One of the great mysteries of the College Football Playoff is the debate that occurs behind the closed doors of "Selection Central," the selection committee's meeting room at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas. On the week of the final ranking, a security guard is posted at the door, holding a list of who's allowed into the room. With the exception of the committee chairman, the members of the group are not allowed to speak to the media at all during the season.
So we turn to the four committee members whose terms have officially expired for our only real insight as to what their tenure was like, and how difficult it was to analyze Baylor and TCU in Year 1. Here are highlights of individual interviews with former committee members Pat Haden, Mike Tranghese, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould and Tom Osborne:
What do you want people to know about what you did?
Mike Gould: I would hope people understand it's not whichever conference has the biggest personality or whatever in the room. That really doesn't make any difference. That's not their job.
Pat Haden: I think there are some people who believe there are a lot of biases in the room, but there certainly aren't. I know Bill Hancock has talked about it. You check all that at the door. But it wasn't just a symbol. There were people there representing the game of college football.
Tom Osborne: I think the thing a lot of football fans might not realize was the depth of information we went through. We each had data available, and we tried to look at those things that seemed to correlate most heavily with predicting the best teams over the last 10 years. What data seemed to be indicative of the teams that would play for a national championship under the BCS system? For instance, average points per possession was a high predictor. Scoring defense, scoring offense adjusted for various factors and one thing we looked at pretty heavily was field position. In other words, if a team exchanged punts, on average, did they gain or lose yards? Because of turnovers did they end up with worse field position than their opponents? ... We looked pretty extensively at an awful lot of data, and of course the big one was schedule. We went into that pretty exhaustively in terms of who people played, how good the people were they played.
Was the Baylor-TCU debate the most memorable part of your tenure?
Mike Tranghese: Without question, yes. That was the debate for the last five weeks of the year. We probably spent more time just discussing Baylor and TCU but then in the end, Ohio State just played very well at the end, and the way they dominated Wisconsin in the end, the championship game really took the pressure of making that decision out of our hands.
Osborne: That was a difficult one. I think the thing that was, as was mentioned many times, when you have a team that plays that 13th game against a supposedly good opponent and you win 59-0, decisively, then not having that championship game certainly was a factor to be considered. No question TCU and Baylor were really good teams and it was close, but it's hard to turn your back on somebody that wins their conference championship by 59-0. The third quarterback played really well. It was a deal where you could say well, they're going into the championship series with no quarterback because they obviously had one that could play.
"Year 1 was very difficult. I think Ohio State took us off the hook. If Ohio State hadn't beaten Wisconsin, or let's say hadn't won convincingly, we would've had a very, very difficult decision to make. ... My sense was we were really split on it." Mike Tranghese
Gould: They were both very accomplished, they were good programs, had good players. Personally, I went back to who they had played. Even within the same conference, where everybody plays everybody, you're nonconference games, in some of the other conferences you get the luck of the draw the way the East and West or North and South, so strength of schedule mattered a lot and it should continue to play a role in that. It's hard to pinpoint anything in particular.
How much time did you spend on your individual rankings?
Haden: I think I spent about 20 hours per week before I arrived. I work out very early every morning, so I would watch a game on the treadmill or a game and a half. At night I'd do it again so then I had statistics I followed that were important to me. Everybody has their own metrics. I looked at those. On Sunday afternoons I put my 1-30 together and with the reasons why.
Osborne: If you count travel time and the time you're down there, time spent watching games and film, I supposed you spent 40-50 hours a week, something like that. This was not a burden to me because I enjoy football.
Tranghese: Saturday I just watched games. That started at noon-time and went until early Sunday morning, and then because I'm in the Northeast, I couldn't make the meetings in time on Monday. So I basically flew on Sunday. I'd look at my rankings on a Sunday and basically develop them on the plane, sleep on it Sunday night and wake up Monday morning because we didn't start our meetings until noon-time and basically refine them.
Gould: If there was a game on Wednesday, which there were a few, and then Thursday there were usually two games, if you sit down and watch those games, there's several hours right there. Same with Friday nights. Saturday was really an all-day commitment. Games start at 10 in the morning Colorado time and finish at midnight. I set up one of the coolest rooms you've ever seen in my basement: weight room, bicycle, four televisions, all the clickers and notes. So Saturday was completely dedicated to it for 10 or 12 hours, and then you review for a couple hours Sunday, and Monday-Tuesday you travel.
Do you feel like you got it right the past two years?
Tranghese: Yeah. I think so. Year 1 was very difficult. I think Ohio State took us off the hook. If Ohio State hadn't beaten Wisconsin, or let's say hadn't won convincingly, we would've had a very, very difficult decision to make. I don't know how other people would have voted, but my sense was we were really split on it. That's OK. We would've had to eventually reach a decision, because there was a great different of opinion just about Baylor and TCU. Some people felt strongly that Baylor had beaten TCU, but others felt that TCU was better. And then you had Ohio State in the mix at the end. It would have been very interesting, but we never got to that point. Ohio State made it clear who the fourth team is. We take them and they end up playing magnificently and running the table. And I didn't think there was much mystery in last year. When Ohio State lost to Michigan State, that probably cleared it up a little bit.
Gould: I don't hear a whole lot of controversy. We had a little bit with the Texas schools that first year, but when No. 4 plays up like they did and wins it all, it kind of quieted folks. So yes, I think we got it about as right as anybody could for seasons one and two, anyways.
Osborne: I think so. We did the best we could. There's no perfect system. There are always people who want an eight-team playoff or a 16-team playoff, but if you have eight, you're going to have the ninth- and 10th-place teams unhappy, and if you have 16 then 17th- and 18th-place teams are going to be upset. I think the odds are really good that you're going to get the best two teams when you pick those four.
What was the most enjoyable part?
Haden: I think when we finally came to the first year final four, when we finally picked those four teams. That first year we weren't exactly sure how it was all going to turn out, and the whole process was new. When it was released we realized some people were going to disagree with it, but I think there was a great deal of satisfaction in the room when we put those four out.
"It's like high school math class. You don't want to be the least prepared guy going into the final exam." Pat Haden
Osborne: I sat next to Condoleeza [Rice] and I really enjoyed her conversation and we spent some time in Washington together and had that frame of reference. On the other side of me was Barry Alvarez. We had quite a bit of history and a lot of similar views on things, so that was good. Pat Haden was a guy I had recruited out of high school. I enjoyed talking to Pat. I really enjoyed all of them.
What was it like being in the room?
Tranghese: That was the most-often question I got from my friends. What's it like in the room? Like something mysterious is going on. We talked about football. That's what we did. On Mondays and Tuesdays we'd talk about football in every conceivable way. When we'd break Monday night, we'd sit there and eat and talk about football. You talk about games, you talk about players, you talk about coaches.
What advice would you have for new members?
Haden: It's like high school math class. You don't want to be the least prepared guy going into the final exam. Everybody puts a lot of effort into it. Everybody loves the game of college football. You want to get it right and give back the best you can.