Bread, Circuses and the Media

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By Jim Bleyer

College football kicked off a new era Sunday when Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State were named to slug it out for the 2015 national championship. The five major football conferences and its propaganda arm, ESPN, formulated the fledgling final-four format which involved a nauseatingly agonizing process overseen by the rookie College Playoff Selection Committee.

No sooner had the popping of corks subsided in Bristol, Connecticut, than howls of criticism deluged social media, radio talk shows, and sports bars throughout the country.  Much of the deserved disapproval emanated from Texas and Tallahassee, whose teams, in varying degrees, were blindsided.

Gross inconsistencies over the rankings aside, the playoff selection process proved, without a shred of doubt, that journalism took a knee in serving the public.  The printing press has now come to mean cranking out mazumah, not news. The media’s new maladjusted priorities created several casualties: ethics, competence, impartiality, but most of all, truth.

The selection committee website declares that in choosing its members, “the top priority concern was integrity.”  Other valued attributes listed include “football expertise,” and “objectivity.”  Let’s briefly examine each member of the celebrated committee that mainstream media variously described as “star studded,” “blue ribbon,” and “elite.”  Twelve should be lumped together; the remaining member deserves special mention later.

*Jeff Long, Athletic Director at Arkansas (SEC) and chairman of the committee whose weekly briefings defending the group’s never-ending moving of the goalposts bordered on the comical.  He hired coach Bobby Petrino only to fire him after a sexual relationship with a subordinate was revealed. Long told the press he “cried” when he realized he would have to dismiss the predator. As AD at Pitt, Long was involved in a ticket scandal and spearheaded a lawsuit brought against the ACC.

*Michael Gould, Ohio native (Big 10 territory) and former superintendent of the Air Force Academy where he covered up rape and drug scandals involving football players.

*Steve Wieberg, former USA Today reporter who graduated from Missouri (SEC). He is in the Basketball Writers Hall of Fame.

*Mike Tranghese, former commissioner of the Big East Conference and a participant in the lawsuit against the ACC.

*Tyrone Willingham, former head coach at two Pac-12 schools who sports a lifetime record of 76-88.

*Tom Jernstedt, attended the University of Oregon (Pac-12) and was the NCAA Basketball Administrator. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and like Wieberg, is far better suited to filling out brackets in March.

*Dan Radakovich, Athletic Director at Clemson and the only ACC representative on the committee. His resume includes being Athletic Director at Georgia Tech where he resigned following scandals involving NCAA football investigations and student ticket prices. Clemson and FSU are arch rivals in the ACC’s Atlantic Division and recruit many of the same high school athletes.

*Condolezza Rice, former figure skater and Secretary of State. She was a provost at Stanford (PAC-12) and never worked directly with college athletics.

*Barry Alvarez, Athletic Director and former coach at Wisconsin (Big 10).

*Tom Osborne, former athletic director and much decorated coach at Nebraska (Big 10). He is also a former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate.

*Oliver Luck, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at West Virginia (Big 12), his alma mater. He is a former quarterback and father of Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck. As a former nominee for Congress, he was involved in an ethical controversy when his campaign used a mailing list generated by the West Virginia boosters club. He apologized for the indiscretion.

*Pat Haden, former USC (PAC-12) quarterback and now Athletic Director. The first to hold that position at any school to charge onto the playing field to berate officials. The incident occurred after his appointment to the committee and called into question his temperament and impartiality.

Integrity. Football knowledge. Objectivity. That’s the Dirty Dozen.

Then there is the 13th member, image-conscious Archie Manning, who left the committee due to “health issues.” Manning, whose reputation as a former All Pro quarterback, broadcast analyst, and commercial spokesperson, is beyond reproach, underwent knee replacement surgery earlier in 2014 and  now “experiences discomfort while walking,” according to ESPN stooge Heather Dinich.

Manning was known for his toughness in the NFL, bouncing back to the huddle after numerous beatings by elephantine defensive linemen.  Demand for personal appearances is off the charts as no less than a dozen speakers’ agencies represent Manning. None of the five I contacted have stopped booking him for future dates that require travel all over the country.

Withdrawal from the committee under the guise of ambulatory limitations speaks to Manning’s perception of his colleagues and the process they were charged with, something that was never revealed and the public is likely to never learn. If indeed he cannot travel–extremely doubtful–his input could still have been easily obtained. Teleconferencing, anyone? Skype? Face Time?

As for the rankings, the committee showed no respect for history or even their own “reasoning” from one week to the next.  Third-seeded Florida State, as not only the defending champion but the preseason number one, would traditionally retain that position until dethroned. The Seminoles not only went though the season without a loss, they were the only Division I school to do so. So their “body of work,” a criterion emphasized by the committee, was perfect. Their out-of-conference games included Florida, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma State, not the cupcakes used for breathers scheduled by many SEC and PAC-12 teams. The committee also maintained it gave weight to “strength of schedule.”

The icing in this farce was Florida State being bumped to fourth by TCU in the penultimate ranking, only to be boosted to third in the last week ahead of Ohio State. It’s impossible to justify those moves in juxtaposition. What it did ensure, however, is that FSU is the only team to essentially be playing an away game in the semi-finals. Oregon fans will dominate in Pasadena at least five to one. It also saves Alabama, the SEC standard bearer, from a much tougher semi-final matchup.

Then there’s poor TCU, not a traditional powerhouse that had a magnificent season. The committee ranked the one-loss Horned Frogs third and, after they waxed their last opponent 55-3, dropped them out of the playoffs entirely. As Forbes magazine noted, Ohio State, who lost to a 6-6 ACC team, has an enormous alumni base flush with cash that reliably inundates host cities for bowl games. The Dallas hospitality industry would lose millions if TCU made the finals.

We won’t even delve into the legitimate gripe from one-loss Baylor who beat TCU.

Who can blame Archie Manning, wounded knee and all, for not burying his morals?

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