Jim Delany's soothsaying face (Jerry Lai/US Presswire)
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman did nothing Monday in the league's semi-annual conference call to dispel the rumors that they are anything other than curmudgeonly change averse old white men with twenty plus years of ludicrously paying jobs in positions of authority to their names. Of course they also showed that their ideals weren't immalleable and that every decision does indeed have a price tag.
Delany and Perlman spent twenty some odd minutes first pushing exclusively for broken, antiquated ideas: The idea that a post-Nebraska/Miami, Washington State/Oklahoma, Texas/USC Rose Bowl was a sacrosanct and beyond reproach timeless treasure. The notion that college football's regular season belonged on a pedestal above all else, you know, 9 months after they rendered the league's regular season game of the year irrelevant with a cash cow, made-for-television rematch which much like this year's similarly staged national championship only determined which team was better weeks after the fact in a "higher pressure" situation. And of course, the reticent to change, college-football's-answer-to-luddism mentality that the BCS isn't even broken in the first place. The phrases "The BCS has been battered and criticized" and "[it's been] treated like a piñata" were thrown around, without the requisite "deservedly so" and sans any not optional irony. That's not to say they also don't recognize the fallibility of their own points of view (or at least aren't masters of serving more than one god). They'd go on to spend the remaining near half hour acquiescing to the side of the ledger history will reflect most favorably on.
"I totally agree we should have the four best teams," Delany uttered contrary to his own mouth in very same conference call. "But defining the top four teams is not something that can be done mathematically," Perlman echoed nonsensically. Of course top 4's have been determined mathematically, either be it simple averages (Top 25 polls) or more complicated formula work (the computer polls at present comprising the BCS) for decades upon decades. Where the irony becomes richest is that many of the criticisms thrown towards the computers long championed by this very group of power brokers (non-openness/lack of accountability/"a computer not having an eye") are the very same the broken BCS' most vocal critics have been lobbing its general direction for years. There's nothing inherently wrong about leveraging complicated algorithms to help determine who would make up a top 4; a "selection committee" comprised of the likes of Perlman, or god forbid, the Gene Smith's of the world, could be just as disastrous if not more.
Tasking any tightly nit group or even as polls have shown, a large, supposedly dedicated base, to determining a consensus ordering of college football teams seldom, if ever, produce spot on results. The Coaches Poll, the greatest joke of all until you actually consider who compromises the Harris Poll, is a sham that's had its life superficially extended for going on for a half century. Coaches simply don't have the time to accurately judge anyone other than the teams they play and prepare for and even then are incredibly beholden to confirmation biases and extremely small sample sizes. SIDs and interns and whoever else actually fill these things out are also rather strapped for time and can't possibly watch enough football to fill these things out with anything resembling authority. Journalists too have their finite limitations on teams they're able to see in person and team/conference specific assignments limiting their utility. Would a writer who only watched 3 games in their entirety each Saturday be better than panel of Phil Steele's who watched parts of every single game televised for that day's activity? And how many such extreme edge experts are even out there absorbing that much media? Likely not enough to make such a scenario remotely conceivable.
The answer lies not in a selection committee (which Perlman later admitted in the same call to preferring) nor a strict formula (or average of formulas) but perhaps a combination of both. It's challenging to have any kind of full disclosure with a formula that's only going to be overridden by a manual element after the fact. Even an average of polls and computers analogous to the current setup would have to be the say all be all and even yet still potentially have to account for some kind of conference champions qualifiers (be it 3 or 4 or zero, whatever the sentiments of the prevailing winds would have it) to not have a team make it only to get swapped out in lieu of manual second guessing by committee later. Since there's few voices of authority/shareholders not beholden to their own incompetence, financial interests, and institutional biases that could be relied on in and of itself and the previously mentioned propensities for human error, it would be fallible to rely on this alone, but with few in favor of trusting even open formulas what other option could their be?
Having open/spot checkable (remember the Colley audit of 2010) computer formulas averaged to serve as a football answer to the (admittedly embarrassingly poor) RPI to guide a "selection committee" could be a start. The BCS' idea of not starting until week 6 or so is a must and go ahead and toss out any human polls in the process; they're all terrible. And as for the makeup of the committee itself? With the five power brokers (the SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, ACC, and Notre Dame[lol]) all needing a seat, one representative per plus one from a third party (Big East and others) would limit though not completely curtail monopolistic power brokering in making a decisions. Never underestimate those in power's ability to completely screw up even the selection of but four teams.
But even with a committee du jour, some sort of metrics to keep them "honest", and a four-team playoff that follows, have we really nipped that much controversy in the bud? This hypothetical system would stand light years better than the status quo, but perhaps more standard deviations than initially conceived away from anything idealized. The fact that a "plus-one" or any like failure of imagination is still even being championed by anyone at the grownups table, much less the Big Ten's very own, makes it harder and harder not to take the entirety of the direction college football is headed in without a ginormous grain of salt. Every time a Jim Delany or Harvey Perlman opens his mouth, the would-be-prophetic end result becomes far more likely to not be much removed from New York Magazine's doomsday harbinger act:
Interminable negotiations re: college-football playoffs will inevitably end up with some elaborately ass-backward idiot-plan.