For Montclair Local

Kelly Whiteside has covered it all, from the Olympics to soccer’s World Cup to the NBA, NFL, NHL and several college sports.

Now the Montclair State University associate professor can say she has reached another pinnacle.

Whiteside, an 18-year Montclair resident, has been appointed to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, which has 13 members but reserves only one spot for a media or former media representative.

Her first decision will be to help choose who will be in the Final Four of college football leading to the College Football Playoff championship game slated for Jan. 9, 2023, at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

“This ranks right up there in terms of career highlights,” Whiteside said. “It’s a sport I love, and it feels good to give back to a game that has been a big part of my life.”

She joins Chet Gladchuk, athletics director at the U.S. Naval Academy; Jim Grobe, longtime head coach at Ohio University, Wake Forest and Baylor, and Warde Manuel, athletics director at the University of Michigan, as the newly appointed members of the CFP Selection Committee.

“Chet, Jim, Warde and Kelly will be outstanding additions to the committee as we enter our ninth season,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the CFP. “Their expertise, knowledge and integrity, along with their love of college football, will allow them to fit right in with the returning members.”

The College Football Playoff committee meets six times each November and December to decide the four schools that will compete for the national championship. This past season, Georgia was crowned the champ with a win over Southeastern Conference rival Alabama in the title game in Indianapolis. Michigan and Cincinnati were the other two that made the Final Four.

When it comes to her college football coverage, Whiteside points to the “Bush push game” in 2005 as her golden moment. The contest was between longtime rivals Southern California and Notre Dame in which USC quarterback Matt Leinert was given a push by running back Reggie Bush to score the touchdown that beat the Irish.

“It was a back-and-forth game with three lead changes in the final five minutes, so brutal for writing on deadline, but thrilling to watch,” said Whiteside, who spent 14 years at USA Today as the national college football writer. She has also been a reporter at Newsday and a staff writer at Sports Illustrated. Her work has appeared in The New York Times.

Whiteside has been an associate professor in sports media and journalism at Montclair State since 2014 and has taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Rutgers University. 

There is an interesting possible angle to her committee work that Whiteside hopes will actually come about. If Rutgers is involved in the College Football Playoff committee’s decision on the Final Four she would have to recuse herself, as a Rutgers graduate. 

“I would be thrilled, speaking from the perspective of a long-suffering Rutgers fan,” she said. Her mother, Norma, still has season tickets to several Scarlet Knights sports, including football. 

“Rutgers football has been a big part of my family’s life,” Whiteside said. “My Dad (Joe Whiteside) worked there, we grew up going to games, we all went to school there, and we’re all still going to games. A few weeks ago, my brother, sister, my daughter and I went to the Gator Bowl to see Rutgers because, well, why not?” Her daughter, Ella Freeman, 10, attends Bradford School.

Whiteside suffered a sports injury that turned into a blessing in disguise when it led her to journalism. “I grew up playing soccer and played briefly at Rutgers before a torn ACL convinced me to start writing for the school paper,” she said. 

Her finest moment in covering sports, she said, was the U.S. women’s team victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. “I’ll always cherish the 1999 World Cup the most,” she said. “It was a watershed moment for women’s sports in this country.”

Whiteside also covered the U.S. women’s gymnastics team — the “Fierce Five” of the 2012 Olympics — that boosted that sport’s popularity. Recently, she said, she’s had “a blast” writing New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets features for The New York Times.

Whiteside will serve a three-year term on the CFP Selection Committee.