January 29, 2009

Mountain West: Automatic Bid?

Ok, I was all prepared to rip the Mountain West Conference for demanding an automatic bid to the BCS, but I dug a little deeper and actually am warming up to the idea. Here's the latest info on their bid.

According to a USA Today article released Monday, MWC officials are seeking an automatic berth into a BCS bowl.

this past season was the first year of a four-year examination period used by the BCS to determine which conferences can be eligible for automatic BCS bids.

The MWC was the seventh-rated conference after the last examination period, leaving them just shy of an automatic bid, he said.

The BCS uses three criteria to determine which conference get automatic bowl bids, according to the BCS Web site. These include "the ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year, the final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year and the number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each year."

One MWC official said the conference was deserving of an automatic bid.

"Right now, the Mountain West is sitting pretty," said Javan Hedlund, football contact for the Mountain West Conference. "We have the highest-ranked (non-BCS conference) team at No. 6. We had three teams in the top 25, all in the top 16 team which makes that stronger."

Hedlund said the BCS would look at the conference differently because it has nine teams, as opposed to the Big East's eight and the Big 12 and SEC, which each have 12.

All these points are valid. The Mountain West no doubt had a great year this year, and I think they deserve all the praise in the world for probably being the best "non-BCS" conference right now. The MWC went something like that 5-1 against the Pac 10 this year. And I definitely think that Utah was deserving of a top 5 ranking and a BCS bid.

I acknowledge all those points in their favor, but I still wasn't buying in until doing a little further investigation. When I first heard about it, I was actually kind of annoyed about them wanting an automatic bid after one good year. Build some credibility over a few years, and then I'll start listening to your demands. My lingering concern was that the MWC is a one-year wonder type league that occasionally puts out some good teams. But check out their last five champions:

2004 - Utah - 12-0 (beat Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl)
2005 - TCU -11-1 (beat Iowa State in the Houston Bowl)
2006 - BYU - 11-2 (beat Oregon 38-8 in the Las Vegas Bowl)
2007 - BYU - 11-2 (beat UCLA 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl)
2008 - Utah - 13-0 (beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl)

That's not too shabby!! It's not like a bunch of 8-4 teams are winning the league. And the teams that have won the MWC have proven themselves in bowl games. I think I could live with the Mountain West getting an automatic bid if they are going to produce consistent 10-11 win teams for these bowl games. That's more than the Big East can say.

The downside to the MWC getting an automatic bid is that it adds even more of a foundation to the BCS. The plucky underdog will no longer care about a playoff or a new system if they are getting annual BCS paydays. When every conference is automatically invited to the BCS, the playoff chatter is going to quiet down in a hurry. The media can chirp all they want, but the real action is going to come from within the conferences. If the MWC isn't shouting them down anymore from the outside, the inertia of the Big 10 and the Pac 10 are going to be even tougher to overcome.

The other problem is that you KNOW that the media is going to prop up one of these MWC teams for the BCS title game as soon as they have an opportunity. If the MWC is suddenly an auto invite to the BCS, I guarantee that they'll start softening up their nonconference schedules to clear the path for somebody to sneak into that title game. Suddenly, Utah is going to be scheduling a couple I-AA schools instead of Pac 10 teams. And if the league is legitimized with a BCS bid, the media is going to use that as a reason to throw one of these Utah types into a title game over somebody like USC or OU or Florida that has had to run the gauntlet in a power league. No thanks. We already have one of these "problem" conferences with the sham that is the Big East, and I really don't feel like seeing another one around clamoring for the BCS title game. If you want to be in a title game, you should have to play at least 1 or 2 "heavyweights" to get there. That was my gripe with West Virginia under Rich Rod when they were running up 11-1 seasons, and that will be my gripe with Utah if they get into the conversation down the road. Heck, I am a Cincinnati football supporter, but I will never support them in a BCS title game unless they play a heavyweight in the nonconference and win.

Here are your Mountain West Conference schools and their home stadium capacities:

Texas Christian - Amon Carter Stadium - 44,000
UNLV - Sam Boyd Stadium - 40,000
Utah - Rice-Eccles Stadium - 45,000
New Mexico - University Stadium - 42,000
BYU - Lavell Edwards Stadium - 64,000
Wyoming - War Memorial Stadium - 33,500
Colorado State - Hughes Stadium - 35,000 (how is this not called Sonny Lubick Field?)
San Diego State - Qualcomm Stadium - 72,000 (NFL stadium that probably brings in 20,000 for SDSU games)
Air Force - Falcon Stadium - 52,000

You are talking about a league with exactly one school that plays in a "big time" atmosphere, and that's BYU. And even that is being generous to them. There aren't any 85,000 seat crazy environment games anywhere in that league, and the vast majority of these stadiums are small time venues.

Now obviously there is more to football than stadium sizes, but I can't really get excited about these MWC schools getting title game consideration. And while I don't necessarily have a problem with the MWC schools being involved with the BCS (since it appears that they usually have a deserving candidate), I really would prefer to see the BCS chop down on these automatic bid affiliations. Just pick the 10 best teams and forget the tie-ins.

I'm not ruling out the possibility that this league will continue to grow in profile, especially since demographics seem to be in its favor with so many people moving to that region of the country every year. In ten years, there may be 3-4 "heavyweights" in that league, and I might be able to get behind seeing a team like TCU or Utah in the title game. But for now, I don't think the week in and week out challenges in the Mountain West are anything compared to life in the Big 12 or the SEC or the Pac 10.

One other interesting Mountain West note is that they are trying to persuade Boise State to join the league. That could be a very interesting move. Adding Boise and Fresno to the league would really create a pretty strong top half of the league, and they would be able to claim that they now represent the best of the Mountain region in the United States (other than maybe Colorado). I definitely would like to see that happen. You'd suddenly have 4 "top 25"-ish programs in the Mountain West. That's certainly better than what the Big East has trotted out in the last few years.

1 comment:

BNel said...

Good read. Don't be too concerned about the Title game. Utah has now had two undefeated seasons without even a taste of the NC game.

In both cases, Oklahoma disappointed. At some point a team taht is 2-0 in BCS games will start getting opportunities over a team that is 0-5.

This year, Florida beat Alabama to get there. The best team OU beat all year was TCU. It's not like they did anything Utah didn't. Except lose.