Journalism Students Report from Field of College Football Playoff

Ally Pruitt describes the first-hand experience of participating in the event.

DePaul students RJ Sachdev and Ally Pruitt
On Tuesday Oct. 31, the College Football Playoff will release the first of seven weeks​ of standings for the 2017 season in a process that will lead to selecting the four teams that will play for the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision championship.

About six weeks earlier, for the first time, a handful of college student journalists were chosen from around the nation to travel to the CFP headquarters in Dallas-Fort Worth to participate in a mock selection process that explained the inner workings of the CFP. Ally Pruitt and RJ Sachdev of DePaul were two students who participated.

On September 18, 2017, I got on a plane and flew to Dallas Fort Worth for the College Football Mock Playoff Selection. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I learned so much about The College Football Playoff and about college football around the country. As one of the twelve students in the country to be able to act in this process, I am so incredibly grateful for everything I was able to learn.

Upon my arrival, we had a welcome dinner in which we learned a bit about the playoff process and those who are involved in the selection. Bill Hancock, the executive director of The College Football Playoff, informed us about how the committee came to be and the rules in which they follow. We learned that the committee sits in the exact same seats that we were to sit in, as well as stay in the Gaylord Hotel. It was then that we learned that we were going to enact as one of the committee members for the mock activity. I was selected to be Ty Willingham, the head coach at Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Washington, compiling a career college football record of 76–88–1.

The next morning at promptly 8 a.m., we walked through the doors into the selection room. Leaving our phones outside, we walked in ready to make one of the biggest decisions in college sports. Each of us had our own laptop in front of us, along with a binder full of each team’s statistics from the 2012 season. There was a row of TVs in front of us, as well as a large screen in front of the room. Everything that we asked to be projected was shown on all monitors, in order to gain every insight before making our decision.

We pulled out our personal lists of the best 30 teams in the country and entered them into the computer. Our moderator, Laila Brock, used our information to tell us what the pool of teams was that we were able to choose from in order to select our top 25.

Then the real process began… the debate. As a group, we had to decide who the best teams in the country were and this was no easy process. Everyone had a different opinion and we all had different reasoning as to why each team was deserving. We discussed the win-loss record, the defensive statistics, the offensive statistics, the strength of the schedule, weather conditions during specific games, and any injuries that may have effected a team.

As Ty Willingham, I was unable to vote in any decision that dealt with Stanford because I was recused due to my former paid affiliation with the team. I was not the only student that was asked to leave the room during a vote. Any committee member that was formally paid by a school was not allowed to be in the selection room to avoid any bias during our vote. We were asked to “leave our hats at the door” when entering and make decisions based solely on the information in front of us.

Our top three teams that we agreed upon were Alabama, Notre Dame, and Stanford. We spent hours deciding on each block of teams. We voted, discussed, argued, and came to decisions together. At 2 p.m., our selection was finished. We were then able to go back and re-vote on any decisions that we were skeptical about. In order to do this, there had to be four committee members that agreed upon the revote.

We remained with our top three teams and held re-votes only for decisions later in the list. It was then that we had to make decisions on who was to play in each bowl game. We discussed competition levels, fan travel, geographical location, and much more in order to make this decision.

But at 3 p.m., our decisions were complete. We had our top 25 teams that were to make The College Football Playoff and we knew who was going to play in each bowl game. We helped prepare our chair, graduate student at IUPUI, who was enacting as Kirby Hocutt, Director of Athletics at Texas Tech, as to what the media was going to ask about. We discussed why we made some of the more controversial decisions that we made and why we made them. Once we felt he was ready for the media, our selection committee was dismissed.

This experience was unlike any other and I am beyond honored and grateful that I was able to attend alongside my fellow DePaul Journalism student RJ Sachdev. Being able to walk in the exact shoes as the committee members was eye-opening and taught me so much about what The College Football Playoff stands for.

I want to give a huge thank you to Bill Hancock, Laila Brock, Allison Doughty, Wes Gentry, Michael Kelly, Lauren Lanier, and the rest of The College Football Playoff staff for this incredible opportunity.

I also want to thank the DePaul Journalism faculty​​ for sending me on this adventure and allowing me to learn more than I could have ever imagined.

Thank you to my fellow mock committee members from all of the country for creating an environment for great debate and teaching me so much more about the game. I will never forget this trip and I will treasure the information I have learned as I embark on my journalism career.