College Football Playoff is in Danger of Personal Bias

College Football Playoff is in Danger of Personal Bias

Why Recusal is Impossible

One of the biggest questions for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to answer is how they intend to work around personal bias.  For the first time the national championship in college football is 100% dependent on the human element of the thirteen – member panel called the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

The committee chairman, Jeff Long who is also the standing Athletic Director at Arkansas, admits that the recusal process is one of the more difficult tasks at hand.  So what exactly do we mean by “recusal?”

re•cused, re•cus•ing, re•cus•es. To disqualify from participation in a decision on grounds of bias or personal involvement.

Personal involvement is an easy one to determine based on each members’ public life.  It is the bias that cannot be overcome.  You might think that the integrity of the committee could be a safety net to override personal bias in the decision-making process.  Although the committee is a group of highly intelligent and respected members of the football community, it is scientifically proven that high intelligence does not make a person immune to bias.  Source: “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Pulitzer Prize Winner, New York Times Best Selling Author, Daniel Kahneman.

For instance, one of the members of the inaugural committee is Archie Manning.  Manning and his son Eli both played quarterback for Ole Miss, so would he recuse himself from Ole Miss?  He played for the New Orleans Saints from 1971 to 1982 and was no doubt steeped in the Louisiana culture and surrounded by LSU fans.  Spending eleven years there may influence his bias towards LSU.  His son Peyton Manning played for the Tennessee Vols.  Did that shape his opinion of the Vols?  In 1977 Peyton Manning became the first UT quarterback to win three straight against the Tide.  How do the Mannings feel about Alabama?

Recusal is like a sticky web of experience and bias.  So let’s break it down into a process.

The recusal process is a two-part issue, first, which schools will they be excused from participation and secondly, which parts of the process should they then be excused for the schools they are recused.

When should recusal start?

Recusal should be in advance of the first kick off.

When should they back away from the discussion?

Recusal should be all inclusive, which means not just recusing themselves from voting, but also from discussions and presentations.  A person who is recused from a school should not participate in the group discussion regarding any institution for which they have recused themselves.

For instance, the committee intends to assign conferences to individuals for deeper research and then present their report of the teams in their assigned conference back to the whole group.  They should not be assigned to a conference containing a school on their recusal list, so that that they are not involved in the preparation of material nor presentation of a school they are recused from to prevent personal bias from coloring the reports and thus influencing votes of other committee members.

Which schools should they be recused from?

Only one automatic disqualifier – a current place of employment.

So these six members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee who are currently active in their jobs at an NCAA member institution would recuse themselves from all discussions surrounding their employer:

Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of athletics, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, Chair

Barry Alvarez, director of athletics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Pat Haden, director of athletics, University of Southern California

Oliver Luck, director of athletics, West Virginia University

Dan Radakovich, director of athletics, Clemson University

Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University professor

How should the committee determine which schools the members are recused?

Recusal should be voluntary.  Give each member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee a complete list of the NCAA football teams and ask them to circle the ones they will be recused from.  Each member will be asked to search their heart and make an honest assessment of their own bias.  This is not a perfect system, because we are not perfect beings.  There are several biases that are difficult to detect in ourselves, which we describe in greater detail below.

For instance, you may have a bias that favors a school your son-in-law attended, but if you think he’s a real goofball, you may have a bias against his alma mater.  No one knows that but you.

Another example, Jeff Long, is the active athletic director of the University of Arkansas, which should be an automatic recusal.  How does he feel about his prior employers which includes the University of Oklahoma, University of Michigan, Virginia Tech and Eastern Kentucky University?  He is also responsible for the hiring and firing of Bobby Petrino who was the head football coach at Arkansas from 2008 to 2012 when he was fired after a scandal involving a motor cycle accident with a mistress and lied to Jeff Long about it.  Since Petrino is the head football coach a Louisville, will Long recuse himself from discussing the Cardinals?

