Last week, Ohio State AD Gene Smith was named as the successor to outgoing playoff selection committee member Barry Alvarez. Two venerable Big Ten administrators, to be sure. But by continuing to include active athletic directors in this process, is the CFP opening itself up to more criticism than is necessary?
Smith has had a distinguished career since graduating from Notre Dame in 1977, so the uneasiness about this decision has nothing to do with him personally. It has everything to do with the ridiculousness of empowering an athletic director—any athletic director—with a decision that could possibly have a direct impact on his own university.
For starters, yes, ADs must recuse themselves whenever the discussion centers on their own school. But they mustn’t leave the room if the debate pertains to, say, a competitor that’s also vying for a playoff berth. And while that’s not to suggest that an athletic director would attempt to pull something unscrupulous, only the truly naïve can’t see the potential for a conflict of interest.
And the optics of having sitting ADs on the playoff selection committee? Just awful. It’s like having one of the defendant’s family members sit in the jury box during a trial.
Through the first three years of operation, the College Football Playoff has performed rather swimmingly, generally meeting the call to move the four best teams forward. And the presence of athletic directors, including the ADs from Texas Tech, Arkansas, Oregon and Clemson, have not been impediments to success. But why is it necessary, when it’s certain to be a lightning rod for criticism? Especially when it’s unrealistic to ask an athletic director with an already full plate to now evaluate games and teams that have no bearing on his or her own university.
Employing sitting ADs makes little sense, while also serving to attract undue criticism. They’re not a necessity, especially when there are dozens of quality, and qualified, media members whose 24/7 job is to evaluate the totality of the college football landscape. And whose biases, while undoubtedly present in some form or fashion, aren’t likely to be as close to the surface or directly impactful to job performance.
There is currently one committee member, former USA Today reporter Steve Wieberg, with a background of actually covering sports. And that seems like a lost opportunity to tap into the minds and the expertise of individuals who are in the business of consuming, digesting and extrapolating large amounts of data pertaining to the broad landscape of college athletics.
No disrespect to Smith, but tabbing him to succeed Alvarez was sensible only from the perspective that each Power Five league still has a representative within the committee. That is to say, there’s a balance of power. However, here’s hoping that as tenures end, beginning with Bobby Johnson, Condoleezza Rice and Kirby Hocutt in February, that the College Football Playoff strongly considers peeling off any and all employees from a university that could conceivably contend for a playoff spot. That’s not looking to shore up problems that may not exist. Rather, it’s just good common sense in action.