The BCS has had a set of criteria in place for a mid major conference to earn an automatic berth into the BCS. The current cycle which started in 2006 comes to a close in 2009. This looks at the performance of the East, MWC, and WAC against the criteria, the other majors, and each other, and investigates the merit of the MWC in its quest to earn an automatic BCS berth.
BCS Requirements All conferences are evaluated on 3 criteria each year over a 4 year interval. The BCS is looking for a long term relationship with a conference, not a long term agreement with a 1 or 2 hit wonder.
It is not a gradient system (1st, 2nd, 4th, etc.) but a comparison made between 2 conferences at a time.
All 3 criteria are based on the final BCS polls before the bowls. The BCS does not want to artificially elevate or diminish a conference based on bowl performances against dissimilar teams in and out of the BCS.
The BCS will maintain from 5 to 7 teams with automatic berths. The same criteria which can add a conference can cost an existing major their automatic berth.
I believe based on BCS terminology earning an automatic berth consideration would require a mid major to at least tie a single major in the 12 criteria measurements (3 measurements/year x 4 years = 12 measurements), and at least tie the 4 year record.
Criteria (1) the ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year. The BCS only invites the top 1 or 2 teams from each conference, so they want to prioritize the top team.
Criteria (2) the final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year. This is the BCS way of factoring in a comparison free of human bias. An automatic berth is a conference issue, so the BCS wants to include a measurement of the entire conference.
Listings for all 6 computer polls did not go back the full time span, used the non-BCS computer rankings, or were after the bowls. I took the only one I could find (Anderson and Hester). The computer polls are typically pretty close to agreeing but actual results likely have some variation. If someone finds a listing that meets the criteria above, please post it with a link - I would like to nail this down a bit closer.
Criteria (3) the number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each year. The BCS is looking for the conferences to have several viable bowl candidates so that if 1 or 2 fall there is someone else to pick up the conference banner.
Conference to Conference Results
Results list overall (out of the total 9 measurements to date in the current cycle) and by year. Since criteria 2 is not completely known, I evaluated based on the ranking listed above, the best scenario if they were the top conference all 3 years, and the worse scenario if they were last.
For a quick comparison, every other mid major outperformed another conference at least 1 year in the worse scenario, and out performed at least 1 major using the rankings.
East compared to the other majors was last using the ranking above and in both scenarios. Using the listed rankings for criteria 2
vs. Big10 (4.5-4.5), 1-1-1 by year
vs. Big12 (3.5-5.5), 1-1-1 by year
vs..ACC (4-5), and 1-2-0 by year
vs. PAC10 (2.5-6.5), 0-2-1 by year
In the worse case, they still outperform the ACC 1 year.
The East is behind the other majors, but they are comparable.
Both the MWC and WAC are (0-9) and 0-3 by year against majors not listed below.
MWC vs. East was (2-7), 1-2 by year
vs. ACC (1.5-7.5), and 0-2-1 by year
vs. Big10 and PAC (1-8), 0-3 by year
The MWC in 2008 may have been the best year ever by a mid major against the majors. If the MWC finishes above the ACC and East in all 3 criteria in 2009, they would still need some help from the other polls in criteria 2 for 2006 thru 2008 to have a case for a conference automatic bid.
WAC vs. ACC (2-7), 0-3 by year
vs. Big12 and East (1-8), 0-3 by year.
vs. PAC (.5-8.5). and 0-3 by year.
The WAC finds itself further from the majors than the MWC in the BCS criteria.
The mid majors are not comparable to the worse major in the criteria.
The East appears to be closer to the majors than the mid majors, and is solidly outperforming the mid majors in the criteria. A failure to outperform another major after 2009 will draw a warning from the BCS to the East (which has happened in the past), but their automatic berth would not be eliminated without additional factors.
No mid major appears to be within striking distance of a conference automatic berth in this cycle. If the MWC were to repeat its 2009 performance twice in the next cycle, they would still need a good performance in the remaining 2 years to earn consideration for an automatic bid.
