Sunday, July 21, 2024

College Football Playoff hires Air Force’s Richard Clark as executive director to replace Bill Hancock

United States Air Force Academy superintendent Lieutenant General Richard Clark will serve as the College Football Playoff’s next executive director, replacing Bill Hancock, the CFP announced on Friday. Hancock is set to retire as executive director in February 2025 after the CFP moves to a 12-team format during the 2024 college football season. Clark being named Hancock’s successor comes one day after the CFP conducted a meeting with FBS commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick in the Dallas area. 

“I am honored to become the executive director of the College Football Playoff,” Clark said in a statement. “College football is an American tradition unlike any other. Especially now, as the Playoff is expanding from four teams to 12 teams, this is an exciting time for fans and everyone involved in this great game. I’m excited to be a part of it and I look forward to beginning my work.”

Hancock, who has directed the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2012 and was recognized as its first employee, announced his retirement plans in June. The CFP is in its final season with a four-team field, which has been the format since it was implemented in time for the 2014 season.

Clark graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1986 and was a linebacker for the Falcons football team. He has flown in a trio of Middle East conflicts during his service time and has held his role at the academy since September 2020. Clark will retire from Air Force duty in 2024 before beginning in his new role. 

“I want to thank Bill Hancock for all that he’s done for college football,” Clark added. “He will certainly leave big shoes to fill and I look forward to his mentorship. I also want to thank the U.S Air Force Academy, where I have built so many incredible relationships. It is the place that launched my military and academic career. It will be hard to leave the service after 38 years and I will always be indebted to the Academy and the Air Force.”

Leadership above all

Clark is a unique figure to emerge as the choice over two other finalists. The former star football player has a long and distinguished career in the Air Force and has received awards ranging from the Bronze Star to the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal after serving in combat. After serving as a deputy chief of staff in the Air Force, Clark was named superintendent of the Air Force Academy in September 2020, becoming the first Black superintendent at the school. 

“General Clark’s experience leading the U.S Air Force Academy as a Three-star General and also being a four-year letter winner with the U.S Air Force Football team gives him a strong background to excel in this crucial leadership role,” Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, the CFP Board of Managers chair, said in a statement. 

The College Football Playoff has never shied away from involving figures with experience outside of the sport. General Ray Odierno and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice both served on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee despite not holding formal positions in college football. 

As superintendent, Clark oversees every part of the Air Force Academy, including athletics. Notably, Clark also oversees a highly successful football program at Air Force. The Falcons have earned a 28-7 record in three seasons since Clark took over the position full-time under coach Troy Calhoun. Air Force was ranked No. 25 in the first College Football Playoff Rankings on Oct. 31 before falling out after a loss against Army. 

Clark does not have much experience at the administrative level of major college football, however. His background runs contrary to Hancock, who helped lead the Bowl Championship Series for nearly a decade before taking over as College Football Playoff executive director.

Pivotal moment

Clark is set to oversee one of the most dynamic transitions in the history of college football. He is expected to join Hancock as the sport transitions to the 12-team field, but many key logistical issues remain unanswered. Leaders met in Dallas on Thursday and talked about details ranging from travel considerations for on-campus games to a revised television contract for the 2024 and 2025 CFPs, the final two remaining on the initial 12-year CFP contract. 

However, the expanded playoff might only be the first hurdle for Clark as he enters the new job. Many in college football are petitioning for control of FBS football to move away from the NCAA, and some have posited the CFP as a potential organization to take over. If that were to happen, Clark could quickly become one of the most important figures in the sport. It’s one of the factors that makes this search so critical. 

“I would say, be prepared for anything,” Hancock said in Dallas. “Be prepared for that, the CFP having more of a role in governance matters. I always say, it’s the best job in America, but you have to be prepared for anything.” 

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