LAS VEGAS -- College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock winced Monday afternoon. He had just realized one of his CFP Selection Committee members had gone public with their reasoning about why that person voted not to include Florida State in playoff.
"It was gut-wrenching," that committee member told CBS Sports under the condition of anonymity. "For me, individually, I evaluated [whether they could] make it through and win a national championship with the team they had."
That person concluded the Seminoles could not win the national title without injured starting quarterback Jordan Travis. The potential ability for a team to win a national championship is not part of the CFP's selection protocol.
That might be the most revelatory statement made since this controversy erupted Sunday afternoon when the four-team bracket was announced. For the first time, the committee left an undefeated Power Five conference champion out of the Football Four.
Nowhere in the CFP protocol does it mention a team's ability to win as a criteria for whether it should be included.
"I don't remember that phrase being said in the [selection] meeting," Hancock told CBS Sports.
That doesn't mean such a thought couldn't be contemplated. It does mean, perhaps, that it shouldn't be a deciding factor if adhering to the defined criteria.
"That was my personal [opinion]," the committee member clarified. "I don't think [language about being able to win it all] should be in there. Now, going into a 12-team playoff, does the protocol need to stay the same?"
Earlier Monday, ESPN quoted a committee member making a similar assertion regarding Florida State:
"We didn't think they could [win a national championship]," that person said.
If winning it all were the stipulation, Georgia -- No. 1 before losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game -- should have been in the top four. Instead, the Bulldogs didn't just drop outside the four but behind the undefeated Seminoles, who fell from No. 4 to No. 5 despite winning the ACC Championship Game by double digits over Louisville.
That's where the national conversation diverged and controversy erupted.
Hancock spent 20 minutes Monday defending the system while in Las Vegas for the annual National Football Foundation dinner. He had already seen a tersely worded letter from Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R) demanding not only CFP accountability but "any emails, text messages or other written communications" regarding the process.
That was politicking as usual, but it raised the discussion to a different level.
"Not to Rick Scott, but I am disappointed when people challenge the integrity of the process. I think that's out of line and inappropriate," Hancock said.
The 73-year-old was a day removed from his final CFP selection process. He is stepping down next year as Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Clark takes over the executive director position. Hancock will stay with the CFP through the remainder of 2024 as a consultant.
Hancock didn't address directly whether there is a way to make the voting process more transparent. Committee members do not make public their votes. So-called "cross-country voting" is incredibly complicated.
A list of 30 original teams is considered and then voted in groups of six. Committee members vote on their respective computers. Their choices are not stored as they go through several rounds of voting -- sometimes as many as 50 during a typical regular-season process.
"It is the most ethical, deliberate, detailed process I've been through since I left the men's basketball committee," said Hancock, who spent 13 years as director of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.
Consistency was also an issue with Sunday's final CFP Rankings. Undefeated Liberty made it to a New Year's Six bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five team, edging two-loss SMU, which was undefeated in ACC play and only lost to a pair of Big 12 schools on the road. However, undefeated Florida State was beaten out by Alabama, which lost to Texas at home by double digits, at the top of the rankings.
"What people don't understand is it's about what your team does, but it's also about what the teams around your teams do," Hancock explained. "The other factor in that is conference championships. This year, we just happened to have … that strong top eight all season. We've never had that before. It was a unique season."
Strength of schedule was a deciding factor, too. Alabama was No. 4 in SportsSource Analytics' rankings -- one of the tools used by the committee -- whereas Florida State was No. 55.
Hancock doubled down on CFP chairman Boo Corrigan's contention that Florida State wasn't the same team without Travis.
"People are putting this on [Travis] … they shouldn't do that," Hancock said. "What [Corrigan] said was, 'They're not the same team.' No one can argue with that. ... They're not the same team without Jordan Travis. That's all I can say. I'm trying not to be a smart ass."
But the Seminoles would have essentially had a month to get backup Tate Rodemaker (out with concussion symptoms) ready for a Jan. 1 bowl game. Rodemaker already won as FSU's starter the week prior at Florida. In the first CFP nine years ago, Ohio State was down to its third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, and eventually won the national championship.
"The [Florida State] backup wasn't Cardale Jones' level I don't think," that committee member said.
One ACC official told CBS Sports, as of early Monday afternoon, none of the several committee members they contacted for an explanation had returned a call.
"It wouldn't appropriate for me to talk about who I've talked to," Hancock said.
Hancock shared that the committee met for two hours after the last game (ACC championship) ended Saturday at 11:42 p.m. ET. The committee met again Sunday morning for two hours right up until 30 minutes before the noon deadline to submit the bracket.
As it stands, Florida State will play Georgia in the Orange Bowl. FSU could still end as the nation's only undefeated team, and it could beat the two-time reigning national champions to achieve that unblemished mark. There is also still a chance, although remote, FSU could end up being the final No. 1 team in either the AP Top 25 and/or the Coaches Poll. Both of those human polls had Florida State ranked safely in the top four on Selection Sunday.
College football has been buzzing since Saturday. Leaving out Florida State pitted the SEC against the ACC and essentially Alabama against the world. Leaving FSU out went against basic American sports culture that says, if you win all your games, you're one of the best. Florida State didn't get a chance to prove it.
Did Hancock see this mess coming? For nine years, the CFP has lived a charmed existence. The top four teams were more or less obvious. Not this year.
"I learned a long time ago you really can't -- we say -- project. You can't go, 'What if this team wins or this team loses or this team wins?' It's a waste of time of energy," he said. "You have to wait and see what happens on the field."