LITTLE ROCK — Quaint sounding, the idea that a group of wise old coaches will be entrusted to identify the best four college football teams is not the end-all to a secondary issue in the discussion of a BCS playoff system.
Late this month, school presidents are expected to make a decision about how a playoff will be structured. If bowl sites are to be incorporated, there is a question of how and which bowls. Getting less attention, but equally important, is the process for selecting the participating teams.
Some people envision a half-dozen or so former coaches, most of them in their 70s, calling on their years of experience to make intelligent unbiased decisions. Many of those mentioned participate weekly in something called the Legends Poll, which comes up with its top 25 teams.
The flaw is that they are human with biases.
Could Bobby Bowden forget the unceremonious way Florida State cut him loose if the Seminoles were under consideration?
Would Vince Dooley be fair to Tennessee if the Vols fire his son, Derek?
Could R.C. Slocum sever his long-time ties with Texas A&M and see the Aggies and Texas in an equally stark light?
Others who have expressed an interest in being on a BCS selection committee, including former Ohio State coach John Cooper and former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, have similar allegiances and long-time rivalries. All are honorable men who would do their very best to disassociate themselves from all prejudices, including a built-in regional bias. Aware of the scrutiny, they likely would respond by doing what parents do when they coach their own children — bend over backwards to avoid any hint of partiality.
The former coaches do have an expertise that is unique, a resource that should be incorporated into the process. They would understand and compute a variety of external factors — including injuries, fluky turnovers, and schedule — but they should not be given autonomy.
Currently, the BCS Standings reflect the USA Today/Coaches Poll, Harris Interactive Poll and an average of six computer rankings. Each component counts one-third of a team’s score in the BCS Standings. The standings could reflect those three sources, plus the coaches group, with each faction given equal weight. Another option would be to sub the former coaches for the current coaches, some of whom probably write down a top five or so and hand off the remainder of the assignment to a trusted employee.
Extolling the virtues of the Legends group, Bowden told ESPN.com how it worked when he was voting in the coaches poll. ” … what you’re really doing then is putting yourself and your conference in position. I used to have an idea of what’s going on around the country. When we’re retired, we all have a better view.”
In some circles, the Legends group is seen as working like the 10-member committee that sorts out the NCAA basketball tournament. Those people have specific advantages, including the amount of data available.
Each basketball team plays about 30 games and more than one-third of those are non-conference games, many of them marquee games matching the best from one conference against the best from another league. Football teams play four non-conference games at the most and many of those are money games against vastly inferior competition.
Slocum has called the current BCS system flawed, saying that the Legends group is better than a computer and a “lot better than people who have never worked in the game.” The fact that computers are emotionless is the very reason they should be part of the process and participants in the Harris poll don’t have to be able to block or tackle to cast a conscientious vote.
A joint effort is the way to go.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org