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Beyda: Selection committee has potential to decide more than just playoff teams

Say what you want about Condoleezza Rice’s qualifications as a football expert, or the logistics of the College Football Playoff system that will begin in 2014. I’ve got a feeling that Rice and the rest of the committee announced Wednesday aren’t just going to improve the college football postseason.

They’re going to improve college football.

Everyone seems nervous about the first big decisions the committee will have to make next December; ESPN even dubbed the group’s members the “Unlucky 13.” But though it can’t get much worse than the BCS — does Stanford really do that well in computer rankings, or is the Red Zone just filled to the brim with hackers? (Think about it.) — I don’t think the selection committee is just the lesser of two evils.

Take a look at the group that will be meeting around that conference table. They’re big names, and it’s not just a random selection; these people know each other.

You’ve got Barry Alvarez and Tyrone Willingham, the two head coaches in the 2000 Rose Bowl, as well as Archie Manning and Oliver Luck, former teammates with the Houston Oilers in the ’80s who have since fathered successive Indianapolis Colts franchise quarterbacks. And, believe it or not, Rice and Willingham have both served as volunteer assistant coaches for the Stanford women’s golf team.

Those connections — and the mutual respect they (in most cases) entail — are why there was a pervasive sense of excitement during Wednesday’s conference call announcement. The committee members are leaders in their respective realms, so knowledgeable and so passionate that the sky’s the limit in this new setting. Maybe the selection committee doesn’t know it yet, but that group is primed to change the college football landscape if it’s given the chance.

Here’s an example of what I mean. During the teleconference, Rice didn’t just talk about filling a four-team playoff; she mentioned her desire to preserve the student-athlete experience. Last I checked, deciding whether to pick a one-loss SEC team over an undefeated ACC school doesn’t really fit into that category. What, then, was she referring to?

How about figuring out how to keep players safe, especially in a sport that is becoming severely threatened by head injury at all levels? Or addressing the plague of violations that have swept across the NCAA in recent years? USC athletic director and committee member Pat Haden, who helped clean up the mess at USC, might know a thing or two about changing a program’s culture.

Few collections of people have the collective know-how and boots-on-the-ground experience (that includes Rice, who hired Willingham when she was Stanford’s provost) as the 13 committee members announced on Wednesday.

That’s why Condi and Co. can be more than just a selection committee — they can be a college football think tank.

It sounds bizarre, and yes, it’s going to be another 14 months before we truly know if the selection committee can make wise decisions. But given the NCAA’s administrative struggles, maybe college football needs someone else to come up with revolutionary ideas. Division I already has a board of directors, but it’s made up of university presidents, not necessarily people who are passionate about football.

We’re lucky to have the Unlucky 13. Let’s put them to work.

Joseph Beyda was choice No. 10,763,481 for the committee. To let him know where he would stand on your list, email Joseph at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Joseph Beyda

Joseph Beyda is the executive editor of The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as the football editor, a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a senior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.