With the Mountain West Conference looking to become stronger and gain an automatic bid to a BCS bowl, a popular topic of discussion is always expansion. Boise State, in particular, is most often the subject. Rumors surfaced that Boise State president Bob Kustra received an invitation to join the MWC in 2008, further fueling expansion talks. We touched on expansion back in July, but with the way the 2009 season has played out so far, it makes far more sense now than ever.
Craig Thompson and the MWC want to become a BCS automatic qualifying conference, and they want it bad. Moving from a "mid major" non-BCS conference to one of the BCS "big boys" instantly boosts the conference and programs within it to an upper echelon. Massive cash flow in the millions would flood into the Mountain West with superior recruits, coaches, and facilities immediately following. The Mountain West will do whatever is necessary to gain this; they have made that very clear.
The BCS evaluates conferences over a four-year period to determine automatic qualifier status using three methods. The three methods they give us are:
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.
That is all the information that we are given. It is not known if each statistic is given an equal weight, or if other factors go into the rankings. The BCS is very vague about this.
The Mountain West, in order to gain AQ status, must finish ranked ahead of a current BCS conference over the current four-year evaluation period which started in 2008 and ends after the 2011 season. If the Mountain West can outperform a BCS conference over the course of this evaluation period, they would become the seventh BCS conference and would not replace any BCS conferences.
Following the 2008 season, the Mountain West Conference-- for the first time ever-- finished ranked ahead of the Big East and Pac 10 in these methods of ranking according to BCS Guru's calculations. The Big East is considered the weakest of the six BCS Conferences so the Mountain West must at least beat them out.
In 2008, the Big East's highest ranked team was Cincinnati at No. 12 in the final BCS standings and Pittsburgh finished ranked No. 20. The Mountain West, meanwhile, had No. 6 Utah, No. 11 TCU and No. 16 BYU in the final BCS standings. According to BCS evaluation data, the MWC finished barely ranked ahead of the Big East in 2008.
The 2009 season, however, has been a much different situation. The Mountain West is about as strong as they were in 2008, but the Big East has made significant improvements from last season. In the current BCS rankings, the Big East has three Top 25 teams with No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 20 Pittsburgh and No. 23 West Virginia and South Florida sitting just outside the Top 25. The Mountain West also has three Top 25 teams with No. 8 TCU, No. 16 BYU and No. 18 Utah.
According to the BCS AQ conference evaluations, right now the Big East beats the Mountain West by having Cincinnati ranked higher than any MWC school. The Big East also is likely winning the average BCS rank category. Currently, six of eight Big East teams have a winning record compared to only five of nine Mountain West schools.
The conferences tie on the number of Top 25 teams right now, but if South Florida can get back in they will beat the Mountain West in that category as well. They could potentially outperform the MWC in all three of the categories for AQ evaluation in the 2009 season.
Boise State can put the Mountain West over the top. They are currently ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings. If the Mountain West were to expand and add Boise State, they would be able to use their stats when they were in the WAC as long as Boise State plays one year in the MWC.
Using Boise's current ranking, the Mountain West would be ranked ahead of the Big East in two of three categories and possibly even all three. Boise State likely must stay undefeated, because they must stay ranked ahead of Cincinnati in the final BCS rankings to help the Mountain West in the highest ranked team category. TCU also has a good chance of passing Boise State and Cincinnati if they finish the season undefeated, which would hurt Boise State's cause to join the MWC.
After expanding to add TCU in 2004, the Mountain West denied that they were looking into any further expansion. It appears their views have now changed. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson addressed expansion during the 2009 MWC media days:
"We spent a lot of time talking in general about expansion specifically, not about particular institutions. I think the conversation typically at a directors level has centered on maybe a 10th team will help us. But the real issue is practical scheduling. You really take away any scheduling for BCS purposes, if you will. Now, if conversely a team were to come in and really strengthen the BCS cause that would be reason for focus. It's something that we've looked at."
They are looking for a team that will put them over the top in the BCS evaluations. Boise State is the only team that can do that for the Mountain West. Not Houston, Fresno State, Tulsa, or Hawaii. Thompson is very serious about gaining an automatic bid and will do what is necessary to achieve that.
If the Mountain West plans to invite Boise State into their conference, the invitation will likely come during the summer of 2010 by the deadline of July 1st. Under WAC conference rule, Boise State would have to give their conference one-year notice before leaving to avoid being penalized.
Boise State would play their first season in the Mountain West in 2011, which also happens to be the final year of the BCS evaluation period. When the 2011 season is over, the BCS will do their evaluations and the Mountain West could use Boise State's stats from the three years that they played in the WAC and the one year that they were in the Mountain West.
Would Boise State leave the WAC, where they play half of their games on ESPN, to join the Mountain West with an awful TV deal? Of course they would. The Mountain West is a better geographic fit for the Broncos and would provide them with much more competition and money.
With Boise State's current scenario, they can go undefeated and still be denied a BCS spot because an undefeated MWC team has a much tougher schedule. In 2008, the undefeated Utah Utes finished ranked ahead of undefeated Boise State and the Broncos did not make a BCS bowl, despite finishing ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings.
Boise State University president Bob Kustra has made his intentions of joining the Mountain West well known.
"I've said many times since I've been talking about this in my four years here, the WAC is a good conference for Boise State. Its only drawback as far as I'm concerned is travel and the difficulty of reaching across the nation to play your competitors. And if we could hook up with the Mountain West, which has excellent competition, which has considerable academic quality, it would be a good match for us."
Boise State would help the Mountain West Conference significantly. They are consistently a Top 20 football program and will likely be highly ranked to help the Mountain West with the final two years of the evaluation period.
The Mountain West is largely considered a "top-heavy," three-team conference; Boise would help the give the conference more depth. Gaining the Idaho market wouldn't be much of a recruiting boost for the Mountain West, but becoming a BCS conference would drastically improve recruiting. The Boise TV market isn't very big, being ranked 112th in the country, but they would still help increase viewership to the Mountain West's TV stations.
The MWC currently has rather boring conference play, with only games when TCU, Utah and BYU are involved gaining national attention. Adding Boise State would give the conference three additional games each year that would draw a national audience, which results in more money for the conference. Rivalries between Boise State and Mountain West schools are already blooming. Competing for BCS bowls has developed heated rivalries between these schools. Boise State fans travel well and would make the trip to these big-time games.
Last summer, there were rumors that Utah and Colorado will be invited to join the Pac 10 if they decide to expand. If the Mountain West loses Utah but acquires Boise State, they would not regress nearly as much. Boise State is not a good basketball school, but football seems to be the Mountain West's main focus.
If Boise State finishes undefeated as expected, they should expect an invitation from the Mountain West to come next summer, by July 1st. The prediction is bold, but evidence suggests it's true. If not, then the Mountain West probably thinks that they can gain automatic qualifier status without the Broncos. This should become a much bigger topic of discussion as we approach the offseason.