Committee ballots will be a mystery

Beginning Monday, when the 12 members of the College Football Playoff's selection committee meet at the sprawling Gaylord Texan resort for the first time this season, they will have hotel rooms on the same floor as the banquet room in which they will be meeting for two days.

They can eat every meal, enjoy some adult beverages in the evening and determine the top four teams in college football every Monday and Tuesday without being seen or heard.

Get used to that invisible cloak.

As the selection committee prepares to unveil its first top 25 ranking -- a historic moment for the sport -- it does so shrouded in mystery. The protocol is not a secret, nor is the voting process.

But the actual ballots are.

Fans and media will have no clue who's voting for whom, and we don't need one yet -- not as long as committee chairman Jeff Long can explain how and why the group came to its conclusions.

At 7:30 p.m. ET Oct. 28 on ESPN, Long will reveal the committee's top four teams, but he will be the only public voice of the group -- a move intended to streamline the results and unify the committee's decision. Long has said he will reveal if the vote was close or unanimous or if there was a wide gap between the No. 4 and No. 5 teams, but he's not going to make public the exact ballot count or opinions of individual committee members.

That's fair, until the final ranking is revealed Dec. 7.

Give the committee the next six weeks to go through the process, to figure out what metrics are most important, to get to know each other, to make mistakes, to become comfortable in their jobs. Then, on Dec. 7, every single committee member should be made available to explain his or her votes for the one ranking that matters.

If they had to do it every week, who on earth would volunteer to be on that committee ever again?

It's Long's job as committee chairman to make the process as transparent as possible.

College football fans have been thirsting for this playoff for years. They're ready to soak in the details and better understand how it all works. It's new for everyone, so the more insight Long can provide into the committee's thought process, the more trust fans will have in the subjective system. He can do that without revealing each individual vote if he talks about what metrics factored most into the decision and gives specific reasons No. 4 was ahead of No. 5.

He should be able to point to a team's defense, its strength of schedule, its best win -- whatever it was that swayed the committee. He should say whether the committee considered Braxton Miller's injury in Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech and the offensive line injuries in Oregon's loss to Arizona. He should explain why a one-loss East Carolina team might be ranked ahead of an undefeated Marshall team.

We might not know if there were any ties, and it's unclear what -- if any -- records will be kept of the voting. Long can provide insight with details such as how many times the committee revoted its top four (at least three members have to call for a revote in order to have one). He can tell us what -- not who -- made them change their minds.

As the committee chairman, Long is in a tough spot because it's up to him to publicly defend the group's selections, even if they don't reflect his own poll.

Think about that: Long might strongly believe Michigan State deserves to be in the top four, but he will have to go on national television and defend a vote that says otherwise. He cannot and will not say his version was any different.

That's going to be maddening at times for any committee members whose beliefs aren't reflected in the public ranking.

Dec. 7 would be a good time to explain that.