SBD/December 4, 2017/Colleges

CFP Selection Committee Draws Mixed Reaction After Picking 'Bama Over Ohio State

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Clemson, the defending champion, has now made the CFP three straight years
Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama will compete in next month's CFP, an "undeniable win" for the SEC, which became the first conference to "put two teams in the playoff," according to Marc Tracy of the N.Y. TIMES. Ohio State on paper had "more accomplishments than Alabama, with three highly regarded wins and a conference championship, and one early-season loss to Oklahoma." However, OSU's 31-point loss at Iowa and Alabama’s "statistical dominance over an admittedly weaker schedule ... persuaded the committee to slot" them over OSU. Alabama has made the CFP "all four years of the format’s existence, while Clemson, the defending champion, has now made it three straight years." The CFP's composition also "confirmed the top-heavy nature of the sport." The 16 total playoff slots so far have been "filled by just nine programs" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Pete Thamel noted this is the "first time in four seasons" the Big Ten has been left out of the CFP. The committee "made a decision that will resonate for years to come," as it could be the "most revealing data point" in the CFP's brief history (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/3). In Birmingham, Kevin Scarbinsky wrote picking OSU "would've spread the playoff wealth" among four Power Five conferences and "helped draw TV eyeballs from the Rust Belt." Instead both the Big Ten and Pac-12 were left out, leaving the CFP with a "distinct Southern drawl." By picking two SEC teams, it will "accelerate the demand to expand" the CFP to at least six teams to include all Power Five champions (AL.com, 12/3).

BEST, NOT MOST DESERVING: Texas Tech AD and CFP selection committee Chair Kirby Hocutt said that the decision was "sound enough" that it did "not have to resort to four protocols given to it by conference commissioners in the event of a virtual tie." In DC, Chuck Culpepper writes Alabama's inclusion "marked the second time in two years that a team that did not win its division or its conference, and thus rested through the final Saturday, finished just ahead of a conference champion" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/4). ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said, "The committee just made a statement. They are not into appeasing people's agendas. They are going to do what they think is right." ESPN's Booger McFarland: "The initiative of the College Football Playoff committee is to get the four best teams. ... The 13 people in the room made a statement" ("College Football Playoff: Selection Show," ESPN, 12/3). Herbstreit added, "The fortitude of that group to be willing to keep Ohio State and the Big Ten and Jim Delany out and ... put a second SEC team in who didn't even make it (to the conference championship game) shows me and you and everybody else the committee doesn't care about politics" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/3). THE ATHLETIC's Max Olson wrote it is clear that four years in, the selection committee "feels more confident than ever in its process." That process also "seems more clearly defined now: No matter what they’ve said or done in the past, no matter what criteria they chose to embrace or ignore, they’re picking what they perceive to be the four best football teams" (THEATHLETIC.com, 12/3).

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
: In Cleveland, Bill Landis writes Alabama "got the benefit of the doubt in a close call." Landis: "Eye test over resume" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 12/4). In New Orleans, Ron Higgins writes under the header, "CFP Committee Went With Eye Test Rather Than Principles In Choosing Alabama." Most of the time when the committee has two teams with comparable records, it "uses its list of basic principles." But there is also the "extremely subject 'eye test' that the committee employs after watching teams on TV and also using game tape" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/4). ESPN's Mack Brown said, "The committee's good. It's better than the BCS, better than computers. These people have eyes. Those computers weren't ever at the games" ("Championship Drive," ESPN, 12/13). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, "Given the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the playoff selection, I find it reassuring that in the end it was not politics but the lingering stench of a blowout loss to an unranked team that kept Ohio State out." The selection process "requires further fine-tuning." But Oller wrote, "I still like the "human element -- the eyeball test -- in the selection process" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 12/4). 

