Condi Rice talks committee ins, outs

ByHeather Dinich ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The annual November conference in the United Arab Emirates will have to wait. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of the 13 members of the inaugural College Football Playoff committee, has some football teams to rank.

"Something has to give," Rice told on Wednesday. "This year I just didn't make it because it would have come right in the middle of the time we were ranking."

Rice has taken all overseas travel off her schedule this fall and replaced it with a pool of 40 teams she's been monitoring closely for the College Football Playoff. In a wide-ranging interview with, Rice spoke about the difficulties of determining strength of schedule, how much value she places on conference champions and the methods she's using to determine the top four teams this season.

Ten undefeated college football teams remain this season, but the storylines so far have been upsets, a wild race in the Pac-12 and the strength of the SEC West. Some have wondered whether two teams from the SEC might make the first playoff. Without referencing any teams or conferences, Rice said conference championships will matter and "should matter," but she added that there's no pressure to have four conference title winners in the first playoff.

"I don't feel a constraint on me right now," she said. "I feel we're going to be balancing a number of things. To a certain extent you have to respect a team that wins the games it plays. Wins and losses matter. Secondly, you have to respect strength of schedule. That's partly the effect of your conference, it's partly the effect of what games you choose to play. And this is where I really look forward to getting in the room with venerable coaches like Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez and Ty Willingham. They're going to have an eye on this that I want to hear and understand what their experience tells them about the best teams."

Rice said she's paying attention to how much conferences are beating up on one another. In fact, the former national security adviser to George W. Bush has her own term for it --"fratricide."

"It's actually a term from my military study background, which means when you kill your own forces," Rice said. "Sorry, that's what I do. So what it means is how much intraconference is going on. In some conferences, teams are constantly knocking each other off. ... It's two ways to look at conference strength: How much is going on within the conference, and then when you have nonconference games, what happens? That's all to get some ways to look at strength of schedule, to look at comparisons given that we don't have that much head-to-head. Obviously head-to-head matters a lot."

Rice, who currently is a professor of political economy in Stanford's Graduate School of Business, said she watches most of the games at home in her den. The three-week MBA class she was teaching -- The Global Context -- ended last week, and she won't teach again until January. She has one more trip coming up in a few weeks, to Mexico City, but said she would take a red-eye flight home to California to watch games again on Saturday.

Rice estimated she watches about 14 or 15 games every week -- live on TV on Saturdays and recorded games on Sundays -- and the coaches' cut-ups throughout the week. She is the point person on the committee for Conference USA and the Big Ten. When Stanford has a home game, she will watch other games on her iPad at the stadium.

"The hardest part of our job is it's hard to get good comparisons because there's not that much head-to-head," Rice said. "If you're watching the NFL, for instance, an entire division will play another entire division. So you know, I remember last year the AFC South played the NFC West. It would have had really good comparisons of who beat whom, and that makes it easier to compare. [College football doesn't] have anything like that. Since there isn't that much head-to-head, you need a substitute for head-to-head competition. One of the things I want to know is, if a team is scoring a lot of points, are they scoring a lot of points against weak defenses? Against strong defenses? How does that compare to other teams you might be trying to rank against them?"

Rice was well aware of the chaos that ensued in Week 6, when five teams ranked among the first eight of The Associated Press Top 25 poll all lost for the first time in the history of the poll. Rice said she does not rank her own top 25 yet, but she does pay attention to the AP poll and the coaches' poll.

"I look at them, but I'm not focused on them," she said. "It seems to me that when we get ready to rank, we're going to want to set aside preconceptions and what others have said. I don't want to have that in my head when I go in."

The selection committee's Top 25 -- the only poll that will matter -- will be released each Tuesday beginning Oct. 28. Asked if she thought the four teams would be easy to settle on come November, Rice said, "I have no idea."

"I tend to think it won't be obvious, and I'm glad," she said. "That's where human judgment comes in."

Rice, the lone woman on the committee, said she doesn't feel like she is under any more scrutiny than any other committee member.

"Look, the fact is that there are several members of this committee that didn't play football," she said. "I didn't play football because I'm a female, but there are some who just didn't play football. So, no, I don't think so. I'm finding that the committee, it's great because we all bring different strengths and approaches and experiences to what we're doing."

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