Prairie Village, Kan.: Epicenter in debate over the college football championship

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For the first time ever tonight, college football’s national champion will be crowned after a four-team playoff. The debate that led to the demise of the Bowl Championship Series and the creation of the College Football Playoff was long and passionate, with college football fans, players, coaches and administrators from across the country weighing in with sometimes heated rhetorics.

Turns out that two of the most prominent voices in that debate — from opposite sides of the issue —  just happen to live a couple of miles from each other in Prairie Village.

Bill Hancock
Bill Hancock

Bill Hancock, who has lived in Prairie Village with his wife for 26 years, is the College Football Playoff’s Executive Director. In his previous role as the executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, Hancock oversaw the system that used a combination of polls and computer models to rank teams and select the two that would get the honor of playing for a national title.

That system drew frequent ire from fans who hated the idea of a computer — and not the top football teams themselves — deciding who would appear in the championship. The anti-BCS movement gained such momentum among sports pundits that three sports writers — Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan — in 2010 published a book delineating myriad arguments against the system: “Death to the BCS: The definitive case against the Bowl Championship Series.”

Jeff Passan
Jeff Passan

Passan, who had one of his early writing jobs with the Kansas City Star’s sports department before moving on to Yahoo!, where he is now the national baseball writer, just so happens to lives in Prairie Village as well.

Passan says the two have met briefly at NCAA events over the past dozen years, but that he’s “pretty sure Bill wouldn’t know me if he saw me.”

The two haven’t happened upon each other in the aisles of the Hen House or anything like that, but Passan said an encounter in Prairie Village would be cordial.

“[If] I saw him, I’d say hello, shake his hand and ask him if he still thinks a playoff system would ruin the bowls,” he said.

For his part Hancock thinks the new system is one of the most exciting parts of a career that has seem him involved with some of the biggest sporting events in the country.

“It has been exciting—and an honor—to have watched the event grow from gestation to fruition,” Hancock said. “I cut my teeth managing the old Big Eight holiday tournament and post-season basketball tournaments in Kansas City, but this one is something special.  It’s the first iconic sporting event that has been created in America since the Super Bowl 50 years ago.”

Iconic, yes. But without its critics, no. Passan thinks the new four-team playoff is an improvement on the BCS, but the playoff as currently configured still has plenty of zits.

“[While] a four-team playoff certainly is a step in the right direction, it remains patently flawed, something to which TCU certainly could attest,” he said. “When a team like Ohio State sneaks in at the last second and now finds itself in position to win a national title, while a team like TCU with every bit as impressive a resume sits as home watching through no fault of its own, it speaks to the need for an expanded playoff that would better represent the elite in college football.”

Hopefully, the two of them can get together and hash it out — it’s only a couple minutes drive.

Not tonight, of course. Hancock will be up in a booth in Dallas overseeing the playing of the first-ever College Football Playoff title game between Oregon and Ohio State. Passan plans to watch from “the comfort of my couch in Prairie Village.”