Credit: Pardon My Take

The College Football Playoff selection committee might have their hands full next Sunday when they sit down to finalize the four teams that will play for the national championship.

Keeping in mind that college football always has a few tricks up its sleeve on championship weekend, there’s a distinct possibility that the committee will find itself having to make some very hard choices.

Perhaps the hardest of all could be denying a spot to the 13-0 ACC champion Florida State and putting a one-loss team in their place. Without their star, quarterback Jordan Travis, the Seminoles don’t appear as imposing as they once were, and visions of them getting blown out by 30 points by Georgia or Michigan have a lot of people nervous.

It’s the age-old conundrum for college football, regardless of the system it’s using to determine a champion. Does the team that went undefeated deserve the shot because they went undefeated? Or did the team with a tougher schedule and a one-loss record prove they’re actually more deserving? And what does deserving even mean in this context?

If it comes down to 13-0 Florida State and one-loss Georgia (if they lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship) or one-loss Michigan (if they lose to Iowa in the Big Ten Championship), what’s the right thing to do?

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit says that it’s not the responsibility of the CFP selection committee to “do the right thing.”

“You know what the average margin of victory has been since 2014 when this thing started? The playoffs have sucked. The average margin of victory has been 19,” said Herbstreit on a recent appearance on Pardon My Take. So as a guy who calls these games, I don’t wanna do the ‘right thing.’ If you talk to Bill Hancock, and we had lots of meetings about this, they’re not supposed to do the ‘right thing.’ They’re supposed to, their job is to put the best four teams in the playoff.

“It’s subjective. Who you think and I think are the best four are different. That’s fine. But that’s what that group is supposed to do. Not ‘what do we think about ratings?’ That’s bull****. Put the ****ing best four teams in the game. At the end of the day, that’s it.”

This argument isn’t anything new, of course. It’s the justification given anytime that a school gets snubbed or people are mad that the committee chose a one-loss P5 school over an undefeated G5 school.

But when you look at Kirk’s argument here, something’s off.

The idea, in theory, is that the committee should devalue an undefeated season if they feel as though a one-loss team is simply better and more deserving. We’ve seen that play out a number of times. Given that, as Kirk alluded to, many of the CFP games have been uninteresting blowouts, there is a natural desire to put in the teams most likely to compete, even if they have a blemish on their record.

You might not agree with that notion, but there is at least precedent for the committee acting that way. And given how things went for Cincinnati in 2021, there’s been an uneasiness to “reward” undefeated programs that are perceived to be unable to hang with the big boys.

However, Kirk’s message gets a little squiffy when he says that the committee shouldn’t be thinking about TV ratings and should instead be thinking about the “****ing best four teams.”

Aren’t those things one and the same?

Under the logic of “just pick the best four teams, period,” wouldn’t that also mean you’re thinking about how to maximize the chances of a competitive game and, therefore, a stronger opportunity to boost ratings? Wouldn’t that mean you are 100% thinking about TV ratings instead of “doing the right thing?”

Not to mention there is a lot of money riding on the future of the expanded CFP. There is a lot of incentive there to make sure the games are as competitive as possible.

If the committee isn’t considering TV ratings, what, then, does it mean to pick the “****ing best four teams.” What’s the difference?

Maybe Herbstreit just misspoke or was a bit unclear about what he meant. Or maybe he’s trying to shield ESPN from more accusations of influencing the direction of college football given that they currently hold the TV rights.

We do know that Herbstreit has long been a proponent of favoring big-name schools over upstarts who had a good season when it comes to the CFP, so his overall thought process isn’t a surprise. He infamously led the charge against UCF potentially crashing the CFP in 2018 and would go on to say that the reason the playoff needed to be expanded was to make sure more teams from the P5 conferences played instead of undefeated G5 teams. When he scolded college football fans for not believing Cincinnati could make the CFP in 2021, it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

FSU isn’t a G5 school, obviously. They’re a top-tier program and have several national titles to their name, so it’s not like they command the same kind of sympathy or feel-good vibes as those aforementioned schools. If they win out and get snubbed, a lot of people are going to be angry. But we all know how the sausage is made at this point. But if anyone thinks TV ratings aren’t part of that equation, they’re fooling themselves or trying to fool you.

[Pardon My Take, No Context College Football]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to