If the East did find itself tied or losing to a mid major, poor BCS TV ratings would likely have the BCS contracting to 5 teams rather than staying at 6 or expansion to 7. A detail discussion of this can be found at 12 Needed Changes for the Mid Majors - Part 3
Too High a Mountain for the Mid Majors?
A closer look at the 3 criteria would make it unlikely a mid major can receive an automatic berth to the BCS.
Criteria 1 has a limit as long as the pollsters remain reluctant to place a mid major in the title game. This leaves a mid major behind 2 to 4 majors.
Criteria 2 is conference based. Even in the 2008 MWC, the types of wins (detailed below) leave the MWC behind.
Criteria 3 has a tendency to favor larger conferences. To be average in this category, a mid major needs to have 1/3 of their conference in the top 25. If 5 of the 6 majors have 1/3 of their conference ranked, they will average over 3 a year. Reference the 2007 Big East - they had half of their conference ranked (the largest percentage) but only tied for 2nd.
The BCS is looking at the criteria on a conference vs. conference basis. The mid majors can post a good record against 1 or 2 majors a year, but if the ranks of the majors shuffle over the 4 years the mid major will be left without a winning record against a single major.
The issue of if the MWC should earn an automatic berth is more involved. The computer polls say no. The voting pollsters say no as evident by criteria 1 and 3. I question if there is overall fan support - the fans aren't tuning in to watch the mid majors in the BCS (if they were, the BCS might add the MWC based on their current performance).
3-1 record in the BCS I would point out that is a record compiled by 2 conferences, only sending their best team, only making an appearance when they are highly ranked, not playing the top 2 teams, not facing USC in the Rose Bowl (the biggest home field advantage in the major bowls), half the time not playing a conference champ, and still needing a win in OT to be above .500. Pick any 2 major conferences, send only their best 4 teams over the same time span in the same situation, and expect the same or better results.
Marquee wins aren't clearly defined, so I define it as a win over the top 1/3 of the majors. Over the last 4 years against the top 1/3 of the majors the MWC is 4-11, while the top 1/3 of the MWC is 15-11 against the majors.
I prefer an apples to apples comparison I scale conferences of different sizes to the larger conference (3rd and 4th in the Big10 equates to a division 2nd) and view the record based on when the MWC team finished higher, lower, or even in comparison to their opponent. Applying this type of comparison is necessary to put the wins and losses into context, otherwise you equate MWC #1 Utah over Big10 #10 Michigan as being the same as MWC #8 Wyoming over ACC Div 2 Virginia in 2007.
To put the W-L record in perspective, I set a benchmark record for what would be expected if the MWC won all of the games when higher, lost all of the games when lower, and 1/2 of the games when even.
Since 2002 the average for all majors is 70% when higher, 30% when lower, and 50% when even. When the sampling is sufficient, I like to look at the total of the lower and higher percentage. On initial glance this would have the MWC comparable. A closer looks shows over 1/3 of the wins are from 2008, so I detailed it below.
10-5 is a great record against the majors, but it is only notable because it is a mid major - if the MWC was a major, 8-10 wins would be expected.
6 of the 10 wins came against teams that finished in the bottom 1/2 of the majors. I do not differentiate the bowls from the regular season, but an average of less than 1.7 games/year/team against a major is below the average major OOC. If we were discussing the record of a major, we would be discussing how they are beating up the bottom dwellers and playing a soft schedule.
The MWC had 1 loss by 6 points, the rest were by 10 to 35 points. There were very few close games to improve their record, but a lot of close games to diminish it. Half of the 10 wins were by 3 points or less, 1 by 6 points, and a 7th by 8 points leaving me with the belief they were fortunate in the schedule to be playing teams they were just barely good enough to beat. Their record the previous 2 years would indicate this is the case.
As always, thanks for reading.