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Playoff committee cautious when talking football
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AP College Football Writer

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck takes what he calls a lawyerly approach to talking about his involvement with the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Luck focuses on process over substance.

“That’s easy for me as a lawyer,” he said.

He’ll talk about how he and the rest of the committee responsible for picking the four teams that will play for the national title plan to go about making that decision. When the cocktail party conversations turn to which team is better — say, Alabama or Oklahoma and West Virginia has played both — Luck politely eases out.

“I’m very sensitive about that,” he said.

While all 13 selection committee members have been encouraged to steer clear of public opinions about teams and how the season is playing out, the ADs have been advised to be especially cautious about what they do and say for fear of being perceived as biased.

“Our positions require us to be a little more out in front,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a telephone interview Monday.

Along with Luck and Radakovich, the five current athletic directors on the committee are: Arkansas’ Jeff Long, who is serving as the committee chairman, Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez and Southern California’s Pat Haden.

The committee will release the first of its weekly Top 25 rankings on Oct. 28. On Dec. 7, it will set the four-team field for the College Football Playoff and pick many of the teams that will play in the four other top New Year’s Bowls.

Earlier this season, Haden forced the College Football Playoff into damage-control mode when he came down to the field during the Stanford game and confronted game officials. Haden was fined by the Pac-12, but his status on the committee did not change.

Radakovich called what happened to Haden a “teachable moment.”

“A moment that you said ‘Wow.’ You are no longer just the athletic director at Clemson University. You’re a College Football Playoff selection committee member first. That’s part of your obligation,” Radakovich said.

Haden put himself in an unusually conspicuous situation that Saturday at Stanford Stadium, but it’s not unusual for ADs to be high profile. Athletic directors routinely mingle with boosters, fans and alums. They’ll speak at the local Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Radakovich, Luck and Long do so these days knowing what they say could circulate beyond the room.

“I am consciously aware of not talking about other teams, other schools,” Long said last week. “When I was just an AD, I’m as competitive as the next, I might have some fun talking about the ‘Bama game this week. But I don’t talk much about the ‘Bama game other than we’re excited to play Alabama and it’s a big game for us.”

Long said there is no such thing as “off-the-record or semiprivate” conversations now that anyone with a social media account can become an amateur reporter.

Radakovich said many fans he meets with are still learning how the new postseason system will work. He said that allows him to — as Luck does — direct the conversations toward the process and away from opinions.

The College Football Playoff works with former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer as a media consultant. Radakovich said Fleischer and his group have stressed to athletic directors to be careful when talking about anything related to college football.

Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese is retired and rarely finds himself in the public eye these days. Still, he has taken the same guarded approach with friends.

“I don’t talk to anybody about anything,” he said.