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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

MWC, Realignment, and the Search for AQ Status

When the year is listed as 2009, read 2010. Sorry.

April 22, 2009 - The BCS releases its formula for evaluating conferences for AQ status. The formula uses three standards. The first ranks the conference's top teams, the second measures overall strength, and the third standard, a tie breaker of sorts, gives points for ranked teams. If a conference meets the most stringent standards, it automatically qualifies for AQ status. If it meets a set of softer standards, the conference can appeal. I am completely convinced that the committee drew up this formula to create the appearance of objectivity while retaining complete control in the hands of the appeals committee. More on that later.

To clear the air a little, I've run my own calculations. The released BCS formula is a little unclear on a few points, but I found that jiggling with the actual approach did not change the results. I also added in a projections based on expected performance in 2010 and (to a lesser degree) 2011. Again, these projections did not substantially change the results.

Teams are evaluated on their performances from 2008 to 2011 based on conference affiliation on Dec 4, 2011, so the recent realignments could potentially impact a conference's AQ future. Particularly, I wanted to see how realignment affected the MWC and where the MWC stands today.

We start on Feb 1, 2009, pre-shakeup. The MWC is in good shape by the first method with high finishes from TCU and Utah and another high finish expected from TCU in 2010. There is little doubt that the conference will be able to hold on to a top 6 spot. The MWC looks solid coming in 7th in the 2nd method. In fact, the conference was on its own little island, with very little chance of catching #6, but very little chance of being caught by #8. At #7, the conference could not qualify automatically. To qualify for an appeal, the MWC needed to finish in the top 5 in method 1 and have 33% of the points of the top dog in method 3. As of Feb 2, 2009, I would have given the MWC a 5% chance of gaining AQ status automatically, but an 85% chance of qualifying for an appeal.

Things start looking up for the MWC on June 2, 2009 when they add Boise St. The high finish in 2009 and projected high finish in 2010 moves the conference up to #3 by method 1 and within spitting distance of #6 in method 2. Now, the MWC can expect to certainly qualify for an appeal, and has a 10% chance of earning AQ status outright.

Then it hits the fan. Nebraska heads for the Big Ten on June 9th and Utah says its heading west a week later. The second move affects the MWC most directly, but Nebraska's move was deceptively important. Nebraska strengthens the Big Ten in method 2, making it almost impossible that the MWC moves into the 6th slot. The chances of the MWC getting the automatic upgrade drop back below 5%, but the conference's odds of staying in the top 5 in method 1, and qualifying for an appeal, are still around 90%.

It is leaked that BYU might be going independent, and the MWC strikes preemptively, snagging Fresno St and Nevada. While Fresno offers something to the conference, the Nevada grab could only be an attempt to kill the WAC and thwart BYU's plan to join them in all other sports. The move did nothing to improve the conference's BCS hopes (although it definitely put the WAC in the cellar). This, of course, depends on the two schools ability to leave the WAC for 2011, which is still undetermined. The MWC's chances at an automatic AQ upgrade worsen because it is harder to move an average of 11 teams than 9, and their odds of retaining appeal status change very little.

Then, on the last day of August, BYU makes it official that it will be independent on Dec 4, 2011. This, in fact, does very little to the MWC's official chances of gaining AQ status. The conference will still be dependent on an appeal.

So, the real issue is this - will a MWC appeal for AQ status be granted? Based on the way the system has been structured, there is no doubt in my mind that this is where the BCS wanted to be leading up to 2012. By creating the appearance of opportunity, they are hoping to get the legal bloodhounds off their trail while delaying any real decisions. I think the result of the appeal is still TBD. It will depend in large part on the legal environment at the time. But I don't think Utah's and BYU's departure helped anything. Though not more successful on the field than TCU and Boise St, these two programs have a broader, and would make it easier for the BCS bowls to stomach letting in a MWC champion. BYU especially has the longest tradition of success, which would increase the odds that the MWC representative would always be competitive. 

On a related side note, the Big East had better be very careful. While it is currently holds a contract for the next several years, the Big East is less qualified than the MWC for AQ status, regardless of the conference alignments. While the MWC may be out in the cold in 2012 and 2013, it will be hard to leave them out while including the Big East after the current contract expires.

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