FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- It was difficult to know exactly what to expect in the first year of the College Football Playoff, even for Jeff Long, the chair of the selection committee, considering that it was uncharted territory for major college football. At this time a year ago, Long had a lot of unanswered questions about the process, from the amount of time it would take the committee to debate teams to what the travel schedules would be like for the committee members.
With the first year of the playoff in the rearview mirror, the Arkansas athletic director seems pleased with what transpired and optimistic about what's to come. Long recently sat down with ESPN.com to reflect on his first season as the the committee chair, discuss how the first year of the College Football Playoff went and more in this Q&A:
Sitting here at this time last year, I assume you didn't know what to expect, because everything was new. Now having gone through it, how do you feel things went?
Long: I'm very pleased with the committee, because I think that getting together a full year in advance and really working out that initial process, I think it was really important for us to develop our process for ranking the teams and then following that plan through. So we took that process all the way through, I think it was a credit to the committee that we stuck to our process. We didn't change when the heat turned up and scrutiny got even more. We stuck to our clean sheet of paper, ranking all the way through, comparing those teams against each other and we stuck to that. I think that really helped us, enabled us, to get it right. I think that now we've gone through that whole year and we're looking back and we think we got the process right. There's a few tweaks we'll make to it this coming year but I think the other thing is having been through it once, there's less anxiety. We know what to expect. We know the amount of time. When we went in to debate teams, we had no idea -- are we going to be in here for 12 hours or six hours? How long is it going to take us to get to a point? Obviously that's going to vary from year-to-year and week-to-week. But we have a general sense now, how much time it's going to take. I think we're going to be able to plan, travel, much better, because we've now been through it. The wear and tear on us as a committee will be a little less this year because we know what to expect.
What was the most frequent piece of feedback that you received -- from either fans, administrators from other schools or people you've crossed paths with -- regarding Year 1 of the playoff?
Long: Overwhelmingly have gotten the sense from fans and colleagues alike that the committee did a good job. I think the term is 'We got it right.' The overwhelming sentiment from fans and colleagues and ADs is 'You know what? The committee got it right.' And that's gratifying for us as a committee.
What are your thoughts on divisions in conferences? The Big 12 doesn't have them, the other power conferences do. You look at the contrast between the SEC West and the SEC East last season. Are they needed? Should conferences look a different direction on the matter?
Long: Everybody's views are based on where they are. I think conferences need divisions. I can speak to my situation at Arkansas. I like a division because my fans want to see us battle for a West title. If we're late in the season and we have a chance to battle for the West title, fans are more likely to come. I think this is in general as well. If you've fallen out of the West race, your numbers of no-shows for your tickets are going to increase. So if you just have one conference without a division, you're going to fall out of contention earlier in that process. To me, from an AD's point of view, I want to sell tickets, I want my stadium full because that's a better environment for my student-athletes to hopefully win a game, the home-field advantage, all those things. I like divisions because I'm going to be in that hunt for a division title longer, that's going to keep my fans engaged longer.
Currently not every conference has a championship game and not every conference plays the same amount of conference games. Ideally, do you feel it would it be best if every league played the same amount of conference games and they either all had a championship game or they all didn't?
Long: In a perfect world, yes.
Could you envision a scenario where that could become possible somewhere down the road, maybe in five or 10 years?
Long: I think there would have to be more conference landscape changes for that to happen, from my point of view. Generally, broad statement, would I like to see that happen? Generally, I would. But college football is unique and I don't think we all need to be homogenous. So I don't have strong feelings about this conference or that conference must do this.
I'm just curious -- was the media portion of the being the committee chair nerve-wracking?
Long: Absolutely for me. For me, personally, that was the hardest part. While I'm comfortable sitting here with you, that camera and that spotlight, for someone like me who had to develop to be a public speaker, that was the part that I had the most anxiety about. And the other thing and I think most people don't realize this, part of that anxiety is that I'm one of 13 [committee members], so I'm trying to answer the media questions on behalf of the 12 others. I'm not giving my personal opinions or thoughts. When I'm asked the question, I'm now put in the reference point of the committee. How did the 13 of us view this, the collective group? That takes some thinking quick on your feet, it does. I don't have the questions in advance, like Heather [Dinich] gets on occasion (laughs). So the media part, for me personally [is nervewracking]. For other ADs, it may not be, they're more comfortable and at ease in that situation. For me, I've had to acquire that in my career. It was not natural for me.
Back to your own school; there seems to be a lot of positive buzz in and around the football complex about the direction Arkansas football is headed after the way the Razorbacks ended last season. Do you feel the same way?
Long: I do. There is an energy here, a buzz, a feeling that we are really moving in the right direction. It's a good feeling. Football can drive the feeling in an athletic department but also the whole university. There's a good feel here now.