Arkansas wasn’t a random opponent for Dayton. There’s a reason the Flyers played the Razorbacks on Saturday. His name is Jeff Long.
The Kettering native grew up rooting for the Flyers, and he was instrumental in Pittsburgh scheduling Dayton when he was the athletic director there. He left for the same position at Arkansas in the fall of 2007 and wanted to get the Flyers on the schedule again.
As the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, Long has had a busy fall, but he sat down to talk about growing up in Dayton, his love and respect for UD basketball and his current job as Arkansas athletic director before Dayton lost 69-55 to the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena.
Q: Where does your love of sports come from?
A: My fondest memories are playing football for Fairmont East and playing against Fairmont West. I had the pleasure of beating them both my junior and senior years. Coach Dick Hoppe was there, and Rusty Clifford was my coach. I just thoroughly enjoyed that experience. I played football and baseball in high school and went on to do the same thing at Ohio Wesleyan.
Q: Did you root for the Flyers then?
A: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, my first college basketball game ever was when I was a young boy, I went with my dad to the FieldHouse on campus, and my father and my uncles — I remember this was such a big deal — they got season tickets when UD Arena opened, and they shared them. My father worked for General Motors in the factory, and so did my uncles.
Q: Why did you want to schedule Dayton?
A: I left (Pittsburgh) before we had the chance to play (at UD Arena). I set it up and left. Once I got to the athletic director level, it’s been something I’ve wanted to do: bring a team back to Dayton and play the Flyers. God willing, I’ll be here next year and we’ll have a chance to come to UD Arena next year. The Razorbacks have been top 15 (in attendance). I know Dayton’s right up there, too. It’s a great game for both teams. Dayton needs to play the SEC and the Big Ten. We need to play the teams like Dayton that are great RPI teams.
Q: Was it easier to schedule the Flyers after they made the Elite Eight?
A: That made it even more enticing for us to play Dayton.
Q: What was your experience with the College Football Playoff selection committee like?
A: We met for seven straight weeks on Mondays and Tuesdays. I would actually go in on Sundays to prepare for the meetings on Monday. Once I got done with my media obligations on Tuesday evening, I was able to catch the last commuter flight home from Dallas to Fayetteville. I’d get home about 1 o’clock in the morning. That was a grueling stretch but a professionally rewarding experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q: How much of an honor was it to be named chair of the committee?
A: When I was first selected to be on the committee, I was quite shocked. I really was. I didn’t even know I was nominated to serve. (Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive) called me and said, hey they want you to serve. I was a little bit reluctant. I wasn’t sure about the time demands. It would take me away from my family, which is important to me, and my role here at Arkansas. About two or three weeks later, the commissioner called back and said, ‘By the way, we want you to serve as the first chair of the College Football Playoff.’ It was a tremendous honor.
Q: Were you happy with the job the committee did?
A: It is a difficult process. We knew going in a year ago when we first put the committee together, there’s going to be some fan bases that are not happy. Not everyone is going to agree with our decisions. … But I do think we got it right. I think the majority of college football fans across the country think those are the four best teams. I understand the two fan bases that were left out. I understand their disappointment and vitriol, in some respects. I get it. But they asked us to make tough decisions, and we did.
Q: What did you think of Ohio State’s season?
A: We were certainly concerned when they lost to Virginia Tech. That was not a good loss. It turned out to be a little bit better as Virginia Tech ended up a bowl-eligible team. Ohio State showed their strength as a team. They impressed the committee the most because, as a team, they were able to overcome having to replace two quarterbacks. When you do that and still win and win as convincingly as they did, that’s a sign of a great team. You couldn’t overcome that with just a new quarterback. It took a team effort. I do think they’re one of the best four teams.