I can’t believe I’m about to write these words: let the geeks decide the four teams that should be included in the college football playoffs.
College football cannot allow their super committee, the football people that will pick the four teams to compete in the College Football Playoff, to be the only voice around the big rectangle behind closed doors. There are people around that big rectangle and those people have biases and preconceived thoughts and opinions based on their past experiences and loyalties that will cloud the process and make the public cynical. After all, they’re only human.
But there is a new entity, a new breed of football disciple that has no loyalty to uniforms, logos or conferences, that is growing in strength and credibility that should be heavily involved in the process of The College Football Playoff: football analytics.
Most of us call it math. Yes, there are people behind the math that have biases and preconceived thoughts and opinions based on their past experiences and loyalties that will cloud the process and make the public cynical, but their greatest love and natural affinity has nothing to do with conferences and everything to do with calculus.
The Ph.D.s who love analytics and love the game of football have a loyalty to data and being right about what that data says. Most of these geeks (and I use that term affectionately) could care less about how many teams the SEC gets into the four-team playoff and more about why the SEC got two teams into the playoff…or not. The process is their precious, not the players and the uniforms they wear.
Football has lagged behind other sports when it comes to advanced statistics over the last two decades, but there are new forces at work and football analytics are starting to permeate the rigid doors and sturdy walls of NFL front offices.
Although the Geeks of the Gridiron have been around since the days of Tex Schramm, when he employed a computer programmer from India to analyze the qualities that made a person a good football player, few teams in the NFL had embraced analytics. Five years ago, having a Geek Squad meant fixing the e-mail and hard drive of the general manager. That is not the case today. Now, every team in the league has some form of an analytics department in their front office. More importantly, this new Geek Squad is growing and taking on more responsibility.
It’s always been a battle between the old guard and the new. Football people — guys that have played the game at the highest level or coached in Super Bowls, Hall of Famers with unrivaled pigskin pedigrees — have scoffed at the thought of geeks changing the game they love or influencing it in any way. Their reasoning was, and is, simple: you cannot understand the game of football sitting in an office behind a computer, quantifying the passion, emotion and mayhem through the prism of numbers.
And they’re right…with one, big, fat asterisk.
Even though football people are valid in their skepticism, they need to understand the asterisk does not preclude football analytics from being important and having a place of import in the universe of the Blood Sport — no matter how hard they kick against the pricks.
Being able to tell coaches what the percentages of success are when running a 6-man slide protection on fourth and three from your opponent’s 42 with a rookie center may not stir the passions of conviction with such a small sample size; but as years go by and advanced statistics continues to map and amass data of that particular situation, “kicking against the pricks” will turn into kicking a field goal.
Advanced statistics cannot be the answer alone. There needs to be a blending of football analytics and football people. And this is where I think college football should be trailblazers.
Why not have Gridiron Geeks, guys with Ph.D.s that love and understand the game, come up with criteria that football people have already agreed upon with said geeks and then use football analytics to select the teams to compete in college football’s playoffs?
And the entire process should be transparent. The Four-Pack should be released to the public three times a year. The last reveal would be final.
And I’m not talking about using the computers of the BCS to pick the top four teams in the country. I’m talking about a combination of advanced statistics that the geeks determine as centric to the success of a college football team. The advanced algorithms used to create the Four-Pack would most likely exceed the grasp of most of the committee. But the committee would be able to create the formula that would be used to begin with in order to advise the geeks where they should start crunching those algorithms.
What the criteria will be presents the most opportunity for debate. And this is where football people would need to rely heavily on the Gridiron Geeks and vice versa. This is where the rubber meets the road.
But as long as the criteria was determined and agreed upon before it’s employed, fans, coaches, players, athletic directors, presidents, chancellors, super committee members and football people in general would have to accept the results…of geeks.