There’s a hat rack just outside of the dark wooden doors that open up to the College Football Playoff selection room at the Gaylord Texan Resort.
About 15 white Nike baseball caps sit on each peg of the football-themed rack.
It’s a simple reminder to all persons on the selection committee to check their hats at the door. In other words, leave all personal bias outside. There’s no room for it inside.
So, for all college football fans reading this: Check your hats at the door before you continue reading this.
The CFP released its first poll of the 2019 season Tuesday night, and as expected, many fandoms responded in outrage that their program wasn’t where they thought it should be.
I was one of 16 students invited to the CFP Mock Selection Exercise back in September. Like others, I find the whole idea of the CFP intriguing. It’s an interesting process that’s an enigma to so many in the realm of college football, including several sports reporters, too.
I’m no expert on what goes on inside that room six times a year when the committee gathers around to vote on its top-25 teams. But after spending a few hours in its members' seats, I feel like I have a better idea than when I first walked in.
One of the first things CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said when the mock committee and I started evaluating the 2014 season was: “Everything that affects the game, the committee considers.”
And he means everything.
Every seat comes with a computer where the committee members vote and analyze the statistics displayed on 10 television screens around the room. Everyone’s laptop is locked, and each television monitor displays the same information so that all of the committee members are focused on the same details.
Shades of green, asterisks, carrots, highlights, bolded fonts — all of this helps point out different factors the committee takes into consideration (strength of schedule, conference title, top-25 wins, injuries, head-to-head matchups, the best or worst in a certain category, etc.).
When it comes time to vote, screen protectors on each laptop prohibit wandering eyes, so everyone’s vote is truly their own.
I assumed the role of Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin while sitting on the mock committee. Because of his ties to Mississippi State — one of his daughters is a student worker in its athletic department — and his role at UF, he is recused from voting when either party is in the conversation. In fact, he has to leave the room.
“Candidly, when I have to leave the room for the Gators, that’s a good thing,” Stricklin said. “It means we’re being considered.”
The Florida AD added it’s a running joke among some of the other committee members that they never have to leave the room, and when the rare occasion comes along, they’re happy about it.
Initially, each committee member votes on its own top-30 rankings. From there the committee votes individually, again, to get teams into the “pool” by voting for their top six teams in no particular order. After that, the committee discusses the teams in the “pool,” and each member votes on its top six for three teams to then make it into the actual top 25.
We found out quickly enough how easy it is for one team to get stuck in the pool for a few rounds before it finally makes it into the rankings. This situation inevitably causes a revote, which Hancock said can happen anywhere from a few to 20 times per session.
To help keep the members motivated, the CFP provides some snacks for the members. There’s a small freezer outside of the room with NESTLÉ TOLL HOUSE Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches and Häagen Dazs ice cream bars. Oh, and there’s usually some crispy bacon around the morning of the vote, too.
The committee members try to keep things fun because their job is fun in their eyes. The hard work, harassment on the national scale and countless hours dedicated to this job is worth the tradeoff.
And being a committee member isn’t as easy as watching some football and flying out to a five-star resort in Texas a few times every year, either.
Stricklin — on top of his AD duties — watches around 20 games every weekend, streaming cut-down versions of the games, which are condensed from four hours to just 60 minutes, on his smart tablet.
“You want to know what’s going on, because everybody else has done their homework,” Stricklin said. “You don’t want to be the guy who didn’t come prepared.”
The Florida AD will often spend his Sundays catching up on games he missed from the weekend and looking at stat sheets. But as the season goes on, there are fewer teams he has to pay close attention to because they start eliminating themselves from contention, he said.
Inevitably, fans will still be in an uproar for the days to come, or at least until the next poll is released on Tuesday. People will start calling for the committee members' heads and others will scream and shout about an eight-team playoff format, which is a discussion for another time.
The mock selection exercise altered my naïve perspective on what happens inside that room. The struggles each committee goes through battling over whether x-team is a sixth or seventh seed. The extended debates over the slightest details. The amount of time spent keeping up with every team throughout the year, and more importantly, the amount of time spent trying to get things right.
You shouldn’t panic. And you certainly shouldn’t be up in arms after this poll.
Put your bias in perspective. And check your hat at the door.
CFP Top 25
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0)
2. LSU Tigers (8-0)
3. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0)
4. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-0)
5. Clemson Tigers (9-0)
6. Georgia Bulldogs (7-1)
7. Oregon Ducks (8-1)
8. Utah Utes (8-1)
9. Oklahoma Sooners (7-2)
10. Florida Gators (7-2)
11.Auburn Tigers (7-2)
12. Baylor Bears (8-0)
13. Wisconsin Badgers (6-2)
14. Michigan Wolverines (7-2)
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-2)
16. Kansas State Wildcats (6-2)
17. Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-0)
18. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2)
19. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-1)
20. Cincinnati Bearcats (7-1)
21. Memphis Tigers (8-1)
22. Boise State Broncos (7-1)
23. Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-3)
24. Navy Midshipmen (7-1)
25. SMU Mustangs (8-1)
Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari. Contact her at [email protected]