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Postcard from Grapevine: The Pressure Of Picking Playoff Teams

Editor’s note: Sports Capital Journalism Program graduate assistant Robby General served as chair of a College Football Playoff Mock Selection Exercise for student journalists. As the committee finalizes its decisions for the semifinal games, General reflects on his experience in the same room.

As the 13 of us sat back, staring at the final rankings and bowl games we had selected for the 2013 football season, I couldn’t help but get lost in time.
Sitting in the room where the College Football Playoff committee congregates each week, next to the executive director, Bill Hancock, I wanted to make sure we got this right. And, so did the rest of the group, as they fired questions at me about our rankings as I – playing the role of Rob Mullens, chairman of the committee – prepared to answer any concern that might come about our rankings.
Mullens, of course, addresses the media and answers questions regarding the selections. Of course, this was just an exercise, and I’m no Rob Mullens. But after spending five hours going through pools upon pools of teams, nitpicking resumes and arguing about our rankings, I felt like I was.


For a moment, I felt like we were back on Selection Sunday in 2013, picking teams for a College Football Playoff that did not begin until the following year. I felt that whoever saw our rankings and bowl selections were going to scrutinize us for picks like selecting an 11-1 Alabama team – which didn’t make its conference championship game – over a 12-1 Ohio State team – whose only loss came in its conference championship game – to make the last spot in the playoff.
After going through several other scenarios, re-voting on teams and cleaning up our Top 25, I took a moment to breathe and say, “It’s just an exercise,” and the media really wasn’t about to grill me with questions after I stepped through those double doors.
But for the committee that normally resides in this conference suite of the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, it’s a grind. The committee spends much more than five hours each week comparing teams and ranking them for what will eventual create the four that make the semifinals and other match-ups for the New Year’s Six bowls.
That was the point of the exercise, and why 13 student journalists, including myself, were able to dive into the typical meeting of the selection committee. We felt just a piece of the pressure they must feel as they compare teams that, on paper, seem identical.
It was an amazing experience to look inside a typical CFP selection committee meeting, one I wish I could do again.
Maybe, let’s say, every week.
College Football Playoff, you guys hiring?
In all seriousness, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into it. I knew I had a love for college football and could gladly argue team rankings but looking back at how teams finished five years ago seemed a little odd to me.
I mean, how much could any of us life-long college football followers act like we didn’t know how the 2013 season played out and be expected to make fair comparisons by excluding the results of bowl games that already happened? Well, it proved to be a lot easier than I thought.
Each of us took our roles very seriously, making a Tuesday in October 2018 feel much more like a Sunday in December 2013.
The proverbial time-travel seemed all too real until Bill Hancock was thanking us for coming and I was saying goodbye to some of the incredible people I met as I prepared to return to Indianapolis.
Well, to Bill and the rest of the committee who helped put this together, thank you.
I don’t think many people understand exactly what goes into selecting the top 25 teams and selecting semifinal matchups and New Year’s Six bowls. But one day, when I’m covering a college football team, I’ll be able to picture the conversations the committee is having as they select their final picks knowing that I, too, was lucky enough to do it myself.

By Robby General | @rgeneraljr

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