Give Us Our Shot: The Mountain West Conference's Quest for BCS Status

Brett RichinsSenior Analyst IJune 28, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 04:  The Boise State Broncos celebrate after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 4, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

With the Big XII stating publicly that it will remain at 10 teams for the foreseeable future, it’s time to look at BYU’s Plan B – getting the Mountain West Conference into the BCS as an automatic qualifying conference.

In April, the BCS made public the formula that it will use to determine whether or not a seventh conference will be admitted to join the PAC-10, Big XII, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big East.

We are currently in the middle of a four year evaluation period that began with the 2008 season and runs through 2011.

It is worth noting that even if Utah had elected to stay in the MWC after it added Boise State, it’s unlikely that the conference would have been in a position to earn its way into BCS automatic-qualifying status, given the formula that the BCS has established for evaluating the non-AQ conferences.

The BCS formula consists of three criteria:

1) The ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS Standings each year (if a conference does not have a team in the final BCS Standings, then its highest-ranked team is determined by the conference member that has the highest average ranking in the computer rankings used in the BCS Standings),

2) The final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year.

3) The percentage of the number of conference teams in the top 25 of the final BCS Standings each year.

A conference will become the seventh automatic qualifier if it finishes among the top six conferences in both No. 1 and No. 2 and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 50 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3.

Further, a conference will be eligible to apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption if it: 1) finishes among the top six in both No. 1 and No. 2 and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 33.3 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3.

OR

2) If it finishes among the top seven in either No. 1 or No. 2 and among the top five in the other, and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 33.3 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3.

With the addition of Boise State, the Mountain West Conference as constituted for 2011 easily meets criteria No. 1 and No. 3. In fact the BSU for Utah swap actually gives the MWC a bump since BSU’s computer ranking the past two years has averaged a No. 7 ranking, while Utah has averaged a ranking of 14th.

Also consider that Boise State is poised to strengthen its average ranking in 2010, with the Broncos expected to start the season ranked in the top five and having a chance to potentially be the first non-AQ conference to play for a national title.

The MWC falls short in the second criteria, however. That’s because the performance of the schools in the lower echelon of the MWC significantly pull down the overall BCS computer rankings of the conference.

The Mountain West currently ranks as the seventh conference in the computer rankings, significantly behind the Big Ten, which strengthened itself with the recent addition of Nebraska.

So, it appears that BYU and the Mountain West Conference have two options in front of them.

1) It could increase its overall computer ranking by divesting itself of the statistical outliers and replacing them with schools that strengthen its rankings.

Houston, Fresno State, Nevada, and Tulsa are all programs that would increase the rankings. The schools that are dragging the rankings down include San Diego State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming, and UNLV.

Simply adding schools to the mix would not be enough to get the conference over the bar for criteria No. 2. That is why the MWC school presidents have opted to stand pat at the current time regarding expansion. At least two or three bottom feeders would have to be dropped as well.

Swapping out two or three schools could to the trick, but kicking schools out of the conference could be messy legally, and might be a public relations nightmare to boot. It would come across as a pure money grab, which it would be.

2) The second solution would be to petition the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee under the second exemption option. The MWC currently qualifies to apply under this provision, since it currently ranks third among conferences in criteria No. 1, seventh in criteria No. 2, and third in criteria No. 3, ranking less than 10 percent behind the SEC.

There are some factors at play that could work in the MWC’s favor if it were to petition the BCS.

First, the gap between the Mountain West and the other non-AQ conferences is huge. That gap was further widened with the addition of Boise State.

Second, with the growing PR problems of the BCS and the talk of potential government interference, the BCS would have to strongly consider adding the MWC.

Adding a conference that didn’t technically qualify could alleviate many of the public and legal pressures on the BCS. It would also bring into the fold the schools that have historically been billed as “BCS Busters”.

Third, the MWC could also help its case by agreeing to ramp up in BCS revenues, much as Utah did when it was invited by the PAC-10.

Fourth, the BCS is considering adding the Cotton Bowl to its lineup. It would not be surprising to see another bowl, such as the Holiday, added in the future as well. This would allow a place at the BCS table for the MWC and increase opportunities for all BCS schools.

Fifth, it also doesn’t hurt the MWC’s case that ESPN/ABC now has the contract to air the BCS games. BYU has long been a media darling for ESPN, the school consistently delivers strong ratings for the network.

Its important to remember that if it were to attain auto-qualifying status, the Mountain West Conference would begin its BCS membership on essentially a two year probation. It would have to continue to perform in order to remain a BCS fixture. The question is what happens when BSU, TCU, and BYU are knocking each other off?

For that reason, don’t be surprised to see the Mountain West expand to 12 teams if it were admitted to the BCS. Adding three of the above-mentioned programs would strengthen the second tier of the conference and likely cement the MWC as part of the BCS.

It would separate some of the schools into different divisions that may otherwise knock one another off each year. It would also create the opportunity for additional revenue from a championship game, obviously.

As a BCS conference with a championship game, the Mountain West would also find itself in a much stronger position to re-negotiate its current television deal, or at least be able to land a much more lucrative deal in the future.

In some ways, the MWC becoming an automatic-qualifying BCS league could be better for BYU than jumping to an existing BCS conference. BYU would continue to be the big fish, but now in a much bigger pond.

It could control such issues as Sunday play and perhaps negotiate an opportunity to create its own TV network in the process.

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