Vahe Gregorian

As College Football Playoff nears, Bill Hancock readies for change

Updated: 2013-07-02T11:49:52Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

Architects are rendering designs for the 10th floor of The Summit office tower in Irving, Texas, a space now in flux as the temporary headquarters of the College Football Playoff — a deceivingly simple moniker that belies the thorny and glacial process that brought that once-oxymoronic term to fruition.

This impending epicenter of the game, or at least how the game determines its champion, is a galaxy removed from its previous homespun digs in Prairie Village, where Bill Hancock was based in his role as executive director of the BCS.

But, at least literally, much of the fundamentals of the transition are in place in the weeks before the final season of the BCS is to begin.

“This part of it is really just like rebuilding or remodeling a house,” said Hancock, now commuting to Irving three days a week as executive director of the College Football Playoff.

In fact, plenty of the figurative remodeling work has been done, too.

Enough that Hancock can make a conjecture that seems indisputable in anticipation of the four-team playoff system that begins next season with first-round games on New Year’s Day 2015 (New Year’s Eve the following two seasons).

“I think this will absolutely change the paradigm for New Year’s Eve in this country,” he said Thursday. “When people go to New Year’s Eve parties, they’re going to have to have their College Football Playoff app so they can follow the games if there’s no TV.”

More likely, they won’t go if there’s no TV.

“That’s probably right,” he said.

Still, there’s plenty of intricate detail to yet be resolved between the upcoming finale of 16 seasons of the BCS and the playoff that represents a profound philosophical shift Hancock says he can embrace because of its harmony with one of the essential BCS precepts he held dear.

“People underestimate the importance of preserving the regular season in all of this conversation about postseason football,” Hancock said.

As conference commissioners closed in on the end of the fourth four-year BCS cycle and again asked themselves, “What’s the best path to the future?” Hancock said, a combination of “the chemistry in the room” and “having heard the public” led to a pivot point.

“And the conclusion was, ‘Let’s do a four-team bracket, because it won’t erode the regular season and it will preserve the bowl experience top to bottom,’ ” he said.

It’s a case that basically works for me, even though I’m one of the few who hasn’t felt as if a playoff is an inalienable human right or even necessarily the best way to actually determine a champion.

Sure, playoffs add drama, and yes, the BCS formula has had its vexing issues. But study the history of playoffs, particularly of playoffs being expanded over the years. They absolutely always are more about money — an unprecedented windfall awaits this one — than about inherent fairness.

Which leads to another concern the initial college football playoff scheme seems to have addressed properly by adopting a 12-year contractual commitment to the four-team model.

At least on paper, there is little danger of any imminent “bracket creep,” a term Hancock likes to use for the tendency of a playoff to expand and thus dilute.

“We knew that the day after it came out that people were going to want more or want something else,” said Hancock, laughing and later adding, “But the commitment by the (BCS Presidential Oversight Committee) to the four-team bracket for 12 years is solid (despite) an awful lot of wishful thinking.”

As for what remains to be recast? The very mortar of it all: the composition of the selection committee.

The group probably will be 12 to 18 members from a range of backgrounds that includes sitting athletic directors, retired coaches, former players and perhaps former media representatives and some from the public-service sector, and it’s expected to have geographic diversity as well.

Not in the mix are current media representatives. Nor are sitting commissioners, who are charged with putting together a committee defined by its objectivity, integrity and keen insights.

Hancock declined to address specific candidates or a deadline for putting the group together, but the operative number of nominees right now is more than 100 after the College Football Playoff solicited names from each conference. That group will be whittled down some by the end of the summer.

But that group surely won’t be set by this fall, part of the reason there won’t be any full mock drill of the system in 2013.

“We just don’t think it’s necessary to have a full side-by-side dry run this fall,” said Hancock, adding that there may be one or two fall meetings and that there will be plenty of time in the spring to study and refine any kinks in the system.

The power brokers have advertised transparency in the process ahead, but just what that will look like also is an evolving notion.

It’s unlikely, for instance, that members of the committee would be asked to make public their final ballots, and don’t expect cameras to be recording the debates.

“The question is, what does ‘as transparent as possibly can be’ mean?” Hancock said. “And we don’t know yet.”

Also still to be resolved is how many in-season updates there will be along the way to announcing the first four-team playoff.

“I think the working concept now is that we want to try to have some kind of interim announcements,” Hancock said. “The BCS standings every week are good for the regular season. So, if possible, we would like to replicate whatever of that we can.”

Challenging that will be Hancock’s belief that the committee should meet in person, and getting a group from around the country together for eight straight weeks may be logistically impossible. So maybe there would be, say, three interim updates through the season.

It’s all a long way from where this all started in 1992 with the advent of the Bowl Coalition, which morphed into the Bowl Alliance, which begat the infinitely controversial Bowl Championship Series.

As he ponders what’s ahead next year, Hancock thinks a lot about that initial shift in a landscape that had no mechanism to match No. 1 vs. No. 2 at season’s end.

“I tend to think that that move 22 years ago was a bigger leap than this one,” he said, adding, “At that time, you had 50 years of tradition of the bowls basically doing their own thing, and (they came) together to collaborate and give up something they’d had for 50 years.”

And Hancock also thinks history will show that the much-maligned BCS era was not merely a necessary evil in the evolution of the game but a boost in itself.

“People who take time — like we all should but we all don’t — to look at history, to look at evolution, are absolutely going to see the BCS as being not only a bridge but (as) a golden 16-year period, when the game flourished, the game grew,” he said.

Some measures of the game’s growth, including attendance, have plateaued or even diminished in recent years.

But no matter the BCS’s considerable points of frustration, no matter how it might have been done better, Hancock’s broad contention is correct, especially considering current ratings and ESPN’s 12-year, $5.6 billion payout to broadcast the playoffs — an extreme makeover that wouldn’t have been likely without incremental renovations along the way.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868, send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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