Friday, April 23, 2010

Official BCS Conference Standings... Finally!

Something isn’t right. The BCS actually released the official calculation criteria for a conference to gain automatic qualification (Official BCS Qualification Criteria). My first reaction was that they cooked the books—waited to see how the conference rankings stacked up at the midway point and then offered up a target that would be out of reach for the MWC. However, Bill Hancock and company, maintain that these criteria have been clearly written for several years, but that only now they are releasing them publicly. I was skeptical. Then I ran the numbers. The MWC is clearly on track to gain AQ status. You read that right. If things continue on the field as they have for the last two years, the MWC should qualify for AQ status, even without Boise State.

Here is the long awaited, never expected, official criteria (all calculations will be based on membership at the end of the 2011 regular season):

Per the official press release, the evaluation includes the following for each conference:

(1) the ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS Standings each year (if a conference does not place 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, and

(3) the number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS Standings each year, with adjustments to account for differences in the number of members of each conference.

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 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,
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.]

No. 3 above, the "Top 25 Performance Rating," will be calculated as follows: Points will be awarded to the conferences based on their teams' finishes in the top 25 of the final BCS Standings each year. Points will be awarded as follows:

Teams finishing 1-6: 4 points for each team
Teams finishing 7-12: 3 points for each team
Teams finishing 13-18: 2 points for each team
Teams finishing 19-25: 1 point for each team

The point totals will be adjusted to account for the size of the conference, as follows:
Conference membership      Adjustment
12 or more members          no adjustment
10 or 11 members              points increased by 12.5 percent
9 or fewer members           points increased by 25 percent

In summary, a conference has to be ranked in the top six in Criteria 1 and Criteria 2, and be at least 50% of the top ranked team in Criteria 3. If it doesn’t quite meet these criteria, it can apply for an exemption as long as:
A) it finishes in the top six in Criteria 1 and 2, and at least 33.3% of the top team in Criteria 3, or
B) it finishes in the top seven in either Criteria 1 or Criteria 2 and in the top five the other and at least 33.3% of the top team in Criteria 3.

So, although my first assessment is only a few days old, it is already time to re-crunch the numbers without any of the ambiguity or assumptions required in the previous version. What follows are the two year averages. Hold on to your seats…

Criteria 1—Highest Ranked Team in the Conference
Rk Conf     Ave
1   SEC       1.5
1   B12       1.5
3   MWC     5.0
4   P10       6.0
5   BE         7.5
5   WAC      7.5
7   B10        8.0
8   ACC      11.5
9   MAC     26.3
10  CUSA   39.7
11  SB        55.3
      ND       57.5

Criteria 2—Average Final Regular Season Ranking for All Teams
Rk Conf       Ave
1   SEC       38.7
2   ACC      40.6
3   BE         43.1
4   B12       46.6
5   P10       48.7
6   B10       50.7
     ND        57.5
7   MWC    59.2
8   WAC     72.8
9   CUSA    81.1
10  MAC    86.6
11  SB        96.0

Criteria 3—Points for Teams Finishing in the BCS Top 25
Rk Conf      Pts     Adj     Total
1   SEC       22      0.0%    22.0
2   B10        18    12.5%    20.3
3   B12        20     0.0%     20.0
3   MWC     16    25.0%     20.0
5   P10        14    12.5%    15.8
6   BE          12   25.0%     15.0
7   ACC       12    0.0%      12.0
8   WAC        7   25.0%      8.8
9   MAC        1    0.0%       1.0
10t CUSA      0    0.0%       0.0
10t SB           0    25.0%     0.0
      ND          0    0.0%       0.0

To be clear, these criteria do not apply to the current AQ conferences. They are already guaranteed an AQ berth through 2013 by virtue of the 2004-2007 evaluation period (yes, that is six years of AQ for a four year evaluation period). So, all of this is only interesting to the MWC, WAC, MAC, CUSA and the Sun Belt. However, in reality, only the MWC and WAC could realistically still qualify, and the WAC would have to surpass the MWC in Criteria 2 to achieve at least a seven, while at the same time maintaining its ranking as fifth in Criteria 1, and then apply for an exemption—very unlikely, but technically possible.

The MWC on the other hand, needs to surpass at least one conference in Criteria 2, while maintaining position in the others in order to achieve guaranteed AQ status. Should it remain in seventh in Criteria 2, which is likely, it will need to remain at fifth or better in Criteria 1, while it is already essentially assured a sufficient rank in Criteria 3.

It will be very difficult for the MWC to achieve a rank of six or better in Criteria 2. In order to bump up the average by the requisite 8.5 to pass the sixth rated conference—the Big Ten, each team in the MWC would have to improve their average ranking by double that (17) since we are already halfway into the cycle. TCU, BYU, and Utah, cannot improve by that much (in fact, some slip can be expected), meaning that the other six schools would have to improve by an additional 8.5 each, or 25.5 total average improvement for the bottom six. This would be technically possible, but rather unlikely.

