The NCAA Playoff Committee Job Isn’t That Tough

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If we trust 12 completely random people on a jury to decide whether or not to put someone to death for a crime they may or may not have committed, shouldn’t we trust 12 to 18 of the smartest people in the college sports universe to pick the four best teams in college football? 

As the college football selection committee names have begun to leak, former players and coaches have commenced griping about the qualification of members, particularly former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice, whose discretion and judgment was so trusted that a President valued her opinion on whether to go to war, is now being critized because she hasn’t had her hand in the dirt and sweated while wearing shoulder pads.

How can Condoleezza Rice, who once weighed monumental foreign policy decisions of great complexity at every moment of every day, be trusted to have a decent opinion on whether a team is the fourth or fifth best in the country? 

Seriously, people are arguing about this. 

This is complete and total stupidity.

In the grand scheme of things, football isn’t that complicated. 

Sure, football coaches both past and present and probably some ex-players and administrators are incentivized to pretend that it is because that gives them more gravitas, but when you get right down to it, football is a relatively simple game with fixed and unchanging rules.

If I asked the average American to explain how the Presidency works or how football works, which do you think would be easier for the average American to explain? What if I asked the average American to even name one of their state’s two Senators?  

Criticism like this flies in the face of American democracy. Each year millions of us go to the polls to vote for Senate and President and our elected congressional representatives. What do most of us know about the complexities involved in residing in the Oval Office or Iranian foreign policy or bending the health care cost curve? 

Not much, right?

Yet we’re still, as a group, trusted with making a pretty important decision, one that could, at any moment, alter the very fabric of our world. 

If we trust the general public, that’s you and me and stupid Alabama fans, to select the man or woman with his finger on the nuclear trigger, don’t you think we can trust 12 or 18 of the smartest football fans in the country to pick the best four teams for a playoff?

Maybe I just have more faith in the collective wisdom of groups, but if we don’t trust a hand-selected committee to decide a football playoff, how do we trust a randomized collection of citizens who have had, for the most part, zero experrience with the court system to weigh complex issues of guilt or innocence, fact or faction?

You want an unqualified committee?

How about 12 random people in California trying to decide whether or not Samsung infringed on Apple’s patents? That’s complex as complex can get. Yet, amazingly, the jury in that case rendered a pretty impressive verdict. (Stop with your Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson emails in advance, please. With 12 completely random people who have zero experience in the court system you also end up with some whiffs too. That’s just probability. By and large, however, juries do a good job).

Why do completely randomly selected juries, by and large, get so many rulings right? Because there’s wisdom when a group of diverse people debate issues and reach a conclusion. Sure, some people are dumb, but some are smart. And many are pretty strong where others are weak. You end up with a reasonable decision that takes into account all perspectives.  

If I had to hand-select my own committee, I’d pick Las Vegas oddsmakers, because I think they’re the most qualified when it comes to analyzing teams. But Las Vegas isn’t going to have a role on this committee. So I trust the college football power brokers to pick reasonable people. 

Basically the entire job of the hand-selected college football playoff committee is assessing football resumes. 

Is that really that different than now?

Every single year what does the BCS argument eventually boil down to — whether one team or another team deserves the second spot in championship game? We’re already selecting a match-up now, it’s just a different group of selectors. Who chooses right now? A random collection of Harris Poll voters and the coaches. Generally speaking the poll voters, which count for much more than the computers, decide who the top two teams are. 

And, for the most part, we do a decent job with selecting a BCS title game. 

Indeed, most criticisms of the BCS aren’t with the particular title game that’s selected, it’s with the fact that only two teams play. 

This is America, we want more of what’s good. More games, more playoffs, more buffalo wings and more beer. 

More, more, more. 

Sure, there are cantankerous fans who argue until they’re red in the face that their team is the most deserving and got screwed by the process, but most of us, the vast unwashed majority of sports fans, accept the distillation of an argument — it comes down to a decision between two teams — one gets in, the other doesn’t. 

The rules are pretty simple when it comes to a college football title game, who do we think are the most deserving teams?

Sure, the third team is upset, but life goes on and we play a title game. 

My point is simple, instead of two teams being picked by Harris Poll voters and coaches, we’ve got four teams being picked by a hand-selected committee of 12 to 18. 

What’s more, this committee actually has an easier job than the current BCS poll voters have.

How so?

Because all they have to do is pick between the fourth and fifth best teams. Ultimately, just like now, that’s what the argument will eventually boil down to, weighing the respective resumes of two teams that are closest to qualifying for the playoff. 

Sure, the fifth team’s fans will be upset, but most of us will have already agreed upon the four best teams before we even hear the committee’s decision. 

That’s because there’s collective wisdom in crowds.

If you believe in markets, then you have to value the opinion of large numbers of people. 

And I believe in markets. 

It’s not like the selection committee is going to enter into deliberations about whether Stanford or Ohio State or Georgia or LSU is deserving of the fourth and final playoff spot and suddenly emerge with Austin Peay. 

They’re going to reach the same decision that you or me will probably reach in our own analysis.

When you really get down to it, what these former college football coaches are arguing against is democracy itself. The idea that reasonable people can reach a reasonable decision. It’s a similar refrain in our country’s history. In order to vote first you had to be white and own land, then you just had to be white, then you just had to be male, then women could vote. Once those rights existed, you still had to be able to vote, a fight that extended well into the 1960’s and beyond.

With each expansion of voting rights, critics arose screaming that the masses weren’t qualified to have an opinion.

Now some people don’t think that Condi Rice — and others on the committee — are qualified enough to pick which football teams are the best?


Our entire country’s history argues otherwise.  

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.