College football: UW's Barry Alvarez ready to go to work to select playoff teams
When the new College Football Playoff format was announced last June, its most provocative feature was a selection committee that would determine the four schools that would play for the national championship starting next season.
The 13-person group and its analytics were supposed to set the CFP apart from the multiple polls and computer models that defined the previous Bowl Championship Series.
So there was some blow-back from the national media this week when CFP executive director Bill Hancock unveiled protocols for the selection committee that include a weekly Top 25 ranking to debut Oct. 28 and run through Dec. 2.
Why is it necessary to rank 25 teams — replicating one of the most volatile aspects of the BCS format — when the selection committee is charged with filling slots in two semifinals and four other prime bowls?
University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez is one of the selection committee members and he asked the same question when the concept was initially discussed. It came down to a primary objective.
“There’s less chance for surprises,” he said. “There’s transparency.”
True enough, but fans likely will interpret the Top 25 rankings the same way they viewed the coaches’ and media polls of yore. Those instincts — win and you can move up; lose and you likely fall — will conflict with the stated intent of the selection
committee, which is to completely re-evaluate teams’ resumes on a weekly basis.
In short, a team might win, but its overall body of work could be diminished by who it played, its strength of schedule and other factors, prompting the committee to move the school down.
“The concept will be, if the season ended today these will be the rankings,” Hancock said.
“The bottom line,” Alvarez said, “is we’ve got to get it right.”
It will be a made-for-TV drama. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who chairs the selection committee, will go on ESPN every Tuesday night to outline the rankings and explain how the committee reached its conclusions.
“People want to know,” Alvarez said. “This is important stuff.”
Alvarez and his fellow committee members will travel to Dallas every Monday during the ranking period to hash out their analytics face-to-face. Each has been given an iPad to watch as many games as possible — in addition to network broadcasts they’ll get coaches’ video cut-ups — and will have access to a comprehensive statistical data base.
In addition to that material, Alvarez said he would be tapping into the statistical wizardry of Patrick Herb, a member of UW athletic communications staff.
“I have some things that I look at that I think are important in statistics,” Alvarez said. “I want to know average starting field position. I want to know the hidden yardage in the kicking game. I want to know certain things.”
Alvarez said each committee member has been assigned a conference to research and report on each week and another league on which to serve as the recon-gathering backup. He declined to reveal his assignments pending an announcement from the CFP.
One of five ADs on the committee, Alvarez rattled off a list of resources he’ll use in the media and coaching worlds to handle this assignment. Many of his contacts go back to his days as UW football coach from 1990 to 2005.
“Guys I know and trust,” Alvarez said. “I want to be as knowledgeable as I can when I vote.”
The prep work Saturday night and Sunday will give way to a process that will be hashed out when the committee meets in person at 2 p.m. each Monday during the six-week ranking calendar (Oct. 28, Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 18, Nov. 25 and Dec. 2).
Step one: Each member will create a list of their top 25 teams. Schools listed by more than three panelists will remain under consideration.
Step two: Panelists will then list their top six teams in no particular order. The six with the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
Step three: Members will address the first seeding ballot by ranking teams one through six. Teams with the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The remaining three will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
Step four: Panelists will then list the six best remaining teams in no particular order. The three schools receiving the most votes will be added to the pool of three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
Steps three and four will be repeated until 25 teams have been selected.
The CFP also has a recusal policy that prevents Alvarez from being involved with votes pertaining to UW. However, he can answer questions about the Badgers during the evaluation process.
The selection committee meetings will adjourn at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays. The rankings show will follow at 6:30 p.m.
The first couple of get-acquainted meetings for committee members involved assigned seats. That generated camaraderie and a sense of chemistry, according to Alvarez.
“There has to be very good dialogue,” he said.
Alvarez said the unpaid, time-consuming role would not disrupt his full-time job as athletic director, noting that many of his senior staff members work on various NCAA selection committees.
“Somebody in our business has to do it,” he said. “You have to take your fair share.”
Alvarez, who made a three-year commitment to the assignment, declined to speculate how much time he would spend on selection committee duties.
“I’ll put the time in,” he said.
Andy Baggot has been on the Wisconsin State Journal sports staff since 1978, when he was thrilled to be hired to take prep scores over the telephone. Now a columnist and the beat writer for the UW men’s hockey team, Baggot also covers the UW athletic department. A Tomah High School graduate, he's been fortunate enough to attend two Olympics, three Rose Bowls, one Super Bowl and four NCAA championship games.