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Devil is in details of College Football Playoff 'protocol'

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April L. Brown/Associated Press
Arkansas AD Jeff Long has a tough task ahead of him as chairman of the CFB Playoff selection committee.

The final preseason meeting of the College Football Playoff selection committee was Thursday, and the group released a detailed list of its "protocol" for the season.

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Among the notes on the list is a line about the selection committee being "provided a clear set of guidelines." Yes, the guidelines are clear. But the devil is in the details of those "guidelines."

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For example, there are the principles by which the four playoff teams will be selected. The committee will use a process "that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams" by considering conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents (without, the group says, incentivizing margin of victory) and "other relevant factors," such as key injuries that affected a team's performance during the season or injuries that "likely will affect its postseason performance."

As for specifics, including strength-of-schedule rankings, "There will not be one single metric to assist the committee. Rather, the committee will consider a wide variety of data and information."

The group is trying its best to be transparent. At the same time, that the entire process is somewhat nebulous and lacking in specifics -- so, how many strength-of-schedule rankings are the members going to look at? -- lends ammunition to critics. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situation, the same kind faced annually by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The difference is that the football committee is choosing four teams; the basketball committee is choosing 36, and while there always is angst about team No. 37, it will be nothing compared to the angst there will be about team No. 5.

In addition, the recusal system in place for this season was identified on Thursday. There are 13 committee members and nine of them will have to recuse themselves when/if talk turns to a certain team; that recusal includes not being able to list that team on the member's ballot. The recusals by team: Air Force/Mike Gould, Arkansas/Jeff Long, Clemson/Dan Radakovich, Mississippi/Archie Manning, Nebraska/Tom Osborne, Stanford/Condoleezza Rice, USC/Pat Haden, West Virginia/Oliver Luck and Wisconsin/Barry Alvarez. Alvarez, Haden, Long, Luck and Radakovich are athletics directors at those schools, while Gould is the former superintendent of the Air Force Academy. Osborne is a former Nebraska coach and athletic director. Manning and Rice are alums of those respective schools, and Rice also is a professor at Stanford.

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The four committee members who won't have to recuse themselves from any discussions are former NCAA vice president Tom Jernstedt, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, former sportswriter Steve Wieberg and former Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington coach Tyrone Willingham. (Willingham is an especially interesting member this season, in that every school that has fired him has a good chance to finish in the top 25. Wonder if he holds any grudges?)

There is an official written recusal policy: "Committee members will be recused from participating in votes involving a school's team if they or an immediate family member receives compensation from the school or has a professional relationship with that school. The committee will have the option to add other recusals if special circumstances arise. A recused member shall not participate in any votes, nor be present during deliberations involving the team's selection or seeding, but may answer factual questions about the institution from which the member is recused. The recusal policy is virtually identical to the NCAA men's basketball committee policy."

Still, the idea that a recusal policy removes all conflicts of interest is amusing. A selection committee without any conflicts of interest would have zero members.

Long will be the committee chairperson this season, and one of his tasks will be "to explain publicly the committee's decisions." Good luck, sir.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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