This INFOGRAPHIC shows how far-reaching personal bias can extend and it’s really just the start.

College Football Playoff Committee bias

With the experience these 13 members are bringing to the game, each has exposure to multiple college football programs, so recusal will be tough.

Should the recusal list for each member be public?

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee has customers.  Their customers are the member institutions.  But what does that mean, really?  Either directly or indirectly, the institutions consist of  the fans, alumni, coaches, players and employees of the member institutions, in other words, people like you and me.  The key to quality customer service is setting the correct expectation and exceeding that expectation.

The recusal list should be published as well as everything the committee does.

The integrity of the committee members is not in question.  Personal bias is built into the psyche of all human beings and it cannot be overridden.

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee, no matter how intelligent, experienced and honest, are not capable of overcoming personal bias.  The only cure for the College Football Playoff is a process that allows voluntary recusal by its members.  Here are the biases that color their decisions.


Top Ten Biases in the Human Psyche


1.  We tend to think our prior decisions were correct.

Self-justifying – a manner of thinking that our prior decisions were made on correct assumptions.  You may have seen this in a job you left or an employee you fired, where your interpretation of the facts are embellished to justify your decision.

2.  Bizarre material is better remembered than common material.

Bizarreness effect – This explains why exciting teams with close calls and great comebacks in games could get more attention in the discussions than teams that dominate their opponent and have a QB who never plays a full four quarters. Also why odd haircuts, tats, nicknames and circumstances help players to gain notoriety in the media and get awards such as the Heisman Trophy.

3.  Recalling the past in a self-serving manner – Anyone with an X-wife can relate to this.

4. False Memory – where imagination replaced memory.  In tennis if you imagine getting the deuce point, then when you don’t, you may think you did and accidentally misreport the score.

5. A bias is created from unpleasant memories – As a fan of the game, have you ever based your opinion on an entire university based on an isolated experience?  I know someone who hates Ole Miss, because someone there spilled a beer on her at a game.

6. Misinformation Effect – where memories become distorted from post event information. So what the College Football Playoff Selection Committee reads or hears about a game shades their own memory of what they saw.

7. Positive memory in older adults –  older adults tend to remember their positive experiences and will believe them to be true more than their negative experiences.

8. Peak end rule – That people seem to perceive not the sum of an experience but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g. pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended.  We’ve always seen more favor given to strong finishes and that is why losses late in the season cause a team to tumble worse in the ranking than losses earlier.

9. Familiarity – people are more likely to consider a statement to be true if it matches those they have previously heard, (even if they cannot consciously remember having heard them), regardless of the actual validity of the statement. In other words, a person is more likely to believe a familiar statement than an unfamiliar one.  So hearing something over and over on ESPN will influence the committee’s opinions.

10. Preparing our own statement – we don’t remember what was just said if our turn to speak is next.  This could be important when each member presents their conference results to the group.  Source for the psychology is

Hancock described the selection committee as “one of the hardest jobs in sports.”  Are you starting to see why that is true?

Jeff Long stated that the structure will be made available to the public.  They are meeting again, April 2, to decided what that means.  They can make it easy on themselves and be completely transparent about every process, every recusal and every vote.  College football fans need to know.

There is a lot of work to be accomplished in a terribly short time.

Stayed tuned, because we will cover the College Football Playoff closely all year – you’ll be informed here.  In fact, you may want to subscribe to the blog to receive notice of all new stories directly in your inbox.  All you need is an e-mail address.  Look at the ‘you’re invited’ box at the bottom of the page.  We’d also love to hear from you on Twitter. We’re approachable and sociable and appreciate feedback.

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    • Agree. We appreciate your comments. It is particularly astounding that this vote is being decided by such a small group. What surprises us is that they meet Aug 2, to determine their processes and no one is talking about it. I guess sports fans, esp college football fans, will start paying attention to this in the fall, but the rules will already be in place by then.