College Football Playoff – What You Need to Know About Selection Committee Protocol


Jul 16, 2014; Hoover, AL, USA; College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock talks to the media during the SEC Football Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the College Football Playoff issued a press release in regards to the final pre-season meeting of the selection committee. The document outlines the protocol for the selection committee when it comes to ranking the teams that will make the playoff, as well as creating the matchups for the associated bowl games.

Today we take a closer look at that protocol, and what it means to the teams involved, using the 2013 season as an example.

"College Football Playoff Selection Committee Protocol1. Mission. The committee’s task will be to select the best teams, rank the teams for inclusion in the playoff and selected other bowl games and, then assign the teams to sites."

The emphasis here is on the word “best.” Expect this to be the main topic of conversation when rankings come out, and as the season winds down. There will be plenty of discussion surrounding whether or not a 10-2 SEC team is “better” than an 11-1 ACC team or a 12-0 non-power conference team. The selection committee is charged with focusing on who are the four best teams in college football – not the most deserving.

For instance, following last season’s Iron Bowl, Alabama had an 11-1 record. Auburn moved to 12-1 with the victory in the SEC Championship Game, Michigan State was 12-1 after capturing the Big Ten title, Baylor owned an 11-1 record and a Big 12 championship, Stanford was 11-2 and the Pac-12 champ, and Florida State was a perfect 13-0 after winning the ACC.

Six teams would have had a very good case, but who would have made it into the College Football Playoff had it existed? FSU and Auburn would have been in, since they played for the title in 2013. Michigan State would have been a solid number three most likely, which leaves us with Alabama, Stanford and Baylor. Let’s take a look at the rest of the protocol to see the likely fourth participant.

"2. Principles. The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering:* Conference championships won,
* Strength of schedule,
* Head-to-head competition,
* Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory), and,
* Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance."

The principles appear as bullet points rather than a numbered list, but it appears that conference championships takes precedence. That makes it less likely for a second SEC school to make it to the playoff without a victory in Atlanta. Therefore, the SEC Championship Game loser, or the best of the division runners-up likely need to be head and shoulders “better” than other conference champions in order to make it into the playoff.

Jul 14, 2014; Irving, TX, USA; The new college football playoff championship trophy unveiled during a press conference at the college football playoff headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back at last year, the conference championship distinction is a mark against Alabama, and a plus for Stanford and Baylor. However, when considering strength of schedule, Stanford would have had the edge. We don’t yet know what means the committee will turn to in order to determine strength of schedule, but for the purpose of this article we will use college football guru Phil Steele’s Toughest Schedule rankings from this year’s pre-season magazine.

According to Steele, Stanford had a schedule that ranked in the nation’s top 20 in 2013. Alabama played the 38th most difficult schedule in the nation, and Baylor played the 44th toughest, making it a virtual tie between the Tide and Bears.

The teams did not play head-to-head, though Alabama did lose to Auburn, which could factor in. Alabama, Baylor and Stanford played no common opponents, so that point is moot – and neither suffered any major injuries that would have cost them credibility (think of Florida State in 1998 when the Seminoles were forced to play third-string quarterback Marcus Outzen in the 1999 BCS National Championship Game).

Therefore, as outlined in the principles, Baylor has the edge over Alabama because they were conference champions. But, Stanford holds the edge over Baylor because the Cardinal played a tougher schedule, and also won their league title – despite the fact that Stanford had two losses and the others had only one loss.

It appears that Florida State would receive the number one seed, Auburn second, Michigan State third, and Stanford would be the final team in the College Football Playoff.

"3. Voting Process. The voting process generally will include seven rounds of ballots through which the committee members first will select a small pool of teams to be evaluated, then will rank those teams, with the top-ranked teams being placed in the rankings in groups of three or four. Individual ballots will be compiled into a composite ranking. Each committee member will independently evaluate an immense amount of information during the process. This evaluation will lead to individual qualitative and quantitative opinions that will inform each member’s votes."


This is pretty self-explanatory, except for the part about how “each committee member will independently evaluate an immense amount of information during the process.” That is very vague, but essential it sounds like the individual members can rank teams however they see fit.

"4. Number of Teams to Be Ranked. The committee will rank 25 teams. If no champion of a non-contract conference is among that group, then the committee will conduct an additional process to identify the top-ranked champion of those conference champions."

The committee will single out the best of the teams that compete in a conference that is not one of the power five. The first criteria will be the committee’s won rankings, then they will select by other means if necessary. That team must be the champion of its conference.

UCF would have been selected last season. The Knights were champions of the American Athletic Conference, had a 12-1 record, and were ranked 15th in the last regular season AP Poll, which was highest among all non-power five schools.

"5. Meeting Schedule. The committee will meet in person weekly beginning at mid-season to produce interim rankings before selection weekend.The dates in the fall of 2014 will be as follows:Monday and Tuesday, October 27-28
Monday and Tuesday, November 3-4
Monday and Tuesday, November 10-11
Monday and Tuesday, November 17-18
Monday and Tuesday, November 24-25
Monday and Tuesday, December 1-2
Friday-Sunday, December 5-7"

Think of this as the new BCS Standings. We’ll get some insight into what the committee is thinking on seven separate occasions before the final four teams are revealed.


Dec 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers offensive linesman Avery Young (56) carries the trophy off the field after defeating the Missouri Tigers in the 2013 SEC Championship game at Georgia Dome. Auburn won 59-42. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

"6. Point Persons for Gathering Information. Committee members will be assigned to gather information about the teams in each conference and about the independent institutions, to ensure that the committee has complete, detailed information about every team."


