Like most of us football fans who suffered through the idiocy of the “BCS Era” the advent of the new “Playoff System” seemed to be the panacea to release us from the bonds of contradiction, regional poll voting, and outright fraudulent formulas being forced into computers weighted to favor a team or a conference.
Whether or not the four-team playoff is, in fact, a cure-all remains to be seen. What does remain is the fact that a panel of thirteen football “experts” – whose individual persona purports to have been formed in the very cauldron of integrity – has been assembled to decree which four football teams at the end of this season are worthy of the high honor to compete in the first-ever Division I football playoff.
They are the College Football Playoff (CFP) Selection Committee.
The composition of that cabal of gridiron wisdom reveals the following demographic characteristics: 12 men, 1 woman; 11 European-Americans, 2 African-Americans; by professional position there are 6 AD’s from the “Power Five Conferences” (2 from the Big 10, go figure), 1 former NCAA VP, 1 former superintendent from one of our military academies, 1 former Secretary of State, 1 former university football coach, 1 former All-American and All-Pro NFL player, 1 former conference commissioner, and 1 former college football reporter.
One of the CFP Selection Committee is Pat Haden, Athletic Director at the University of Southern California. Now, from this point on be advised that I am a bit skewed in my view since I have always been offended by the arrogance of the USC people – to wit, the general attitude of the then-USC AD Mike Garrett in response to the Reggie Bush corruption scandal. Had it not been for that Southern Cal “privileged” posture, it is likely that the NCAA penalties would not have been quite so harsh. And this lays the under-pinning landscape which seeped through in Saturday’s USC-Stanford football game.
During the third quarter of that game there was some kerfuffle along the USC sidelines punctuated by a helmet-to-helmet foul committed by a USC player against a Stanford player. The USC Head Coach, need not mention his name since in my world they are all the same just with different names, exploded as if someone had just stolen his last salt water taffy under the board walk in Atlantic City.
It was not easy to tell if this coach dropped the “F”-bomb, but it sure looked like it from where I sat in Alabama. That got him another flag!
Then, as if someone had summoned a USC savior from on high to come down to defend the poor picked-on Trojans, Southern Cal AD Haden crystallized on the sidelines with all the assumed ardor of St. Michael the Archangel combined with all the grace of Mighty Mouse (“Here I am to Save the Day!”).
Now, do I believe that an athletic director should defend his coaches? Without a doubt! Should an esteemed alumnus with credentials which included having been a Rhodes Scholar come to the aid of that alma mater? No question!
But, then, should a person with that same integrity who is a member of the CFP Selection Committee charge onto the field to confront game officials on the whim of a coach whose actions reminded me of a kid in a sandbox crying when someone did not like the fact that he bumped into another kid’s sandcastle? And that is not a rhetorical question.
What Pat Haden did in his blind zeal to “protect” his precious new coach – “precious”, indeed, after the immediate prior hire in that position – was debatably admirable as an alum and questionable at best as an AD. But as a member of a committee who will be selecting teams to play for a National Championship? Unacceptable!
I mentioned the arrogance of Southern California and I recall that venerable institution hiring Lane Kiffin away from the University of Tennessee. USC must have seen a kindred spirit in Kiffin as exhibited by his incessantly offensive comments to and about the Southeastern Conference and its legion of highly successful coaches. Kiffin was arrogance personified!
A little logic here: two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Hence, quod erat demonstrando (QED)!
In later utterances Haden claimed that he was “just a bystander” which he assumed would be an adequate absolution. But that was not even a mildly adequate mea culpa.
What is needed as remedy has been called for by Dan Wolken in Saturday’s USA Today – “Haden should resign from the Playoff committee.” And I wholeheartedly agree! It is more than a question of optics. It is a question of integrity and impartiality. And as Wolken adds, “An athletics director running down to argue penalties and making a spectacle of himself on national television does not exactly scream impartiality and level-headedness…Athletics directors are supposed to be out of sight, out of mind during games. Some are more demonstrative than others. But they all know they have to keep their control.”
Hence, I echo Wolken’s call for Haden’s resignation, and further endorse Wolken’s position that, “If he refuses, CFP executive director Bill Hancock should nudge him in that direction. And if Hancock doesn’t want to go down that road, the 10 commissioners of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences should intervene and demand a change.”
Let me pose one final query: Do many people remember what bowl game in 1978 Woody Hayes punched a player on the opposing team and as a result lost his job? Precious few, I’ll wager. It was the Gator Bowl and the Clemson player Woody hit was Charlie Bauman. We recall it as the “Woody Bowl” in many instances.
The analogy holds in my perspective.
Outside of the immediate game participants and spectators, I believe that this game will be forever remembered as Pat Haden’s swansong to the CFP Selection Committee.
But if it is not his swansong and he does not voluntarily resign I would submit that the integrity of the committee has been severely, if not irreparably, tainted. Regardless of the Committee members’ “recusal” policy, whenever questions of a Pac-12 team or of Southern Cal is in the conversation the integrity of Pat Haden’s impartiality will always be suspect.
The truly sad fact is that USC will probably not even blink an eyelash. Arrogance has a blinding form of self-absolution – and Haden can take solace in the words of the USC Fight Song – “Our Alma Mater dear, looks up to you/ Fight On and win for ol’ SC!”
“Looks up to you” indeed!
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He has worked in higher education for more than four decades. He has served as a college dean, vice-president, president, football coach, and athletic director. He is a published author and poet and writes a weekly column on issues facing America. He has also served on NCAA committees and on the All-American Football Selection Committee.