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Is the BCS Ready To Admit the MWC or is Something Else in the Works?

Tobi WritesAnalyst ISeptember 25, 2009

28 Sep 1996: Members of the BYU Cougars football team sprint onto the field from the lockerroom while carrying a large team flag during pre game introductions before the Cougars 31-3 victory over the SMU Mustantgs at Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah. Mandato

There have been a number of excellent articles on Bleacher Report lately about the Mountain West Conference and their chances of getting into the BCS.  Some that suggest a Boise State inclusion is neccessary and other articles that suggest the MWC is likely to get in on it's own anyway by 2012.

We know there are loose guidlines that are in place to evaluate conferences for the admission of conferences for the 2012 season and we know in general the factors being weighed

"The champions of the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and Southeastern Conferences will have annual automatic qualification for a BCS game through the 2013 regular season, based on mathematical standards of performance during the 2004-2007 regular seasons.

The 2008-2011 regular seasons will be evaluated under the same standards to determine if other conferences will have annual automatic qualification for the games after the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons. The champions of no more than seven conferences will have annual automatic berths.

If the BCS continues under the same or similar format, conferences will be evaluated on their performances during the 2010-2013 regular seasons to determine which conferences will have automatic qualification for the bowls that will conclude the 2014-2017 regular seasons."

and

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"Each conference will be evaluated over a four-year period based on the three elements: the average rank of the highest ranked team, the average rank of all conference teams, and the number of teams in the top 25. Bowls' contractual agreements with host conferences will remain in place."

We don't know any of the specifics though. How wins are weighed and whatnot.  That said, it hasn't stopped people from speculating on that criteria and how conferences are faring in meeting it.

Ben Prather thinks he has sussed out a rating system that matches the BCS's.  Here are his numbers based on the last 4 years. 2008 was the first year in the latest evaluation period.

(From this point forward this article has been extensively re-written as I initially pulled the 4 year averages from an article that quoted Prather's work.  That article listed the one year total from last year, which presented an entirely more dire view of the PAC 10 than what actually exists and sent the orginal article down a useless path.  It seemed dubious when I was writing. I should have double checked it.  Here are the correct numbers.)

Conference AVE
SEC 0.8974
BIG 12 0.8087
BIG 10 0.7989
ACC 0.7265
PAC 10 0.6686
BIG EAST 0.6058
------------------
MWC+Boise State (+0.7105) = 0.3722
MWC-UNLV (-0.5684) = 0.2813
MWC 0.2627
------------------
WAC 0.2386
OTHER 0.1468
MAC 0.0287
C-USA 0.003
SUNBELT 0

It is entirely possible these rankings reflect the actual general relationship in the BCS rankings. To me, they beg the question, "What was the threshold last time?"

If you admit the MWC as a full member of the BCS, you are opening the door to the possibility of the Sugar Bowl or Fiesta Bowl having a game with a poor draw like Wyoming, Colorado State, or San Diego State.

The BCS is an agreement between well endowed universitites and the management of the largest bowl games.

The Bowl side of the BCS will not like this idea.  Thier primary concern is fan support, which can be viewed as attendance. Well supported teams in their bowls make the bowls easier to run and more profitable.  They look at the MWC and see three acceptable teams in terms of fan support—Utah, BYU, and maybe TCU as they are a school that a non-fan might see.

The major University side of the coalition also REALLY likes the two Utah schools and somewhat likes TCU and Colorado State although their athletics and fan support lag behind the first two.   Air Force is respected academically but acknowledged as more of a peer to Army and Navy—two schools that are on the outside looking in, in BCS terms.

The University side of the coalitions major concerns deal with retaining esteem and using it to keep a hold of the purse strings of the TV revenue.  They look at things like academic rankings, university, endowments, and to a lesser degree, fan support.

Now remember that phrase I bolded from the quote on the BC site? "The 2008-2011 regular seasons will be evaluated under the same standards" the BCS used to exclude conferences like CUSA and the MWC last time.

That is spelled out on the site and may be legally binding if it was also part of the criteria spelled out to non-BCS schools last time.  The BCS could have trouble if they tried to back out of that criteria.

So how does the BCS work around that? 

Expansion to deflate the MWC's metrics

Now this is where things get really interesting to me.

We don't know if the BCS criteria allows for the "transferrabilty" of these team's individual metrics from conference to conference. Does a conference lose a team's metrics  over the entire period when they leave?  Do they stay with the conference? Do they gain those when they add them?

If it the metrics go to the conference that earned them, it seems there is little the BCS can do.  Either the MWC will exceed the threshold, or they won't.

If the old conference loses that metric, but the new conference does not gain, the MWC is vulneable to manipulation by the BCS conferences.

Boise would effectively be dead in the water.  There would be no reason for the Mountain West Conference to admit them. 

What happens if the Pac 10 adds Utah and Colorado?  The Pac 10 has talked about expansion eventually to match the Big 10 (in context specifically when the big 10 goes to 12).  When it does happen, this is likely the best expansion financially possible for the PAC 10.

The numbers

I am going to do some quick math to give us a VERY, very simplistic ballpark of the PAC 10's market. California has 36.8 million, Washington has 6.6 million, Arizona has 6.5 million, and Oregon has 3.8 million people for a total of 53.7 million.  That works out to 5.37 million people per school.

