Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mid-Term Standings in MWC Quest for AQ BCS Bid

[Note: The BCS released the official AQ conference qualification criteria on April 22, 2010.  Updated standings are now available at this link.]

Now that spring football is in the books, next week’s NFL draft (see and a bit of recruiting news is all there really is for football fans to digest between now and the start of fall camp in August… which is exactly why it is a good time to dig into the numbers and take a closer look at where the Mountain West stands at half time in its quest for an AQ bid.

If you are reading this, you are probably already up on your BCS criteria, but just in case, here is the scoop… The current BCS contract allows for a seventh conference to gain automatic qualifying status for the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons based on a four year performance window in the 2008-2011 regular seasons. There are three metrics by which conferences will be evaluated:

1) The ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year
2) The final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year
3) The number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each year

So with that in mind, we are at the mid-point of the four year cycle, so where does the MWC stand in its effort to gain an automatic BCS bid and the validation that comes with it? Here is the scorecard (listed in order of television money):

             2008 Regular Season       2009 Regular Season
             Hi    Tm Ave   Top 25         Hi    Tm Ave    Top 25
SEC       2      45.1        4                   1      32.2         3
B10       8      49.1        4                   8      52.2         4
B12       1      41.4        5                   2      51.9         3
ACC     14     32.5        3                   9      48.6         3
P10       5      59.6        2                   7      37.8         5
BE        12     45.5        2                   3      40.7         3
MWC     6      55.5        3                   4      62.9         3
CUSA    --     84.0       --                    --     78.1         --
WAC     9      72.6        1                   6      72.9         1
MAC     22     82.6        1                   --     90.6         --
SB        --      98.4       --                   --     93.5         --
ND        --      59.7       --                  --     55.3         --

Not surprisingly, the BCS has not divulged exactly how this data will be used (criteria weightings, relative vs. absolute comparisons, qualitative or quantitative, etc.). And in the case of the second item, it isn’t even necessarily clear what data will be used—will it be the average ranking of the teams in each conference (as I have used), the median ranking, a pyramid weighted ranking (like Sagarin does), etc.?

Without any further guidance, we will equally weight each of the criteria, as well as score each based on the percent of the total possible (as the BCS does for its weekly rankings). For the middle score (average final computer rank of each team) we will use the best conference average as the numerator. Here are the relative scores and season/overall standings:

2008 Season Standings
                Hi        Tm Ave   Top 25     Total
1 B12       1.000    0.787      1.000      0.929
2 SEC       0.960    0.721      0.800      0.827
3 B10       0.720    0.662      0.800      0.727
4 ACC      0.480    1.000      0.600      0.693
5 MWC    0.800     0.586     0.600      0.662
6 P10       0.840    0.546      0.400      0.595
7 BE        0.560     0.716      0.400      0.559
8 WAC     0.680     0.449     0.200      0.443
9 MAC     0.160     0.394     0.200      0.251
10 ND      0.000     0.545     0.000      0.182
11 CUSA  0.000     0.387     0.000      0.129
12 SB       0.000     0.331     0.000      0.110

2009 Season Standings
                    Hi       TmAve    Top 25   Total
1 P10         0.760    0.851      1.000     0.870
2 SEC         1.000    1.000      0.600     0.867
3 BE           0.920    0.791      0.600     0.770
4 B12          0.960    0.620     0.600     0.727
5 B10          0.720    0.616     0.800     0.712
6 MWC       0.880    0.511     0.600     0.664
7 ACC         0.680    0.663     0.600     0.648
8 WAC        0.800    0.441     0.200     0.480
9 ND           0.000    0.582     0.000     0.194
10 CUSA     0.000    0.412     0.000     0.137
11 MAC       0.000    0.355     0.000    0.118
12 SB          0.000    0.344     0.000    0.115

Despite finishing 5th in year one and 6th in year two, the MWC is currently in 7th place overall, just .002 behind the Big East and .007 behind the ACC, although such a small margin means that the three conferences are essentially tied for 5th at the midway point.

Two Year/Midpoint Combined Standings
1   SEC        0.847
2   B12        0.828
3   P10        0.733
4   B10        0.720
5   ACC       0.670
6   BE          0.665
7   MWC      0.663
8   WAC      0.462
9   ND         0.188
10 MAC       0.185
11 CUSA      0.133
12 SB          0.112

It is apparent from this data, and assuming that there are no significant departures from these averages over the next two years, that no conference is going to have its AQ status stripped (a move that would require compellingly inferior data by one of the conferences over multiple years). It is also clear that only the MWC is in a position to be considered for AQ status, as the others have too much ground to make up in just two years. If the decision were made today, the MWC would be able to make a strong case for inclusion, but would still have to be considered on the bubble, because as long as it remains in seventh place, a case could be made to leave them out as well (and probably would given the amount of money that is involved). Should the conference move into a higher slot, say ahead of the Big East or ACC (the two most likely options), it would be much more difficult for the BCS commission to leave them out, and would likely guarantee the MWC an automatic seat at the table.

