Nov. 26, 2013
MADISON, Wis. -- There’s an unmistakable avuncular quality to Bill Hancock, the first executive director of the new College Football Playoff. But don’t be fooled by his demeanor. He’s tougher than he looks.
As a marathon runner and cross-country cyclist, Hancock’s hide has been hardened by many of the events in his life, not the least of which was the loss of his son in the 2001 plane crash of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team. Will Hancock was a media relations coordinator. He was 31.
Since November of 2009, Bill Hancock has been holding the leadership reins of the BCS. If anything ever called for thick skin, it would be this, the Bowl Championship Series. So if you want to know something about scrutiny, he’s more than willing to share his experiences.
But, first, know this about Hancock: “I’m the luckiest guy I know,” he said. “I got to direct the best event in college basketball, the Final Four. Now, I get to direct the best event in college football.”
With so many eyes on the product, with so many second-guessers of the BCS process, Hancock conceded to have survived in part “by having integrity and being tough enough to accept criticism.”
With all the noise out there, he said, “You kind of weed through it and listen to what’s important and understand that you get the criticism because of the passion for the game” of college football.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” insisted Hancock, who was in Madison last week for a UW donor function. “We have a sport that people love and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
Hancock is quite pleased and excited by the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee, which includes Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, the former UW football coach.
“We had several classifications of committee members that we wanted,” Hancock said, “and one was athletic administrators; another was coaches. So we got a two-for-one with Barry.
“His national stature and knowledge of the game will help our committee so much. We’re delighted that he’s a part of this. I’ve known Barry for awhile. He’s one of the unique leaders in our business that can speak football and, obviously, he’s a tremendous administrator.
“The first thing that you expect from a leader is integrity and, of course, he has that. He’s bright, he respects people, he’s tough and he understands being under scrutiny and how to behave under scrutiny. All those things that go into being a leader, he has every one of them.”
Alvarez will serve a three-year term on the selection committee. “The terms are staggered because we don’t want everyone to go off at the same time,” Hancock said. “Some are on two years, some on three, some on four. All new members will be three.”
Why 13? The size of the committee was not predetermined. “We went into this prepared to go 12 to 18,” he said. “When this group signed up, it happened to be 13 and we knew this was the group we wanted. We looked at who we had and said, ‘That’s it, that’s good enough.”’
In assembling the pieces to the puzzle, Hancock said, “We wanted diversity among the group. That’s why we had classifications. We didn’t want everybody to be coaches, just like we didn’t want everyone to be administrators or journalists. So we’ve got a great mix
“We did look at geography,” he pointed out. “We wanted to have so many from every part of the country and we got that also.”
With the inclusion of Condoleezza Rice on the committee, the former U.S. Secretary of State has been a lightning rod for those who have questioned her appointment and qualifications in this arena. ESPN analyst David Pollack and former Auburn coach Pat Dye were the most vocal dissenters.
“When the word leaked out on who was going to be on the committee, and a couple of people said what they said about her,” Hancock observed of the initial wave of criticism, “the reaction was overwhelming, ‘No, she ought to be on this committee.’
“She has been under scrutiny at the highest level, literally, in the world. Her scrutiny with her other job makes college football looks like child’s play. She gets it -- in every way. She loves the game. She knows the game. She’s tough. She’s brilliant.”
As for the different strengths each member brings to the selection process, Hancock said, “We know obviously they have different backgrounds. We have an old sportswriter, three veteran coaches; we have some people who have been university presidents.
“So they’re all going to bring a different perspective. I think as time goes by we’re going to learn the strengths of every one of them. But they’re all people of the highest integrity and they’re all very bright. There will be a tremendous amount of debate, and that’s what we want.”
For 13 years, Hancock was the director of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship; he was the first full-time director of the Final Four. The Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a system that has been in place since 1981 to help select and seed basketball teams, has no relevancy to football, he said.
“College football is bigger than that,” Hancock went on. “Even in basketball, the RPI is so misleading. There were years when the basketball committee never looked at the RPI, literally, never looked at it. The RPI helps in one sense; it helps you to group teams.
“But as far as some difference between Team No. 31 and Team No. 41, it’s not a valid tool and that’s why the committee doesn’t use it. That’s why we didn’t want a single metric (for football). We have all these brilliant people and they’re capable of discerning information and making a decision.”
The College Football Playoff committee members will have everything that they need, including game tape, to evaluate and differentiate between the top teams to the extent that Hancock joked that they would even know if the left tackle’s girlfriend passed or failed an exam.
The committee chairman is Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Besides Long and Alvarez, the other current ADs are Clemson’s Dan Radakovich, USC’s Pat Haden and West Virginia’s Oliver Luck, the father of former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, now the starting QB of the Indianapolis Colts.
“There will be levels of recusal on the committee,” Hancock said. “We know Barry will be recused on voting on Wisconsin. We know Dr. Rice, a president at Stanford, will be recused when Stanford is under discussion. The question will be, ‘Do we go any deeper than that?”’
That will be resolved over the next few months, he said.
Asked if there’s the potential for any semantical confusion on whether the committee is choosing the best teams or the most deserving teams, Hancock said, “People will nuance that over time. But the answer is we want the best teams. Who are the four best teams in the country?
“We know it’s going to be hard. We know Team 5 is going to be really close and there are going to be years when Teams 6, 7 and 8 are close. But, at the end of the day, we have a four-team tournament and we’re going to have the best four teams in it.”
Upon reflection, Hancock derived some great satisfaction from the BCS era.
“It did everything it was intended to do,” he said. “It got No. 1 and No. 2 in a bowl game. That almost never happened before the BCS. It also did something that it was not intended to do and that is, it enhanced the regular season.
“Nobody knew that was going to happen. But regular-season football has been going up and up in popularity, TV ratings and attendance. We can’t take all the credit as the BCS. But, golly, we’re going to take some of it, because we deserve it.”
In drawing up the College Football Playoff, Hancock said, “We had three goals when we started evaluating future formats. We wanted to protect the regular season, we wanted to protect the bowl system and the bowl experience and we had to stay within the academic calendar.
“We heard the public saying they wanted more football; they wanted a bracket. I get that. We got that. With this four-team event, we’ve kept the three things that we had to have and we’ve given the public what they wanted -- more football and a bracket. It’s a win-win.”
On what would be his greatest disappointment with the BCS, and what he might do over, he said, “Probably that we were not able to educate the public any better than we did in the early days. We didn’t focus on that. We’ve done a better job of doing that the last seven or eight years.”
With his eyes fixed on the College Football Playoff, he said, “We spend a lot of time on that now. That will lead to transparency in the committee process. Transparency doesn’t mean some reporter in the room reporting every word that Coach Alverez says. That’s not going to happen.”
What is bound to happen -- inside and outside the committee room -- is lively debate, which has always been healthy for the sport, prompting Hancock to repeat, “We wouldn’t want it any other way.”