God bless Bill Hancock. The outgoing College Football Playoff executive director is everybody's friend. He has a unique personality that allows him to relate to both executive board rooms and bitchy media complaining about press box seats.
There will never be another one like him. The man is so iconic his administrative roots trace back to the old Big Eight. He was the first full-time director of the Final Four. He has been helping the United States Olympic Committee for 15 Olympic Games. Remember "bracket creep?" That was Hancock defending the old Bowl Championship Series before it did indeed creep up to becoming the CFP.
This week, he is in meetings with FBS commissioners planning for expansion of the playoff to 12 teams starting in 2024.
If there is a face of major-college football's championship era, it is the affable everyman from Hobart, Oklahoma.
As Hancock prepares for his retirement, there is an urgency to hire a replacement. Hancock won't officially depart until 2025, but his replacement is expected to be in place by Christmas, perhaps in time for this year's Selection Sunday on Dec. 3.
The job is going to change radically because college athletics will change radically. We know that because of the NCAA climate alone. Within the tenure of the next executive director, players may be paid -- or at least be part of some revenue sharing.
The next executive director will oversee the expanded playoff. That person will be directly involved in negotiating what could be the biggest media rights contract in the history of college sports for that new structure.
"It's a significantly expanded commercial enterprise," said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, a member of the CFP Management Committee that will consider candidates. "... It's got to be somebody who can help develop the property into what it's going to be and position it effectively in the sports marketplace as one of the premier events."
Based on this season's boffo TV ratings alone, the playoff will almost certainly grow in value and prominence. The CFP had stagnated in some years because the same old teams were competing for the championship. That's part of the reason for expansion; the CFP is banking on variety as a revenue generator.
"I think it's more about building the brand, creating excitement around it," Swarbrick cited as goals for the new executive director. "What are the auxiliary events? Think how the Super Bowl grew over time. What is the growth path here? How does that work?"
The new person may wind up overseeing the entire sport if the FBS ultimately separates from the NCAA.
"I think you have to have a strategic thinker," said American commissioner Mike Aresco, another member of the committee. "You can't just get a bowl director. This is not an operations position. It could morph into something far more important once we get the [NCAA] governance thing worked out. It could be the seat of governance for college football. I think that's going to happen eventually."
There might be a thin line to walk regarding ESPN and Fox. Any candidate with overt connections to either of the two broadcasters may have a problem as they could be seen as a biased party who may potentially steer the expanding CFP media rights to their former employer. Several administrators have mentioned a desire to bid out the new CFP to multiple broadcast partners.
Ronnie Lott wouldn't mind seeing a former coach take over. Why does that matter? Lott as a hall of famer might as well be a football Captain America. He also happened to see how the bracket was made as a CFP Selection Committee member from 2018-20.
"What made Bill so special, Bill not only had a love for college football but a love for the people who work with college football," Lott said. "If I was going to try to identify a person, I would want somebody who has those same characteristics."
In that sense, Hancock's legacy lives on. But sooner than later, a list of his possible successors will have to be whittled down. Here is one to consider (in alphabetical order).
Rick Baker, Cotton Bowl executive director: The Cotton might be the best-administrated bowl across the board. Baker is the dean of bowl directors having been around since 1988. His crowning accomplishment might be keeping the Cotton relevant to the point it was part of the CFP rotation when the playoff started in 2012. The bowl has never been stronger.
Steve Bornstein, Activision Blizzard chairman: The history of modern sports television cannot be written without Bornstein. At 71, he is a former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network who also served as president of ABC Sports. Along with current Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, Bornstein helped create the BCS as an ABC executive in 1998.
Greg Byrne, Alabama athletic director: The boss of that "other guy" in Deion Sanders' AFLAC commercials has done OK for himself. Byrne has been the AD as Nick Saban transformed not only the athletic department but the entire university. In addition to those national championships since joining Alabama in 2017, Byrne is overseeing a 10-year, $600 million capital campaign.
Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina athletic director: There's a reason, in this age of realignment, that North Carolina is one of the most desired brands. Cunningham has sustained a basketball program that won its sixth national championship under his watch in 2017. The hire of Mack Brown for the football program has proven to be brilliant. Brown has brought the Tar Heels back to national prominence. Cunningham is as connected as any of these names. For proof, look at his spot on the Men's Division I NCAA Basketball Committee.
Rick George, Colorado athletic director: George had the . Is that enough for you? In one bold stroke, George made an entire university a brand name. The former Texas Rangers COO also served diligently for two years in a working group that developed the NCAA's first NIL rules. In Year 10 at CU, is Coach Prime his walk off move?
Rob Mullens, Oregon athletic director: Mullens inherited Chip Kelly when he arrived from Kentucky in 2010. The excellence continued. Men's basketball went to the Final Four. The Ducks have won four Pac-12 football titles on his watch. Dan Lanning looks like a brilliant hire. Mullens' latest accomplishment was keeping Oregon relevant in this round of realignment.
Condoleezza Rice, Hoover Institution director (Stanford): What hasn't this icon done? As a cabinet member, she stared down Vladimir Putin face-to-face on foreign policy. That alone ought to qualify Rice, an American treasure ,for just about anything she wants to do. Rice was raised a football fan in Birmingham, Alabama. She was on the first CFP Selection Committee. Talking to folks in that group, she knew as much or more about the game as veteran coaches and administrators.
Mark Silverman, Fox Sports president/COO: Since joining Fox in 2018, Silverman has been a main force behind Fox making college football a priority. The network went all in with the Big Ten in a new media rights deal. USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon have joined the league for next year making the Big Ten a super conference . Fox's Big Noon has become pregame phenomenon rivaling ESPN's GameDay.
Gene Smith, Ohio State athletic director: Another veteran AD retiring, but is he merely retiring from Ohio State? This job might be below him. Smith is qualified to be NCAA president. Heck, even a state senator. He's that respected.
Jon Steinbrecher, MAC commissioner: Steinbrecher is the low-key steady hand behind the overachieving MAC. It seems like there is never a scandal in the league that fails to tweak the nose of one of the big boys in nonconference play. Steinbrecher is the current vice chairman of the NCAA Council. Like former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, he came to his job from being Ohio Valley commissioner.
Scott Stricklin, Florida athletic director: It's hard to believe Stricklin is only 53, given he rose from the ranks of student assistant at Mississippi State 33 years ago. All but six of his years since then have been spent in the SEC. Any AD who has overseen Dan Mullen and Jim Elwain is more than qualified to run the CFP.
Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame athletic director: Swarbrick is retiring next year as NBC executive Pete Bevacqua transitions into the job. But is Swarbrick, 69, retiring from the game? Already one of the most powerful persons in college sports, Swarbrick is one of the architects of the 12-team playoff.
John Wildhack, Syracuse athletic director: The Syracuse AD is respected by everyone in the TV industry having spent 36 years at ESPN. Wildhack, 64, rose to executive vice president as one of the most powerful persons in sports television. In 2016, he switched careers to lead his alma mater. Wildhack would relate to both the TV and athletic administration worlds at a key time in CFP history.