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Livengood finds choosing football playoff teams not easy

UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood always liked the bowl system but wound up seeing a college football playoff as inevitable.

He also came to welcome the switch to a playoff system, which begins in the 2014 season, and believed the four-team setup was large enough.

That was until he participated in a mock selection committee for Sports Illustrated. The magazine published the results last week – the teams were selected before the various conference championship games.

The committee chose, in order, Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida and Oregon.

"It really did change my mind in terms of the number," Livengood said. "In basketball, you’re able to select quite a number of teams. The key thing is you’ve got to get the teams in the tournament.

"Here, there’s not much difference – and I don’t think there’s ever going to be – between Team 4 and Team 5."

Livengood said he didn’t know what the ideal number of teams would be, saying maybe the committee should begin with six and move up to eight. Expanding to 12 or 16 teams, he said, would be too large.

The contract is for a four-team playoff through the 2025 season, replacing the current Bowl Championship Series.

A selection committee would have had difficulty choosing just four teams this season, with as many as eight or 10 teams realistically capable of winning the national title. Two to four teams generally separated themselves in prior years.

But Livengood said this season is more an indication of what is to come.

"I think it’s going to be even harder in the future," he said.

Livengood took part in the 11-person committee made up of athletic directors, with Greg Shaheen serving as lead facilitator. Shaheen was the NCAA’s point person for the men’s basketball tournament the past 12 years.

Three committee members – Livengood, Ohio State’s Gene Smith and East Carolina’s Terry Holland – were past chairmen of the basketball selection committee.

The committee took part in two conference calls Nov. 19 and received materials several days before the Nov. 26 teleconference that picked the final four.

Notre Dame and Alabama, the teams that will play each other Jan. 7 for the BCS title, were chosen for the first two spots. Alabama still had to play Georgia for the Southeastern Conference championship, but committee members were told, for its selection purposes, to assume the higher-ranked team would win.

The Crimson Tide barely did, holding off Georgia, 32-28.

Georgia and Florida were the third and fourth teams on the initial ballot, putting both into the second round of consideration. The committee then chose Oregon and Louisiana State over Texas A&M and Stanford to join the Bulldogs and Gators for final consideration.

The Stanford omission was particularly noteworthy.

The Cardinal beat Oregon, 17-14 in overtime, and they were one of the nation’s hottest teams in winning the Pac-12 Conference title.

But Oregon had just that one loss, and Stanford suffered two early-season defeats, including one at Notre Dame. The committee debplayated whether the selection should come down to the four best teams for the year or the four playing the best at the end of the season.

"When you get down to the very end, it’s just a sliver who gets to be (No.) 4," Livengood said.

Florida won the final vote, with Oregon coming in second to set the rest of the playoff field.

The Gators lost to Georgia, 17-9, but they have one fewer loss against a tougher schedule.

Because this was a mock selection committee, the pressure was fairly minimal. It won’t be, however, for the group that picks the playoff field for real.

"That real committee, real teams are at stake," Livengood said. "After the 2014 season, we might have eight teams that look exactly alike, with maybe one separated out. It’s really hard for people to think that everybody is totally unbiased and everybody is totally honest and everybody is absolutely aboveboard."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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