The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.


Sports Authority

Zuba: Don’t blame Baylor

| Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I don’t blame Baylor for hiring a PR firm.

The school has apparently hired Kevin Sullivan Communications in the stretch run of playoff campaigning.

Interesting. Many websites are reporting that 10-1 Baylor, No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, hired the firm to enhance its playoff hopes — an entirely allowable move, by the way.

But Kevin Sullivan insisted to FoxSports.com his company wasn’t hired to influence the playoff selection committee. Instead, he said Baylor’s media relations staff was swamped and sought extra help. FoxSports.com quoted Sullivan as saying, “We’re just trying to set up some national interviews for [Baylor Director of Athletics] Ian [McCaw]. It’s media relations, that’s all.”

I don’t know if the firm’s help will involve raising the school’s selection profile, directly, indirectly or not at all. What I do know is that I don’t blame Baylor even if the Bears are trying to reach the selection committee somehow.

Either way, this move reveals a lot more about college football than it does about Baylor.

In a recent column for Forbes, Jim Pagels wrote about how Baylor’s decision reflects a problem with the college football playoff and ranking system. The school is only playing the game.

The fact that most people assume Baylor hired the PR firm to make its playoff case tells you everything you need to know.

Few trust the human-driven selection system.

Commentators don’t think schools and their athletic directors have reason to trust the fairness of the selection committee’s choices, so they think Baylor must be trying to strengthen its case off the field.

Maybe Baylor is. Maybe Baylor isn’t.

The point is, how we talk about the college playoff system demonstrates just how subjective it remains.

Another example: When Alabama looked to be in danger of losing to Auburn last weekend and dropping out of the top four, you could almost feel the fear rolling in from the south. “But then which SEC team would make the playoff? You can’t have a football playoff without the SEC!” I’m sure you heard the disgruntled whispers until Alabama pulled away.

A fine argument for the increased strength of schedule in the SEC exists. SEC teams with a loss or two are often better than undefeated teams from other conferences. But this still ends up being yet another subjectively tinged argument. How good is the SEC, really, compared to the other Power 5 conferences? Even if you feel strongly on the topic, you can probably admit there’s room for debate and interpretation of game results.

And that’s the enduring problem. The selection committee looks at stats and results — and then they must interpret these in order to arrive at a decision.

People — you know, the living, breathing, fallible kind — are still calling the shots. We call it the “College Football Playoff rankings,” but it’s really still a poll, just more mysterious and with a fancier website.

Frankly, I find the squabbling over rankings entertaining. Then again, as a student at Notre Dame, I watched my school faint out of the rankings. That’s quite different from finding your school just on the outside, looking up at those top four headed to the playoffs without you.

Expanding to an eight-team playoff will fluster teams nine through 15 even more by bringing them even closer to the party but still leaving “almost” ringing in their ears. But including the top eight will eliminate some of the biggest controversies, as a one-loss team is unlikely to miss the playoffs at that point.

Here’s the harsh reality: Good teams will miss the playoffs no matter what the system is.

Even if more computerized components are introduced to the process, good teams will miss the playoffs. Fan bases will call foul. But that’s okay.

Making the playoffs should be hard. It shouldn’t be an unfair process, but it should be difficult. There will always be a subjective component and people wondering about the fairness of the whole thing when their schools don’t make it. Some of them will be justified, some blinded by love for their schools.

As long as college football remains the subjective, loyalty-driven craze that it is, schools will continue to try subjective, loyalty-driven, crazy things.

So don’t blame Baylor.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


About Samantha Zuba

Contact Samantha