SBJ/Aug. 18-24, 2014/In Depth

Hancock spreads the football playoff gospel

Bill Hancock’s goal is to keep the College Football Playoff as simple as possible. No complicated computer formulas, no RPI rankings, no math whatsoever. But that doesn’t stop the never-ending stream of questions that confront Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, wherever he goes.

“My sense is that many people just don’t understand how simple the playoff will be,” Hancock said from his CFP office in the Dallas suburb of Las Colinas. “Obviously, the coaches and others want to know the criteria the selection committee will use. That’s the most common question. The answer to that is common sense.”

Bill Hancock attended four football media days held by conferences, including the Big 12.
Photo by: Icon SMI
Hancock views his job as two-dimensional. One is to administrate the process of choosing the four playoff teams.
The other is to get the word out on how the playoff will function.

“I suppose, as a former newspaper guy, it’s a no-brainer for me personally to be as transparent as possible,” said the former newspaper editor in his hometown of Hobart, Okla.

So Hancock and his staff hit the road in late July to attend all 10 conference football media days. Hancock personally went to four — the SEC, Conference USA, Big 12 and American Athletic. It’s a ritual Hancock brought over from his days at the old BCS, which he directed from 2005 through its final season last year. He started attending conference media days in 2006, and in the past went to as many as six in only a few weeks. They’re like family reunions, he said, where you see old friends and catch up.

He has a larger staff at the CFP now, so he doesn’t have to be a one-man traveling band.

During the three days of the SEC media days in Birmingham, Ala., Hancock did 41 interviews, 35 of which were radio. So many brushes with the media help him explain the CFP procedures while also understanding what questions the media and the public have about the new format.

“I did encounter a lot of people who just don’t know yet how it will operate, which is understandable,” Hancock
said. “We eat, sleep and breathe this, 24/7, but not everybody else does. So it’s good to hear from people who have questions.”

The vast majority of those questions have to do with the selection process.

Four primary criteria were established at the very beginning: strength of schedule, head-to-head results, common opponents and whether the team won its conference championship.

But then there’s this: “And, of course, any other factors any committee members want to use,” Hancock added.

That’s what makes people nervous.

“I think the curiosity is a hangover from the BCS days when there was a hard and fast metric,” Hancock said of the old BCS system, which employed computer rankings to help determine the two best teams. “The transition to the more subjective human decision-making will naturally spark curiosity. … I think fans will welcome the simplicity of this once they get comfortable with it.”

The other question he hears the most is when the playoff will expand. That one makes him laugh because the CFP is about to start its first year of a 12-year agreement among the conferences, and its broadcaster, ESPN. He even heard the expansion topic brought up in a meeting with ESPN executives, talent and producers during a visit to Bristol, Conn., earlier this month.

“People ask me how long until it goes to eight. You know my points on this — a big playoff at some point will diminish the regular season,” Hancock said. “It will change the bowl experience as a whole. I’m talking about everything from Pasadena to Nashville to Shreveport to Mobile to the Bahamas. It will change if there’s a big playoff.

“That point was brought back to me by the coaches at the American and Conference USA. They made it very clear — please don’t do anything to take the bowl experience away from our athletes.”

Hancock doesn’t see expansion on the horizon. “It’s really a moot point because there is no talk in our group about it.”

Hancock’s schedule won’t slow down in the coming months. When he’s not attending college football games, he’ll be continuing two other fall traditions.

For the last 10 years, he’s been going to high school football games with his two grandsons in Shawnee Mission, Kan. Hancock works out of his Dallas office during the week, but he and his wife kept a home in the suburb just outside of Kansas City.

He’s also a regular at Oklahoma State women’s soccer matches. Daughter-in-law Karen Hancock is an assistant coach for the Cowgirls.

But by Oct. 28, the Tuesday when the first CFP rankings are released, Hancock will be neck-deep in the process of selecting the four teams that will play in the first college football playoff.

“A lot of people think I have a vote, but no, the staff does not vote,” Hancock said.

The 12-person CFP staff will operate much like the NCAA does during the selection of the 68 teams for the basketball tournament, something Hancock knows well from his 16 years at the NCAA.

“Our job is to keep the trains running on time, understand the process, make sure there’s thorough discussion, and then order lunch,” he said with a laugh.

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