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Gene Smith Talks CFB Playoff

In-depth with Ohio State AD Gene Smith on his new CFP gig and the future of bowls

By: by  Dennis Dodd


Gene Smith had to be convinced the College Football Playoff was a good thing.

“I had great apprehension,” said Ohio State’s athletic director.

This is not what you want to hear from one of the most powerful administrators in the country. Credibility for college football’s postseason is everything. Three years into the CFP, Smith is not only on board -- he’s a board member.

This month, Smith begins his three-year term on the CFP Selection Committee while stills serving as a powerful administrator with oversight over a top five football program.

He’s also convinced now the CFP will work. Actually, the happened a while ago. His Buckeyes have participated in two of the first three CFPs, winning one.

In this question-and-answer session with CBS Sports, Smith describes how he was turned around. If you have any other questions about his qualifications, ask yourself: How many guys do you know who have four combined national championship rings as a player, coach (Notre Dame) and athletic director (Ohio State)?

Smith joins former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Robert Morris president Chris Howard as the newbies on the committee. He specifically replaces Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez as a Big Ten rep.

The committee selection is another career achievement. Smith played for Ara Parseghian and coached for Dan Devine at Notre Dame. He has both passed judgment and endured it as a member of the NCAA infractions committee and Division I men’s basketball committee.

Let’s not forget Jim Tressel’s lies stained Ohio State and helped put the program on probation in 2011.

That’s a distant memory as Smith begins weekly CFP judgment of his coach, Urban Meyer. Not really. Smith will recuse himself when discussion the Buckeyes come up in the room.

In that sense, Smith hopes to be out of the room a lot.

CBS Sports: The CFP is a lot of work. What compelled you to want to do this?

Gene Smith: “I had a great conversation first with [Big Ten] commissioner Jim Delany while the process was going on. The chance to be on the NCAA basketball committee was such an educational experience. That experience [from 2007-2011] aligns with this one.

“The way the inaugural [CFP] committee was set up -- the guidelines, the procedures -- I think it’s marvelous what they’ve done. I feel comfortable first and foremost going into that system. And the game gave me so much. It all started back in high school with this great game. A chance to do something special is a service thing.”

CBS Sports: You know about the time commitments for the CFP. In basketball, you have one big weekend in March. It’s a little more in the CFP -- each week starting in early November. Have you looked at flights to Dallas?

Smith: “There are a couple of directs … I have to be there early in the week Mondays and half-day Tuesdays. That’s part of the week that I can do it. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have such a good staff. They’re happy when I’m gone. They can get some things done.”

CBS Sports: Have you solicited any former or current committee members on the time commitments?

Smith: “No. We have Big Ten meetings in February. I’m hopeful at that time I can sit down with Barry, learn from him everything about the experience he had.

“If I didn’t have the basketball committee experience, I might have a different perspective. That was five years of a lot of traveling, watching a lot of games, studying information on teams. I think, if I didn’t have that experience, I’d have more trepidation.”

CBS Sports: What do you think of the basketball committee releasing the top 16 seeds on Saturday? That seemed to take its inspiration from the weekly CFP Rankings.

Smith: “It’s been talked about for years … I supported it. We’re continuing to look at ways to continue to promote the sport. The timing is about right. Everybody is really beginning to focus and talk about basketball now. I like it. I think it’s going to be fun and intriguing to watch.

“In this day and age with so many media platforms … might as well get in the fray … I think it worked in football.”

CBS Sports: When did you find out in 2014 that you were in that first College Football Playoff after beating Wisconsin? (That year the Buckeyes leaped from No. 5 into the CFP Rankings at No. 4 after beating Wisconsin 59-0 the Big Ten Championship Game. That despite each of the top five teams winning on the last day of the season.)

Smith: “We didn’t find out until we saw it on TV.”

CBS Sports: Really? Someone didn’t call you five minutes before the announcement and tell you that you were in?

Smith: “No, those were the old days. You’re right. In the BCS system, we knew that morning and we were beginning to mobilize. Bowl people were talking to you. The commissioner was talking to you. Not anymore.

“I actually like [the CFP confidentiality]. I think confidentiality is critical.  At the time in 2014, I wish I had some inside scoop. I understand why that’s so valuable.” 

CBS Sports: That’s interesting. I would assume someone like you would have a heads up?

Smith: “I didn’t make an attempt. I have the cell phones of [selection committee] people. I respected the process. We were communicated with about  how the process would work. [The CFP said,] ‘Don’t make attempts.’”

CBS Sports: Have you even thought about what kind of preparation you’ll have to make each Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Smith: “No. I’m anxious to sit down with Barry and talk to him. I have an idea. When I was with  basketball committee, I had a folder with a template. I had all this information -- my notes from watching games. It’s a pretty heavy briefcase.”

Smith: “I’ll be at our games. My Sunday mornings, I’ll have to change my workout schedule. I’ll record a lot of games.

“My wife [Sheila] was an Olympic basketball and head coach at UNLV for a number of years, but she used to watch games with me. She won’t be doing this. I’ll be locked in my room with my computer.”

CBS Sports: Can Urban lobby you?

Smith: “No. We have such a [great] relationship. I’d tell him to block the off tackle play.”

CBS Sports: You played in the poll era. You were an administrator in the BCS era and now you’re part of this process. Why is the CFP better, more fair?

Smith: “I had great apprehension about the CFP. I was a BCS guy. A lot of it was personal. I had the old traditional thought of the value of bowl games being rewards.

“Now, I still feel we have too many bowls. That’s been lost to some degree. From a narrow point of view at Ohio State, they benefit from the BCS. We had more appearances [10] than anybody. I went into the CFP with apprehension. After seeing it, how it worked and seeing how committee set up selection process, I’m a fan now. I think it works.

“I’m concerned about the other bowls. What we do with them and for them?”

CBS Sports: Are there too many bowls? The Poinsettia Bowl recently folded. Will the market take care of the glut?

Smith: “Over time, yes, because that is a financial issue. Over time, the realities will set in. That was one. I hated to see it go way from the perspective it provided those young men.

“We need to look at the reality of what we are and where we’re going.”

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