Going Forward
So what can the conference do over the next two years to strengthen its position? It is unlikely to be able to make any progress on the first criteria, as it has had a team finish sixth (Utah) and fourth (TCU) in the last two seasons, and that will be hard to top. It is also unlikely to place more than three teams in the final regular season top 25. In fact, if the conference is able to match either of these feats again in the next two years, it will be quite an accomplishment. However, the second criteria—final regular season computer ranking for all of the teams—is the conference’s primary weakness, and one that offers significant potential for improvement. All of the teams four through nine need to get better, but when it comes down to it, there are really only two ways to improve this score:

1) The first and most important is to win non-conference games. Period.
2) The second (primarily for perception reasons) is for no team in the conference to be ranked among the country’s worst, anything in the triple digits (e.g. New Mexico last year). Almost every conference has a team ranked in the high 80’s or 90’s, but only truly awful teams are ranked below 100, and that will kill a conference average.

Winning non-conference games begins with creating winning programs led by winning coaches (among other things). The conference has been able to keep its best tenured coaches (Patterson, Mendenhall, and Whittingham), and attract several promising ones (Troy Calhoun, Dave Christensen, Brady Hoke). The jury is still out on Steve Fairchild, Mike Locksley, and Bobby Hauck.

What about Boise?
Perhaps the biggest question of the summer for MWC fans will be whether or not Boise State is invited to join the conference. The BCS rules stipulate that the final evaluation will include all teams that play in the conference during the 2011 season. Boise would need to give a one year notice to leave the WAC. So, if Boise is going to get the invite, it is going to come this summer. And, it will only come if 1) the MWC feels that it may not be guaranteed AQ status on the basis of its current membership, and 2) adding Boise would guarantee that status.

Unfortunately, the MWC will need to make a decision based essentially on the data above, since it will not have the luxury of another season before making the decision. Given the above data the MWC is in good shape, but it not necessarily a shoo-in; despite incredible success over the previous two years, as the seventh conference they could still be left out when all is said and done. So how would things look if Boise were added? It becomes the mythical no-brainer. Here it is with Boise:

Two Year/Midpoint Standings with Boise in MWC
1   SEC       0.847
2   B12       0.828
3   MWC     0.747
4   P10       0.733
5   B10       0.720
6   ACC      0.670
7   BE         0.665
8   ND        0.188
9   MAC      0.185
10 CUSA     0.133
11 WAC      0.133
12 SB          0.112

Adding Boise, puts the AQ bid squarely in the cross hairs of the MWC, as it would be nearly impossible to argue that a conference ranking better than four current AQ conferences should be left out.

The MWC is in a tough spot without any clear guidance from the BCS on how exactly the data will be used. The conference would love to know exactly where the target is before it starts shooting. Also, with all of the conference realignment talk, the rules of the game may change at half time. In any case, it seems as if the MWC should be using this quiet period to recommit its wanderlust members (BYU, TCU, Utah) such that they shun the overtures from other conferences, and prepare to invite Boise sometime before mid-August. Because, unless things blow up (i.e. significant realignment), adding Boise is a guaranteed winning move. Then again, the rules may change before there is a chance to finish the game.


  1. The very idea that the MWC would invite a team that plays on a blue field is outrageous. And, after football Boise St.'s over all sports program is like licking a toilet bowl. Lastly, the academics are a joke as graduation rates from football brings shame not fame to the MWC. Kick this idea to the curb!!!

  2. anonymous, you're a douche

  3. Boise St finished with 6 ranked athletic teams last year, more than BYU.

  4. First "anonymous" poster is a chumpApril 14, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    Boise has good academics and a good sports program. This sounds like a fan of our in state rival trying to make waves. You guys spouting mis-information isn't helping you keep BSU down. I think the major sports media talk of BSU possibly playing in the national championship has more bearing that your mouthful of poop.

  5. Recheck your stats anonymous, Boise had 6 teams finish top 25 last year and their football graduation rate is actually quite good.

  6. Anonymous1 You know not what you speak of.

    Anonymous2 I agree!

  7. Thank you, Dave, for the analysis. A good read.

    As for the first commenter...nothing quite like responding to a detailed, facts-based analysis by spewing venom and quoting half-truths.

    Does the MWC have any written standards for field color? Then that's not an issue.

    BSU is currently #2 by a hair's bredth behind Fresno for the Commissioner's Cup in the WAC(awarded for overall excellence across all sports). Football may be their best sport, but they're a far cry from as terrible as you suggest.