The members will divide and conquer when it comes to learning as much as possible about all the teams that are involved. Then, the responsible committee member will share his or her findings with the rest of the group.


"7. Metrics. There will not be one single metric to assist the committee. Rather, the committee will consider a wide variety of data and information."


The committee will not say members must consider any particular set of rankings, research materials, etc. Everything is fair game.


"8. Participants. There shall be no limit on the number of teams that may participate from one conference in the playoff semifinals and the associated bowl games."


It would not matter if both Auburn and Alabama are deserving – or Missouri or South Carolina, for that matter. All four could be in the playoff if they are determined by the committee to be the four “best” teams. But of course, as we discussed earlier, not winning the conference championship is a concern for getting multiple teams from one league into the College Football Playoff.


"9. Pairings for Semifinals.A. The team ranked No. 1 by the selection committee will play team No. 4 in the semifinals. Team No. 2 will meet team No. 3.B. When assigning teams to sites, the committee will place the top two seeds at the most advantageous sites, weighing criteria such as convenience of travel for its fans, home-crowd advantage or disadvantage and general familiarity with the host city and its stadium. Preference will go to the No. 1 seed."


The two semifinal bowls will be the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl. It is expected that the Sugar Bowl will host the No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup, and with Florida State ranked first in our scenario, they would receive the bid to play in New Orleans, meaning Auburn would travel to Pasadena. The Seminoles would play Stanford, and the Tigers would take on Michigan State. The winners would meet in the National Championship Game in Dallas.


"10. Pairings for Selected Other Bowl Games. Jan 6, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher celebrates as he hoists the trophy after defeating the Auburn Tigers 34-31 the 2014 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsA. All displaced conference champions and the highest ranked champion from a non-contract conference, as ranked by the committee, will participate in selected other bowl games and will be assigned to those games by the committee. If berths in the selected other bowl games remain available after those teams have been identified, the highest ranked other teams, as ranked by the committee, will fill those berths in rank order.(Note: A “displaced conference champion” is a champion of a contract conference that does not qualify for the playoff in a year when its contract bowl hosts a semifinal game.)B. The committee shall create the best matchups in these bowl games in light of the following considerations. None of these considerations shall affect the ranking of teams. Also, none of these considerations will be controlling in determining the assignment of teams to available bowl games.* The committee will use geography as a consideration in the pairing of teams and assigning them to available bowl games.* The committee will attempt to avoid regular-season rematches when assigning teams to bowls.* To benefit fans and student-athletes, the committee will attempt to avoid assigning a team, or conference, or the highest-ranked champion of a non-contract conference, to the same bowl game repeatedly.* The committee will consider regular-season head-to-head results when assigning teams to bowls.* The committee will consider conference championships when assigning teams to bowls."


Basically, all the power-five conference champions will be represented in some way. If the champion is not one of the four semi-final teams in the Sugar or Rose Bowls, they will play in the Cotton, Peach, Orange or Fiesta Bowls. Also, the best non-power five team will reach a bowl. If the final four teams are from four different conferences, that would leave one power conference champion, one lesser conference champion, and six at-large spots.

Simply put, the committee will decide who plays in what bowl game however the hell they want to. They just want the pairings to make sense on some level and to avoid creating matchups that won’t sell tickets.


"11. Selection Sequence.* Teams will be placed in the playoff.* Contract bowls will be filled in accordance with their contracts.* Remainder of the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach Bowl berths will be filled."



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  • "12. Recusal Policy.If a committee member or an immediate family member, e.g., spouse, sibling or child, (a) is compensated by a school, (b) provides professional services for a school, or (c) is on the coaching staff or administrative staff at a school or is a football student-athlete at a school, that member will be recused. Such compensation shall include not only direct employment, but also current paid consulting arrangements, deferred compensation (e.g., contract payments continuing after employment has ended) or other benefits.The committee will have the option to add other recusals if special circumstances arise.A recused member shall not participate in any votes involving the team from which the individual is recused.A recused member is permitted to answer only factual questions about the institution from which the member is recused, but shall not be present during any deliberations regarding that team’s selection or seeding.Recused members shall not participate in discussions regarding the placement of the reduced team into a bowl game.Following are the recusals for 2014-15:Air Force – Mike Gould
Arkansas – Jeff Long
Clemson – Dan Radakovich
Mississippi – Archie Manning
Nebraska – Tom Osborne
Southern California – Pat Haden
Stanford – Condoleezza Rice
West Virginia – Oliver Luck
Wisconsin – Barry Alvarez"

    The organization realizes there are some conflicts of interest. In our example, Condoleezza Rice would not be allowed to be involved in any vote for Stanford.


    "13. Terms. Generally, the members shall serve three-year terms. Until the rotation has been achieved, certain terms may be shorter or longer. Terms shall be staggered to allow for an eventual rotation of members. Members will not be eligible for re-appointment.Terms Expire February 2016Gould, Mike
Haden, Pat
Osborne, Tom
Tranghese, Mike Terms Expire February 2017Alvarez, Barry
Luck, Oliver
Manning, Archie
Rice, Condoleezza Terms Expire February 2018Jernstedt, Tom
Long, Jeff
Radakovich, Dan
Wieberg, Steve
Willingham, Tyrone"


    Once your term is over, you’re off the committee forever.


    "14. Committee Chair. The Management Committee selected the first chair of the committee. The selection committee members will select future chairs."

    So, there you have it. Any questions? Let us know in the comments below.