President’s Column, by Chris Dufresne

FWAA’s Wieberg joins very elite committee

FWAA President Chris Dufresne

FWAA President Chris Dufresne

We take care of our own.

One of my primary goals as FWAA President this year was to help facilitate the placement of a member on the new College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

I learned this was my goal when former FWAA President Mark Blaudschun pulled me aside last January in Florida and, with the lullaby gentleness of a New Jersey longshoreman, said  “Your job is to get member on the playoff selection committee. … Don’t screw it up.”

Mission accomplished.

The FWAA was thrilled in mid October when it was announced the new 13-member panel for the College Football Playoff would include former USA Today college writer Steve Wieberg.

Steve Wieberg

Steve Wieberg

Wieberg joins a prestigious group that includes the likes of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, College Football Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne and former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning, now chairman of the National Football Foundation.

It was almost surreal to hear Wieberg on the same conference call hook-up with Rice.

“To be a part of it is beyond humbling to me,” Wieberg said. “I feel a little bit like Ringo, and there are four Johns, four Pauls and four Georges in the band. But Ringo was a contributor, and I plan to be a contributor.”

Wieberg, who was co-winner of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award in 2012, knows he will get a little bit a help from his friends.

Any one who knows Steve understands that no one on the committee will work harder to get the right four teams in the playoff.

When covering the Final Four, he would barricade himself in his hotel room and slave over the USA Today cover story for Tuesday. Steve would basically write and research complete stories for both the title-game teams knowing one would go in the dumpster after the final buzzer.

Like hostage negotiators, we would sometimes try to lure Steve out of his room for a bowl of soup in the hotel coffee shop, but you simply could not move him off his stump.

Wieberg lives in the small town of Lawson, Mo., (Pop. 2,431) near Kansas City and keeps a small office in a downtown that could have served as the set for Mayberry.

Every day, Steve would put on a tie and walk a few short blocks to work. When asked why he just didn’t work in pajamas from his bedroom office, Steve said he wanted to set a good example for his three children.

Steve was humbled and honored when I spoke to him the day he was named to the College Football Playoff panel. He assured me no one on the committee would work harder.

Wieberg in 2012 retired after a distinguished three-decade career at USA Today, where he had been a founding staff member in 1982. As the national college writer, Wieberg was a fixture at the BCS Championship Game, the Final Four and NCAA Conventions.

He is a tenacious, thorough, fair and meticulous reporter who was a member of several award-winning investigative and enterprise stories at USA Today.

I asked Steve on the conference call he shared with Condi Rice — he called her “Dr. Rice” —  why he thought a sportswriter should be on the selection committee.

Interestingly, some had criticized Rice’s involvement considering, as former Auburn Coach Pat Dye said, she never had had her “hand in the dirt.”

Wieberg told me later he very much wanted to answer this question on behalf of all sportswriters.

“I’ve seen probably close to 200 college football games, maybe more than that in my life,” he said. “Practices, 50-some NFL games probably. Not watching those games casually, watching those games analytically, talking to coaches, players.”

Wieberg said that he and Condi Rice bring to the panel a detached, but informed, perspective.

“We have an educated eye,” Wieberg said. “I think we’re students of the game. I think that’s a valuable perspective we can bring to this. I know in my case I immersed myself in the basketball selection process shortly after the start of USA Today well into my tenure. Analyzing the metrics. Analyzing just the statistics you get.”

Wieberg thinks one of his strengths is covering college football on a macro level. He has never been tied to one team or one conference.

“I’m accustomed to weighing teams across conference, coast to coast,” he said. “I think I’m very comfortable with this process.”

I was half-joking when I asked Steve if he was going to have to now put locks on his door in sleepy-town Lawson.

Wieberg said he is aware the committee faces intense scrutiny and criticism.

Again, who could be more prepared for that than a sportswriter?

As Ringo sang after he left The Beatles: “It don’t come easy.”

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