, and Z (or any combination of the eight teams A-D or S-Z, excluding the unique association of C1) are the most deserving of competing in a four team playoff, given the falsifiability of any proposition (P) under P6.

This second proof cannot even be called such, as it falls under the fallacy of circular reasoning, or begging the question, whereby the second conclusion (C2) is only reached because P6 allows it to be so. Why does P6 allow it to be so? Because the ultimate goal is to reach C2, therefore P6 is necessary. A vicious circle of desire fulfillment. In addition, the inclusion of the last proposition (P6) results in a confirmation bias, more specifically a confirmation bias in search of information, whereby the Committee consciously creates the conditions under which a new, non-related variable (“game control”) can be entered into the equation, in order to achieve the most desired results.

In sum, the inclusion of the Comparative Condition by the Committee has created a team of one dozen college football tyrants, collectively an oligarchy, who are free and able to fulfill their desires thanks to the rules they operate under, but not necessarily the same rules made readily available to the public.

perhaps it is better to refer to them as “The Dangerous Dozen.”

Yet, the dangers are even beyond that. The first, and most major, effect of the Comparative Condition is that the Selection Committee is not held responsible to any true set of rules, but rather operates as a government that scraps and rewrites its constitution every given week. This week we were introduced to “game control,” but what will next week hold? Perhaps, if we are lucky, the Committee will begin taking into consideration just how “effectively loud” home crowds are or, maybe, the performance of the marching band during halftime. While this is, of course, nonsensical, the point remains that the rules under which this Committee operates allows it to consider any type of variable, literally any, simply to account for the fact that the four agreed upon variables need not be addressed if the teams are not inherently “comparative.” As a result, each and every week the public will be kept on a string and manhandled by the Committee’s new constitution.

Secondly, while the Committee might be fraught with circular reasoning and confirmation bias, the true danger this problem poses to college football is its tyrannical and oligarchical control it utilizes in deciding the future of schools, programs, and student athletes. While I will be the first to admit that society as a whole needs to reexamine its emphasis on sports in general, the fact of the matter remains that people’s livelihoods depend on the machine of college athletics. Having worked for Baylor Men’s Basketball the previous two and a half years, I learned that fans and the media are not nearly the only parties with a vested interest in the NCAA-realm. There are so many cogs in the workings of a college sports program that any chance to perform on the national stage will have unquestioned benefits for all, and when the Selection Committee does not accurately provide a fair playing field for each team, those parties suffer.

The simplest example is that of the college quarterback. If QB X, who plays in the Cotton Bowl (non-semi-final) puts up comparative numbers to that of QB Y, who plays in the National Championship game, QB Y will automatically receive more attention from the media (given the stage), which increases his public profile, and therefore raises his odds, however slight, of succeeding in the future in the profession due to a heightened profile (i.e. draft status). In the end, the farcical performance of the Selection Committee has consequences reaching further than the media and the fan bases.

The introduction video to the College Football Playoff show each week calls the Committee “The Decisive Dozen,” but, while we are on the topic of alliterative clichés, perhaps it is better to refer to them as “The Dangerous Dozen.” The amount of power the conferences, schools, and fans have vested these 12 people with is irresponsible, and the only way to combat it from now on is to educate the public on how exactly this committee operates.

Being an academic of political science and American politics, specifically, I would be remised if I did not mention a famous quote by Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.” As such, the next time the rankings are released and you have a bone to pick with the Committee, do not simply rely on being upset at where your team is placed, but analyze just how the Committee skewed the results to achieve its goal for each team and bring this to light. This is the case whether you support the Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, or Marshall.

Remember that this is the system we all thought would deliver us from the ignorance of the BCS, but, just as real academic research has shown, revolutions rarely result in a freer society.


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