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Dumb Idea Replaces Dumb Idea: The NCAA Football Playoff

Why is the football playoff selection committee bothering with the contrived system of seven more top-25 rankings?

by Smriti Sinha
Oct 30 2014, 6:25pm

Photo by Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For all the praise college football received for finally introducing a playoff system, the goodwill is already starting to wane as the futility of the week by week rankings released by the new playoff committee becomes evident. It's now up to this 12-member selection committee to decide who makes it to the final four. But instead of keeping it simple, the committee will also be deliberating over seven more weekly top-25 rankings, the first of which was released Tuesday.

But if only the final rankings, the rankings that become public December 7, will decide which teams make the playoffs, where they will play, and who will fill the other major bowl slots, then why start now? Why bother with this contrived exercise at all?

Largely because it makes perfect sense for an amateur billion-dollar sports enterprise and its broadcast partner to create artificial buzz, generate debate, and incite passionate fan reaction week after week. The NCAA has already managed to do this with its inaugural rankings that featured three SEC West teams — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Auburn — among the top 4.

Read More: Jameis Winston And The NCAA's Golden Cage of Privilege

And the fact that committee members will be splitting these hairs week after week in a totally redundant exercise isn't the only problem. Their methodology is convoluted and confusing. Conference championships, head-to-head results, common opponents, injuries to key players, and strength of schedule will all be considered, but how much weight each factor gets will be totally subjective, dependent on the individual committee member. Condoleezza Rice might take Alabama to task for losing to Ole Miss, and Barry Alvarez might be more forgiving of the fact that they were missing three key players for the game. The system is inconsistent and unpredictable. It's not really even a system at all.

The emphasis on injuries cannot be ignored. Chairman Jeff Long said that committee members considered Oregon offensive tackle Jake Fisher's injury while deciding the Ducks' ranking. In the most obvious way, this could make coaches more or less susceptible to hiding or exaggerating injuries as the season continues. It's not clear how teams benefit or don't from injury situations. The committee's mission is selecting the "best team," and injuries definitely change that. The Ducks weren't at their best without Fisher and still got ranked at fifth, ahead of teams that were undefeated. Where does that bring us with regards to suspended players? If Clemson had managed to turn the tables on Florida State, would the committee have considered that the Seminoles were missing their star, Jameis Winston?

In pushing down Ohio State and Marshall, both ranked lower in the committee's Top 25 than in the traditional AP or coaches' poll, they've showed that excelling against weak competition may not count for much. But at the end of the day, there's no metric for them to decide strength of schedule.

"No one knows the criteria. This isn't an integrity issue. You can have the smartest people in the world, but if the roadmap isn't there then it doesn't matter," Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA vice president who oversaw the selection process for the basketball championship told SI.com.

Nick Saban's thoughts best express how a lot of people feel about the weekly rankings: "I don't even care, to be honest with you. Don't know and don't care."