The Bowl Championship Series has a problem on its hands. A dilemma has been created that no one, at least outside of the Rocky Mountains, saw coming:
BYU as an independent.
While BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock is soft shoeing the issue in the present tense, this issue is likely to loom larger with time.
The BCS thought it had done a good job of keeping all its bases covered. Threats of lawsuits and legal action from non-automatic qualifying entities motivated the BCS to reformulate its original business plans. Currently, the top non-AQ team that makes the top 12 BCS rankings gets a guaranteed nod into the lucrative bowl system. The BCS has now implemented a four year review standard that, at least, gives the appearance of equity in what conference champions get automatic bids.
The criteria for the entire system is built on human polls and computer rankings.
The BCS has made a stand that qualification is based on performance.
Enter the Notre Dame product of the Charlie Weis era.
Notre Dame, arguably is the most storied program in college football history. A massive national following ensures financial and television market viability, even in slow times.
Notre Dame, because of its brand, market share and history has been given a sweetheart deal in the BCS bylaws. Get within the top 8 of the BCS rankings and the Irish are in.
BYU announced this week, that beginning the 2011 football season, they will be departing the Mountain West Conference and going independent in football. The BCS subsequently announced that they will be evaluating BYU's new situation and how it relates to the BCS over the next month.
Some have criticized BYU's choice saying that the MWC was nearing possible AQ status with the BCS. The MWC would have made that criteria based on three criteria based on the BCS rankings. While the mathematics made this an outside possibility, the criterion which evaluates the average conference BCS ranking was the MWC's anticipated stumbling block. The popularized argument in the media has perpetually been that if TCU, Utah and BYU were evaluated on their own merits, apart from the remainder of the conference, they would qualify.
Now BYU is apart from its conference.
Nevertheless, many of the media state that there is no way that BYU will get "Notre Dame" treatment from the BCS. Even BYU is clear in its own declarations, via AD Tom Holmoe, that it does not have the history, pre-eminence, and following of Notre Dame.
Yet, in review of BCS inclusion criteria one has yet to find an index or calculation that includes these characteristics of renown in the BCS evaluation of teams and conferences.
The BCS claims to be guided by the cold mathematics of poll numbers and computer rankings systems.
While in the middle of a set four year evaluation period that admittedly has two more years left before any potential changes are made, consider the past four years:
2006 Final BCS Rankings: Notre Dame 11th, BYU 20th
2007 Final BCS Rankings: Notre Dame NR, BYU 17th
2008 Final BCS Rankings: Notre Dame NR, BYU 16th
2009 Final BCS Rankings: Notre Dame NR, BYU 14th
I know... Notre Dame was 6th in 2005. But, the emerging problem here is not Notre Dame's inclusion criteria as an independent football program. The dilemma for the BCS, is what to do with a program like BYU's that is regularly in the top 25, competes well against BCS conference programs, and, while yet to have competed in a BCS bowl, has produced BCS AQ inclusion quality seasons when looking at conference inclusion criteria.
There are 65 football programs in the athletic conferences, 66 with Notre Dame, that enjoy automatic inclusion in the BCS system.
For the last four years BYU has averaged, per the BCS, to be the 17th (avg 16.75) best college football team in the NCAA.
How many AQ teams are there with a better average?
There are only NINE teams that post better BCS final rankings over the last four years than BYU. (In this context, note that I gave teams that did not rank in the final poll a ranking of 26th. In other words, I threw them a bone.)
Therefore, the conclusion of nine teams is a BCS AQ teams best case scenario/BYU worst case scenario.
The nine teams are:
1. Ohio St. (avg 5)
1. Florida (avg 5)
3. USC (avg 10.25) Maybe I should put an asterisk on this one.
3. Oklahoma (avg 10.25)
5. Texas (avg 10.75)
6. LSU (avg 11)
7. Virginia Tech (avg 12)
8. Alabama (avg 14.25)
9. West Virginia (avg 16)
BYU, excluding other top non-AQ performances, i.e. TCU, Boise State, Utah, is therefore in the top 10 over the past four years if inserted into rankings of teams enjoying AQ status.
What if BYU continues this performance over the next two years? The next five? The next ten?
The decision that is made by the BCS regarding BYU's status will set a precedent one way or another.
Will the BCS set a precedent that is in harmony with its current guidelines on conference AQ status? Will the BCS consider Notre Dame's performance within recent years? Will the BCS consider rankings criteria only, as it states that it does?
Will the BCS consider BYU on par with Navy who is seldomly ranked in the modern era, sending a message to other current non-AQ schools with a future temptation to try this independence thing? Message being—This path is not a means to gaining access.
The BCS may be walking a potential mine field here. If the BCS committee does not configure some arrangement for BYU and the Cougars are left with the Army/Navy scenario, they could potentially leave themselves legally vulnerable.
Conferences are being evaluated on four year periods.
What about Notre Dame?
Do the Irish have a free pass to BCS access regardless of performance on the field and achievement as measured by the BCS rankings system?
If so, how will the BCS justify that in the years to come?