Last September, while the rest of the college football world had seemingly deemed Ohio State done after a home loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was certain the 12 members of the College Football Playoff’s selection committee hadn’t made the same mistake.
After all, he had three phone conversations with committee members Pat Haden and Condoleezza Rice, the conference point people for the Big Ten.
Modeled after the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee, the College Football Playoff also has conference monitors -- committee members who are assigned to thoroughly study two of the 10 FBS conferences and report on them at each of the committee’s weekly meetings. Part of that responsibility this past season included four teleconferences with their designated FBS commissioners.
“We had pretty much been written off in the second week of the season, but this was a way for us and any other conference to keep things in perspective,” Delany said. “They were receptive to the idea that the season wasn’t complete after three weeks. They were receptive to how teams change and grow. They were receptive to playing big games against quality opponents on the road.
“They wanted to know how tough the environments were to play at Penn State or Nebraska, how Michigan State was going to respond after the loss at Oregon, how Ohio State might get better, what Wisconsin had,” he said. “There’s a lot to be learned about selecting teams after two or three weeks. It was a manifestation of the committee’s openness to what was actually happening on the field.”
The first call was an introduction, and took place early in the season, while the other three were more detailed conversations later in the season about what was going on in all 10 FBS races. In basketball, it’s typically another representative from the league office, but the playoff committee spoke with the actual league commissioner each time.
“I thought Oliver Luck from our perspective as our conference monitor was phenomenal,” said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. “We had very good conversations, very detailed. They’re not stumping for you, they’re not your advocates, but there’s not one thing that happened in the world of the Mountain West Conference that Oliver didn’t know about, and I think that’s true with all of the committee members. I think they really did their due diligence as far as knowing everything they could know.”
While the Power 5 teams dominated the committee’s rankings, the commissioners of the Group of 5 conferences said they benefited from the teleconferences, too. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco spoke with Haden and Mike Gould.
“I thought it was extremely helpful because they were knowledgeable and they really did care what our conference was doing,” Aresco said. “They clearly had watched the games, they had questions for us.”
Thompson said the conversations were used to inform committee members about injuries, breakout performances, and storylines within the league that might not necessarily have made headlines. Whether or not the commissioners were actually telling them anything they didn’t already know?
None of the committee members have been available for interviews since before their first ranking was revealed last October.
Delany said it was not a chance for the commissioners to lobby for their conferences, however he did use the opportunity to remind the committee members how young Ohio State was, and said he kept the conversation focused on the Buckeyes, Spartans, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
“There was going to be a lot of head-to-head remaining,” Delany said. “Those were four teams that if they had won out, won a championship and continued to get better that we were focused on. We were focused on the fact we had played the fewest FCS teams of any conference. We were focused on we had the second-most FBS wins … the season needed to play out.”
Lesson learned for everyone but the committee. They already knew that.