On Mountain High: AQ status on the horizon? Mountain West seeks BCS exemption


Last week, when the bowl pairings were announced, Boise State was not chosen for an at-large selection into a BCS Bowl. Despite its 11-1 record and No. 7 ranking in the BCS standings, the Broncos were bypassed for two-loss Michigan and two-loss Virginia Tech. Both teams are ranked lower in the BCS standings. Actually, Boise State is ranked ahead of Big East Conference champ West Virginia (No. 23) ACC champ Clemson (No. 15) and Big 10 champ Wisconsin (No. 10). The Broncos one loss prevented them from winning the Mountain West Conference so they were not eligible for a BCS automatic bid.

But of course the lofty ranking had to ensure Boise State of a Jan. 1 bowl game at least, right? Wrong.

Immediately following the announcement and Boise’s subsequent berth in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, Bronco head coach Chris Peterson blasted the BCS, saying that things will soon be changing. He said he foresaw the end of the BCS in the near future. Peterson’s prediction of change did quickly come to fruition, but it wasn’t quite the change most of us expected. The exclusion of Boise from any of the BCS bowls was enough to finally push the Broncos into the open, waiting arms of the Big East. To add insult to injury, not only did the Mountain West lose one of the most-consistent programs in the country, they also lost the improving San Diego State Aztecs.

Ah, but wait, it appears the Mountain West has some tricks up its sleeve. Despite losing BYU, Utah, TCU, Boise State and San Diego State, arguably the top-five programs in the conference, the Mountain West is planning to take advantage of those programs’ success in the conference to better the future of the conference.

On Monday, the Mountain West Conference submitted official paperwork to the BCS seeking an exemption into a BCS bowl game for the conference champion. If the bid, which specifically targets the Big East, is successful, the Mountain West champion will receive an automatic bid into a BCS game for the next two season – yes, including the first season after Boise and SDSU leave.

The official document submitted to the Presidential Oversight Committee, which includes school presidents from 12 schools – six from non-BCS schools – outlines three instance whereby the MW conference’s success during the four-year evaluation period (2008-2011) makes them eligible for AQ status following the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

"i. The MW is among the top five conferences in Average Ranking of Highest-Ranked Team, finishing in the 4th position.ii. The MW is no lower that seventh in Average Conference Ranking, finishing in the 7th position.iii. The MW has an Average Adjusted Top 25 Performance Ranking equal to or greater than 33.33% of the conference with the highest Average Adjusted Top 25 Performance Ranking, finishing with a figure of 60.19% (5th position)."

The document then specifically targets the Big East as not worthy of AQ status. In February 2004, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College all left the Big East to join the ACC. The Big East responded by adding Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida so it could keep the minimum eight teams needed to keep its BCS bid.

The Mountain West argues that the Big East’s membership changes significantly affected the competitive strength of the conference. As the document states, however, “without any formal action, the Big East was permitted to retain its automatic-qualifying status for the next cycle – apparently based upon reputation and relationships, rather than demonstrated performance.”

The 2011-12 Bowl Season, which kicks off Saturday, features five Mountain West teams for the fifth-consecutive year. During those five years, the MW is 15-5 in bowl games and has won ESPN’s Bowl Challenge Cup three out of the past four seasons. In fact they are the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award’s inception in 2002-03. And, since 2004, the MW holds an 11-3 record against BCS AQ conferences.

Specifically during the past five seasons, the Mountain West has done more than enough to establish itself at least as one of the top-six conferences in the country. And while the conference is hoping to capitalize on that success, the fact the teams that helped the conference improve its national presence have all left or announced departure dates, it appears this is a desperate attempt by the Mountain West to entice Boise State and/or San Diego State to reconsider their decisions to join a conference on the other side of the country.

As desperate as the move may be, the Mountain West did do a good job comparing its achievements to those of other AQ conferences. As evident this year with Boise State, The MW ranked fourth in Average Ranking of the Highest-Ranked Team, which placed it ahead of three conferences currently enjoying AQ status, the ACC, Big East, and Big 10. However, three of the six teams that have been ranked in the top 10 of the final BCS rankings have been left out of a BCS game.
Not only does the Mountain West better the Big East in regards to highest-ranked team, they’ve also placed more teams in the top 25 of the final BCS rankings during the past three years (8) than the Big East (7).

The Mountain West even goes so far as to compare television ratings from Mountain West-involved BCS games to Big East-involved BCS games. “MW member institutions have participated in BCS games on four occasions. The television ratings for those appearances surpassed those for the games involving the ACC participant three times, the Big East participant twice and the participants from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC once each.”

After all the alignment changes within the Big East, it’s debatable whether that conference should be worthy of an auto-bid at all. The current champion West Virginia has already announced plans to leave and is hoping to depart sooner rather than later. By 2013, five current non-AQ schools – Boise, SDSU, UCF, SMU and Houston – will have gained AQ status not based on merit or success but simply by joining a conference that is already granted an exception.

Boise State’s contract with the Big East now included clauses that allow for a smoother, less-expensive departure should the Big East eventually lose its AQ status and we’ve already seen TCU go back on its word and join the Big 12 after previously agreeing to join the Big East. After the original decision, the Horned Frogs had a year to mull it over and eventually changes their minds. During 2012, both SDSU and Boise will have a full year to think about their decision as well. If the Mountain West does secure the BCS exemption it seeks, the Aztecs and Broncos might also start second-guessing their decisions.