LOSSES MATTER: THE RINGER's Rodger Sherman wrote the selection committee "still considers conference championships a tertiary factor in deciding its field." The committee "still heavily values the sheer number of losses a team suffers, regardless of strength of schedule." Sherman: "Most importantly, Alabama’s inclusion tells us this: Don’t lose by 31 to Iowa" (THERINGER.com, 12/3). ESPN's Jesse Palmer said the committee is "making a point that wins and losses matter more than the resume in this case." Palmer: "Alabama’s resume isn’t even close to what Ohio State did. ... They’re punishing Ohio State for losing by 31 points to Iowa" ("College Football Playoff: Selection Show," ESPN 12/3). ESPN's Trey Wingo said, "If you had just gone by what they showed us last week, you saw Ohio State was eighth and Alabama was fifth. All you had to know was for Ohio State to have a chance, they had to annihilate Wisconsin, and they didn't" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 12/4).

BAMA SLAMMED: USA TODAY's Dan Wolken writes the choice of Alabama was the "wrong one, both in terms of precedent and message for a committee that pretty clearly went outside of the protocol that was built into this system four years ago." The Big Ten's CFP "flops" in '15 and '16 likely factored into the "subconscious of those committee members." All the "reverence for protocol and winning conference titles ended" with Alabama's inclusion. Wolken: "Where the resumé lacked, the Alabama brand prevailed. Maybe that’s the intent all along" (USA TODAY, 12/4). FS1's Skip Bayless called Alabama's selection a "reputation pick" and said coach Nick Saban "actually runs college football." Bayless: "He is the godfather of college football. ... I'm talking power and influence and mystique and the fear factor he generates" ("Undisputed," FS1, 12/4).

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel offered a "solution to college football's inefficient and (often) meaningless postseason." That would involve expanding the CFP and "eliminating the conference championship games." Four playoff games "should generate far more television money than the current crop of conference title games." There would be "better access, yet little to no loss of regular-season urgency." The system would "flow better and make sense." There would be "no additional games for players" and "we’d get campus venues" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/3). In N.Y., Zach Braziller wonders, "Why play the conference championship games if teams can reach the playoff without qualifying for them?" If the FBS "can have a 24-team playoff, why can’t the sport’s premier division do a third of that?" It is "time to expand the playoff" and "erase the problems that can be easily avoided" (N.Y. POST, 12/4). In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis wrote expanding the CFP to 16 teams is the "best way to go for college football" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 12/2).

THE GREAT DIVIDE: Amid the deluge of takes on the CFP on Twitter this weekend, one theme that emerged was that Fox personalities tended to be more critical than ESPN commenters about Ohio State being left out. Fox holds Big Ten football rights. Fox Sports' Shannon Sharpe: "Can’t wait to talk about the Alabama invitational ... I mean College Football Playoff." FS1's Matt Leinart: "Horrible for CFB. 2 teams from same conf. Committee please eliminate Conf. Championships from the criteria, clearly means nothing. Oh and playing cupcakes in November?" Fox Sports' Joel Klatt: "The CFP Committee is dishonest, inaccurate, and unreliable which puts long term health of Playoff at risk." ESPN/SEC Network's Gene Chizik: "I’m very impressed with the CFP committee. It wasn’t about agendas, politics or who deserved it. It was about TRUTH and accuracy. They did their homework. They got the 4 best PERIOD. As I hoped they would, they watched the FILM as well as other metrics." ESPN Radio 101.1 St. Louis' Bernie Miklasz: "When a team spends 13 of 14 weeks at No. 1 in the AP Poll, and earns 80.3 percent of 1st-place votes in 14 weeks of AP voting, and loses only 1 game (to 6th-ranked rival on road) ... no need to apologize for being 4th team in CFB playoff."

LINGERING THOUGHTS: In Cleveland, Doug Lesmerises notes a committee member "can't be involved" in a discussion about their own school and has to leave the room. If current ADs "must be involved, and there's no reason they have to be, it would make sense for them to come from schools that aren't college football powerhouses." Lesmerises: "Why is every playoff show on Tuesday except this last one, which reveals the playoff teams just 12 hours after the final game ended? You're rushing a decision, and taking away a couple days of chatter" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 12/4).
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