Gary Stokan Q&A: A Day in the Life of a CFP Selection Committee Member

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan traveled to Grapevine, Texas to take part in a College Football Playoff “mock selection” exercise. He joined fellow New Year’s Six bowl and conference officials who spent a day in the shoes of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee members. They mirrored the real committee’s process down to every detail and determined the final rankings based upon results and data from the 2010 college football season. See below for his unique thoughts and takeaways from the experience.

Take us through how the balloting and voting works.

Everybody on the committee brings their top 30 teams to the process. After everyone inputs their 30 top teams, in no particular order, the computer spits out the information, and in our case, we had 36 total teams. Now you get into rounds of voting. So in the first case, it included taking the top six teams and ranking them 1-6. So the committee does that and then the results come out. You get the teams ranked No. 1, 2 and 3 and then move on to the next round. The other three teams from the top six get carried over into the next poll. The next round is ranking who you had as the next six teams. The committee votes and the top four teams get ranked No. 4-7 and the teams that didn’t, then move over to the next poll. Then you do it again with the next six and so on. It really is a unique process.

The rounds of voting involved a lot of discussion in between, but I think we got it right at the end. Even when we got through the Top 25, we went back in and said ‘this team is ranked too far ahead of this other team,’ and then we would have to vote all over again to make sure we got it right. I can only imagine when it’s for real what they have to do, especially with that last poll when you’re placing teams in bowl games. That’s when it became really contentious, not in a bad way, but there’s just a lot of dialogue to make sure we had the rankings right.

What elements of a team’s resume did you end up considering most impressive?

The strength of schedule and conference championships became the main two criteria that won out for a team to be ranked higher than another. Those two were really enlightening at the end of the day when you line everybody up and put them against each other on the computer.

In the 2010 season, the Nevada-Boise State situation was interesting because Nevada had beaten Boise State by 3 points in overtime, and that was Boise State’s only loss. But, Nevada hadn’t played a difficult schedule the rest of the season, whereas Boise State had beaten Virginia Tech, a conference champion out of the ACC. That really took on a whole conversation and dialogue itself.  But I think when you really got down to it, to make decisions, it was conference championships, strength of schedule, and what did they do against common opponents. Those were really the overriding factors.

How long did the process take?

We went in there in the morning and were halfway done with the rankings before lunch and then finished off the Top 25 in the afternoon. Most of the afternoon, after the rankings, focused on asking ourselves ‘did we get this right?’ We looked at each team to see if they really deserved the slot where we had ranked them. We wanted to make sure we had it right. Lastly, we went through the process of placing the teams in the New Year’s Six bowl games.

One of the things that we did not do, is after the Top 25 is ranked, they print it out, give it to each committee member and then they sleep on it. They come back the next morning and they ask if anyone wants to change anything or revote. If you wanted to revote on any issue, you had to have four votes. In other words, if you thought a team was ranked incorrectly and wanted to revote on that particular issue, you needed to get three other committee to agree with you or there was no vote. If you did get four votes, everyone would revote on the issue except, of course, for those who would be recused.

Were there any misconceptions about the playoff committee that were dispelled during the exercise?

Not for me personally, but a lot of fans out there might think people in the room campaign for a particular school or conference, but that didn’t happen. The recusal process really helps to avoid that.

The recusal process was interesting. I represented Rob Mullens of Oregon, so whenever Oregon was talked about I had to leave the room and could not have any discussion. When you walk in, there are hat hangars and they basically tell you ‘take your hat and your loyalties and check them at the door.’ That way when you come and sit in the room, you’re not loyal to any one program, and if you have ties to any particular team, you have to recuse yourself from that discussion.

One thing that was interesting was that each of us had a conference that we were assigned to. Our job wasn’t to promote them, rather be a very proficient advocate, not in voting but during discussion to tell other people about a certain team because they might not have seen them play. But misconceptions, I didn’t really have any. I was just more enlightened about the process, as well as the analytics and data that we had on hand that helped us make good decisions.

What were your overall takeaways of the experience?

When you sit in that seat, you feel a sense of responsibility in selecting the teams because it affects fans, coaches, players, administration, jobs, money, etc. I can only image how heightened it is as you get to the end of the season and you’re picking the four teams who will be in College Football Playoff and the remaining teams who will be in the other New Year’s Six bowl games.

In regard to the integrity of the committee, even in the mock selection, there was a great deal of respect in the room. There were perspectives that were brought up because there was a cross section of people. I think that same thing happens with respect to media, coaches, administrators and ADs that make up the real committee. That was enlightening as well, to see the respect that was paid to each comment.

It was fun. It was interesting to see that side of it. I would like to congratulate and compliment the CFP. The amount of information they have and the process they take you through to get to the decision-making process is really well done. It’s fair, it’s inclusive, it’s comprehensive and at the end of the day, it helps you make the right decision. Everyone involved in college football can feel very secure that it’s done the right way. They do a great job, I was very impressed.

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