MWC Average Final Computer Rank and Future Requirement
Team    Actual   Req
TCU      7.8
Utah     14.3
BYU      16.8
AF        49.3     23.8
UNLV    80.3     54.8
Wyo     80.3     54.8
CSU      81.6     56.1
UNM    100.2    74.7
SDSU   102.7    77.2

So, given the probable seventh place finish in Criteria 2, the MWC will have to apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption and make its case. The closer it is to sixth the better. And, if it can maintain its top three status in Criteria 1 and Criteria 3, it will be in good shape.

MWC Expansion Impact
As already covered earlier this week (, Boise State is the only school that could improve the conference’s body of work through expansion. It would bump up Criteria 2 by an average of 5.2 spots and move the conference to number one overall in Criteria 3 (at least at the mid-point).

Criteria 1--with Boise
Remains the same (3rd) since an MWC school finished ranked higher than Boise in both years.

Criteria 2--with Boise
Rk  Conf       Ave
1    SEC       38.7
2    ACC      40.6
3    BE         43.1
4    B12       46.6
5    P10       48.7
6    B10       50.7
7    MWC     54.0
      ND        57.5
8    WAC     81.0
9    CUSA    81.1
10  MAC     86.6
11  SB        96.0

Criteria 3--with Boise
Rk  Conf      Pts  Adj       Total
1    MWC     23    12.5%   25.9
2    SEC       22     0.0%    22.0
3    B10       18    12.5%   20.3
4    B12       20     0.0%    20.0
5    P10       14    12.5%    15.8
6    BE         12    25.0%    15.0
7    ACC       12     0.0%    12.0
8    MAC       1      0.0%     1.0
9t   WAC       0    25.0%     0.0
9t   CUSA      0      0.0%     0.0
9t   SB           0    25.0%     0.0
      ND          0      0.0%     0.0

So, adding Boise, while impactful, still isn’t enough to guarantee an AQ berth, but it does strengthen the case significantly, and makes it somewhat more feasible for the bottom six schools to improve a more modest 11.0 in the average rankings, versus 25.5 without Boise, in order to overtake the next closest conference.

You never know what might happen between now and then (I imagine most of us never thought we’d see the day the criteria would be released), but it looks like the MWC, with its current membership, will almost certainly qualify under the exemption rule (and not automatically) and will need to make its case before the Presidential Oversight Committee, at which point, it still might be anyone’s guess what they would do. However, the strength of the conference’s ranking in 2 out of the 3 criteria, would make it hard to ignore. And, add Boise, and the MWC screams for admission.

Friday, April 16, 2010

MWC Mid-Term AQ Status Part 2

A couple of questions have been brought up in relation to the previous post. I have them in the comments section, but wanted to repost those here as well as show a bit more data.

Q: How much closer would the MWC be to an AQ BCS bid after adding other non AQ teams such as SMU?

A: Besides Boise State, there are no other teams west of the Mississippi that could meaningfully enhance the overall body of work by the current MWC membership, based on performance over the last two years. That is not to say that one or more of these teams could have breakout seasons over the next two years, but the MWC couldn’t plan on that, and therefore would not invite them in an effort to enhance the BCS appeal (there could be other reasons for adding them).

There are no other available schools that finished ranked in the final BCS rankings (which impacts two of the three criteria), so improving the conference overall average ranking is the only remaining way another school could contribute to an AQ bid. A quick look at the data shows that the only schools even in the running would be Houston, Nevada, and Fresno State as each average in the mid-50s over the last two years, which is basically right around where the current conference average rank already is, thus making each of them essentially only net neutral to the MWC BCS AQ bid, yet requiring a splitting of the revenue by more athletic departments—a difficult proposition. To provide even a one rank average bump (from 54 to 53 for example), a team would have to be 10 spots better than the average, or a 44 or better.

Two Year Average Final Season Computer Ranking
59.2 MWC current membership
54.0 MWC with Boise State
52.8 Houston
53.3 Nevada
54.8 Fresno State
70.4 Tulsa
71.5 Hawaii
77.3 Rice
92.2 SMU

The only other way to make any improvement over the current membership (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. It is San Diego State and New Mexico that have been the biggest anchors on the league over the last two seasons.

MWC Two Year Average Rank
7.8 TCU
14.3 Utah
16.8 BYU
49.3 Air Force
80.3 UNLV
80.3 Wyoming
81.6 CSU
100.2 UNM
102.7 SDSU

53.8 MWC without SDSU
54.1 MWC without UNM

Q: Why is there a four year evaluation period for a two year Auto Bid?

A: That is just another example of how the deck is stacked against the non-AQs. The most recent four year evaluation period from 2004-2007 guaranteed six years of auto qualification (2008 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 these next two years, and it wouldn’t hurt if a couple of current AQ conferences had a down year or two.

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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

China and Sensorship of BYU Football

Part of the collateral damage of Google's decision to pull out of China last month, is that this BYU site has been unavailable to me the last two weeks as I have been overseas.  I had intended to continue my coverage of the QB battle while abroad, but had not considered that the site would be blocked.  If only China knew what its citizens were missing out on!   In any case, I am now back and intend to continue with offseason updates and analysis in the next few days.