    As for the academics...back it up with numbers or shut up. Last time I checked, BSU's team graduation rates are top notch...certainly comparable to any of the MWC teams.

  8. This is a well done piece of research. You have made a case that expansion is most likely a requisite for the MWC receiving an automatic BCS bid. They cannot afford to come in 7th... there is no hope in 'fairness' winning in that scenario, no matter how small the gap.

    With expansion a prerequisite, the next question is, how many institutions should be added? Practically speaking, in the event of expansion, the MWC will either add one institution, or they will add three with a conference championship game. I cannot imagine that the revenue from a conference championship game is enough to outweigh the inherent cost in distributing revenues between an extra three schools; at least not as long as the conference has its current TV deal. So, accordingly the MWC must expand, but only add one institution.

    You have made a compelling case for adding Boise State to the conference. If the goal is to rank as the third best conference they are the only option. However, BSU does have obvious downside risk, ie smallish TV market, poor academic reputation, small recruiting pool, etc. I fear that it might be a short-sighted addition.

    If the goal is to ensure inclusion into the BCS there might be other possibilities. Practically speaking, the MWC needs to move into the number five rated conference. As your analysis shows, there is only a very small gap keeping the MWC from moving into that spot and a small improvement would pay large dividends.

    I believe there are other academic institutions that make much more long term sense than BSU. For many reasons I believe that Southern Methodist University would be a better long-term choice for expansion. Some of the reasons are: increased access to one of the major metropolitan tv markets, increased exposure to a arguably the best recruiting venue, strong academics, a natural rival for TCU, not to mention that SMU has a long, storied football tradition that is finally showing signs of recovery from the death penalty.

    I would be interested to see what this analysis looks like with SMU included as opposed to BSU. Do they add enough to push the MWC into the 5th spot ahead of the ACC and Big East? If so, I argue that adding SMU, not Boise State, is the best option for the future of the MWC.

    Would you mind showing us what that looks like?

  9. There are a lot of compelling reasons to look at SMU as a conference addition, but as long as BCS qualification is the motive for expansion, it won't happen since adding SMU would actually reduce the overall team average rank during the review period last two years. SMU averaged 118 in 2008 and 66.3 in 2009.

  10. Following up on that... a quick look shows that in fact the only schools west of the Mississippi that would not be negative additions would be Houston, Nevada, and Fresno State as each average in the mid-50s (basically right at or slightly above the current conference average). Thus each of them would essentially be net neutral to the MWC BCS AQ bid, but would require splitting the revenue by one more.

    This didn't intend to be an expansion piece, in fact, the data on Boise surprised me a bit. But, if in fact MWC expansion were to happen with the intent of securing a BCS AQ bid (I recognize that there may be other reasons for doing so), Boise is the only option. No other team currently in a non-AQ conference would make the MWC any better off.

    The only other way to make any improvement (without adding a team from a current AQ conf) is to improve by subtraction, which I am not advocating, but only offering to be comprehensive.

  11. WOW! Taking Boise St. out of the WAC reduces their score from 0.462 to 0.133!

  12. As a Bronco fan, we are worried about the MWC losing its top teams, one, two or three. I suppose if you lose one it still is possible to achieve BCS standings, but if you lose two, your done. BSU joining then would be no improvement from where we are now in the Wac. The only answer to that is for a new conference to be formed between the two conferences. As close as you guys are to achieving your goal I can't imagine anyone trying to leave. Its not like your jumping off a sinking ship.

  13. How can a four-year trial period lead to a two-year membership? Is the next trial period only going to last two years?

  14. That is just another one of the ways that the deck is stacked against the non-AQs. The most recent four year evaluation period from 2004-2007, guaranteed 6 years of auto qualification through 2013. The current four year evaluation period 2008-2011 only guarantees two years of AQ status. Another evaluation period runs from 2010-2013 leading to AQ status in 2014-2017.

    What that means is that the next two years are doubly important since they will be counted twice. Hopefully the MWC (and anyone they may be inviting) will have a good showing, and that a couple of current AQ conferences will have a down year or two.

  15. Please. Boise State has high graduation rates? What have you been smoking? Boise state occupies what one writer dubbed the "bottom rung of this achievement ladder with a school-wide graduation rate of only 26%." (Their Tostito's Bowl opponent, TCU - school wide grad rate of 69.3%; BYU's? 77.9%; Utah's 56%).

    As far as I can tell, BSU's football grad rate is only slightly better, at around 48%.

    And in which 6 sports did BSU finish in the top 25? (1) Football, (2)...? Maybe one individual in Tennis? Underwater basketweaving? Some "we have the most annoying fans" competition?

  16. It seems the BCS has released the details of how they will use the data.