Now the surrounding states are small.  Nevada has 2.6 million, Utah has 2.7 million, Colorado has 4.9 Million, New Mexico has just under 2 million, Idaho has 1.9 million, and Montana has just under 1 million, Wyoming has about a half million people.

No state yeilds 5.37 million.  The closest you get is Colorado with 4.9 Million and a DMA that expands into other states, but that is letting California's huge population skunk the numbers.

The Washington and Arizona schools average out to give about 3.3 million each and Oregon schools bring in an average of 1.9 million each.  

Adding the University of Utah and the University of Colorado would add a total of 7.6 million people with an average of 3.8 million per school.  While on the surface one could still accurately say that reduces the PAC 10 per school average from 5.37 million to 5.11 million suggestign a potential per school revenue loss, there is a strong counter arguement.

The difference is minimal, the added markets are fairly wealthy making them worth more to advertisers, and it allows the Pac 10 to dominate TV in the mountain time zone as well as the pacific.  Consider this likely would start a chain reaction that would likely take BYU off the table and would force  some variant of a WAC/MWC merger to survive.  The resulting combined conference would have much less TV clout than the MWC as the new Pac 12, would own the 3 most populous states in the Mountain West timezone.

Getting back to the BCS metrics

If the metrics can be lost by the old conference, but not gained by the new one, maybe the Pac 10 doesn't get their strength boosted by Utah, but they also don't get hurt by Colorado, and more importantly the MWC strength drops with the loss of Utah.

The Big 12 could concievably replace Colorado with BYU or TCU if needed to guarantee the MWC's strength doesn't make the criteria. 

There are three ways to look at that.   There is a view that the loss of Colorado could be managable considering the support for Nebraska has historically extended into Denver DMA.  Would TV see Denver as Nebraska's native domain? If that was the case the addition of BYU ---popular throughout the Deseret region and into Denver could amount to a TV gain that at minimum offsets the travel costs to fly to Utah.  Maybe the Big 12 could demand a travel deal out of BYU as the MWC once did to Hawaii.

If not, the Big 12 (especially the north) would probably want Colorado State as their anchor in the Denver DMA. That does nothing to help the BCS/MWC issue. 

A side deal between the BCS and the Big 12 could likely be reached to get the UT/A&M/OU trio and their six votes to accept a loss in their revenue shares and throw their support behind the addition of TCU in order to block the MWC.  A move like that would have a side affect of giving that trio effectively a 7-5 voting block in the conference, which might be hugely important in future financial votes in the future of the conference.

In this scenario, BYU is left in the cold. 

This does just kick the ball down the road though.  The MWC would likely add Boise and maybe even Fresno and the BCS COULD have issues again after the next evaluation period.   One would assume the BCS would likely restructure to prevent that issue from reoccurring. 

All of this overlooks the fact that the BCS WANTS BYU in.  The bowls love BYU, or at least like them a whole lot more than most BCS schools.  There are mormons (and mormon haters) all over the US.  BYU draws about 61,000 per game.  That is a lot better than a number of BCS schools.

The only negatives I have ever read about BYU joining the BCS is that the PAC 10 doesn't want  them in their conference.  Utah is a small market, and the Pac 10 doesn't want to have to cater to the  scheduling restrictions brought about by Mormon religous beliefs.  Additionally, BYU is seen as having a conservative culture that doesn't fit with the California schools.

That said, they were on the short list for the SWC in it's last days and likely would be extensively considered by a Big 12 should it find itself a member short.

Maybe the BCS could block this resurgent MWC scenario by offering BYU a defacto BCS membership, ala Notre Dame's, and some handshake scheduling deals if they become a football independent.

We are at this point dealing with a lot of coulds.  This could create scenario where most MWC schools would retreat back into the WAC and maybe New Mexico (and TCU?) would join the western CUSA rebranded as a new SWC.

The new SWC would be the No. 1 non-BCS conference, the new WAC would be No. 2, and CUSA east No. 3.  None of which would likely threaten the BCS revenue in the next evaluation period.

Transferrable Metrics

Now lets run try the far more complex scenarios if a school's metrics are fully transferrable.

The Pac 10 pulls in Utah & Colorado.  The Big 12 pulls in TCU as above.  The MWC counters by pulling in Boise who is stronger in the criteria than Utah or TCU. 

Would the Big 10 be willing to spend it's last slot to keep out the MWC? 

Certainly the Big 10 could pull in Missouri (a frequently mentioned and sensible candidate) and freeing the Big 12 to go after another MWC school like BYU.

Things we need to know

This is an interesting and complex issue.  One hopes Mr. Prather will compile information on the rankings at the time of the last BCS evaluation period so we can have a better idea of the approximate numeric location of the threshold.

It would be great to find out if team metrics are fully portable.  Surely a non-BCS school AD could answer that quuestion.

Could a combination of Boise joining the MWC and two teams being booted (perhaps temporarily) get the MWC over the BCS metric threshold?

(I am not convinced this would work out for the MWC.  Today that would be UNLV at -0.5684 and San Diego State -0.4763. Losing the San Diego Media Market, their only toehold in California, might be more financial pain than it is worth for the MWC.  But maybe the MWC could re-recruit one or both of those teams down the road to improve their media markets once they are in.)

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