Monday, October 7, 2013

So far, Playoff plays media perfectly, and vice versa

We're more than a year away but many media members have fully bought into the College Football Playoff.

With leaks about the makeup of the selection committee over the weekend, on-air TV and radio types have spent too much time talking about how the committee approach -- similar to the NCAA Tournament selection committee -- will be so much better the existing Bowl Championship Series format for college football's top division.

It's become a self-serving discussion from both sides -- the media loves the College Football Playoff coming next season and the College Football Playoff loves the coverage its getting.

All that blind love does nothing for honesty, journalism or reporting, though.

Instead, everyone involved is perpetuating a myth that, someday (but not any day soon) the media itself will eventually debunk. At it's core, it's all a public relations battle -- an effort to enlighten and improve the discussion about the selection of contenders for the national championship.

It sounds so good. But it's too good to be true.

We're talking about the selection of four teams to play in two games at the end of next season. That's it. Four games. Two teams. One will come from the Southeastern Conference, with the winner of that conference's championship game making it to the national semifinals.

With that pretty much guaranteed, we're now we're talking about three teams to round out the remaining spots in what will be the national semifinals and championship game. That's it. Three teams. And to accomplish that goal, college football's top division will need a group of a dozen to a dozen and a half people, who will not meet -- with much accompanying hoopla -- to debate and determine the field for playoff.

It will be nothing more than further glorifying a bunch of people many media members already like (that's the reason for so much early love for the process as the initial names were leaked) and nothing less than the thoughtless investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars (when you consider lodging, time and everything associated) to accomplish a rather simple task.

When the selection committee meets for the NCAA Tournament, the group is working to determine spots for more than 30 at-large berths in the tournament. They also determine game sites and seeding.

Their football counterparts must determine only who gets in (again three teams, maybe fewer depending on who remains unbeaten at the end of next season along with the SEC champion) because game locations are set and seedings will be irrelevant -- save for generating slightly better TV ratings.

Adding a "human" factor, to the the selection process will not improve which teams get picked. It might change why they get picked, but that's about it.

So we're getting all this media-driven hype for a system that's really no better than the beleaguered BCS, which relies on computer-based and human polls. The College Football Playoff is just the "plus-one" model that many in college football and the media railed against -- until they were asked to be a part of the process. Now that's a way to control a message.

At it's best, the closed group (though they'll pledge transparency) of College Football Playoff selectors will huddle to debate and determine between the fourth team in the field and the fifth, sixth or seventh -- those who do not make the cut. It's important stuff, the difference between a huge, double-digit millions of dollars, payout for College Football Playoff participants (and their conferences) and much less for those who do not make the cut.

As the process plays out, though, the lack of clean-cut or consistently defensible decisions by the committee will become obvious (exactly what happens with the NCAA Tournament from year to year). And, at some point, the supporting media will take notice and the relationship might get a bit more icy.

What should happen -- and it will, though not quickly -- will be a full-fledged eight- or 16-team playoff. A national champion for college football will eventually get decided on the field because that's the best way. The best way is not a way that includes injury justifications as part of a late-season presentation in a boardroom or statistical spreadsheets that get gauged and nuanced by people in that same room.

Even worse -- and things are just beginning -- the process has already prompted the expected attacks by self-defined enlightened-media on those they consider less qualified. That's why some people piled on ESPN analyst David Pollack last Saturday after he said he hoped more people who had "played football" would be part of the selection committee.

Of course, that led to the politically correct portion of sports media to bash Pollack and make all kinds of comparisons about how someone could not judge something if they had not done so before themselves. But here's the thing: Pollack was not wrong, and neither were those who took shots at him. Any committee that would do such a job for college football needs both types of those people. And if it's to exist it also needs some rational people who know that such a statement is not as incendiary as they think. It's just one guy expressing an opinion. That's Pollack's job.

What's most missing from the proposed selection committee are student-athletes. Yes, college football players. Just like kids playing sports at any level, they know who's better than them and who's not. They know who belongs and who doesn't.

What's also missing from the process so far is a bit more balance or curiosity on the part of the media. Rather than getting pulled along for the ride or picking on each other, the media could be doing much more.