The BCS finally released the details of its automatic qualifying formula. The Big Six conferences are all guaranteed auto bids to the BCS bowls thanks to contracts, but a formula does exist that would allow one of the five current non-AQ leagues to get in.
The system has three criteria, and it looks at discrete four-year periods. We're in the middle of one of those periods, as it began with 2008. I'll be looking at the current period as well as the span of 2006-09 as that would tell us what would happen if the BCS used a rolling four-year period instead.
Here's how the system works, and remember that the "final BCS Standings" are the rankings at the end of the regular season, not after the bowls.
(1) The ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS Standings each year.
This looks at where your best team stacks up. If a conference doesn't have a team in the top 25, then the team with the best computer average takes this role. A non-AQ conference needs to be no lower than sixth in this to get a guaranteed bid automatically, and it must be no lower than seventh (while being fifth or higher in Criterion 2) in order to petition the Presidential Oversight Committee for an auto bid.
Here's how the top leagues stack up since 2006:
- SEC, average finish of 1.75
- Big 12, 4.25
- Big Ten, 4.5
- Pac-10, 6.0
- Big East, 7.5
- WAC, 8.25
- ACC, 10.0
- MWC, 11.75
As you can see, the WAC is actually in better shape in this category over the past four seasons than the MWC. That's because Boise State has been consistently up there (and Hawaii was in '07 when the Broncos were not), while the MWC has only had teams in the top 10 the past two seasons. It's no surprise seeing the ACC so far down there though, given the lack of any recent national title contenders from the league.
Here's how they look in the current evaluation period (since '08):
- SEC, 1.5
- Big 12, 1.5
- MWC, 5.0
- Pac-10, 6.0
- Big East, 7.5
- WAC, 7.5
- Big Ten, 8.0
- ACC, 11.5
I know there are a couple of ties there, but HTML ordered lists don't allow for ties. Anyway, things are a lot more bunched up with the MWC surging and the Big Ten falling. We can also see that the MWC has cleared the bar for automatic inclusion in this criterion, though it is by no means safe. If, for instance, the highest ranked MWC team next season is 20th, its average falls to 10, and it is in risk of not qualifying.
Either way you look at it, the SEC is doing great. Of course, it's the home of the last four national champions, and a team must be ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 to play for the honor. It makes sense.
(2) The final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year.
For this criterion, I used the data from Kenneth Massey's poll archive. Because he runs one of the BCS computer polls, I figured it'd be accurate. In calculating team averages, I also used the method of tossing out the highest and lowest as the BCS does on a weekly basis during the season.
Here's how the major conferences stack up from 2006-09:
- SEC, 36.18
- Big East, 41.27
- Pac-10, 43.06
- ACC, 43.82
- Big 12, 47.46
- Big Ten, 48.16
- MWC, 63.94
The SEC is out in front by a comfortable margin, which is not a surprise. What is a surprise is that the Big East is second in line. According to the BCS computers, the Big East is top-to-bottom the second best conference of the last four years. The Big 12 being a bit down there also was unexpected for me, but the algorithms determined that the bottom five teams in that league are a lot worse than I thought they'd be.
The MWC is seventh by a mile, and it's actually closer to the eighth place WAC (74.40) than to the Big Ten. That goes to show that the whole "MWC deserves an auto bid" movement only holds water in relation to the last two years. I mean it does, right? Here's 2008-09:
- SEC, 38.86
- ACC, 40.32
- Big East, 42.91
- Big 12, 46.68
- Pac-10, 49.86
- Big Ten, 50.91
- MWC, 58.85
Well, now the MWC is closer to the Big Ten than it is the WAC (72.38) at least, but it's still in petition-for-an-auto-bid territory. The top of the conference is strong, but it has had four teams rank 78th or worse in both of the past two years. Unless the dregs of the league step it up or the bottom falls out from under the Big Ten, the MWC's chances of getting an automatic bid aren't looking so great.
Bringing it back to the SEC, these computer poll averages suggest that the conference went through a significant down year in 2008. The four-year averages look like this: 34.17 in 2006, 32.83 in 2007, 45.75 in 2008, and 31.98 in 2009. I find that not to be surprising in the least. In 2008 Vanderbilt finally made a bowl, and Florida dominated the conference like we haven't seen in a long while. Alabama and Florida dominated the league in 2009 as well, but it was nowhere close to the degree of UF's fire bombing campaign of two seasons ago. It's further proof that no one dominates without help.
(3) The number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS Standings each year, with adjustments to account for differences in the number of members of each conference.
Here, the BCS uses a point system. Teams ranked 1-6 get four points, 7-12 get three points, 13-18 get two points, and 19-25 get one point. There also are adjustments made based on the number of teams in a conference so that smaller leagues aren't penalized.
If a non-AQ conference is top six in the first two criteria and have at least 50% of the leader's total in this category, then it gets an auto bid. If it is top six in the first two but has between 33% and 50% of the points in this category, then it must petition. If it is seventh in one of the first two and at least fifth in the other and has 33% of the leader's total, then it must petition for an auto bid also.
The four-year totals:
- SEC, 52 points (100%)
- Big Ten, 41.63 (80%)
- Big 12, 38 (73.1%)
- Big East, 32.5 (62.5%)
- Pac-10, 31.5 (60.6%)
- ACC, 26 (50%)
- MWC, 23.75 (45.7%)
I figured the SEC would be out in front here, but I had no idea it'd be out in front by this much. The Big Ten is a curious conference for No. 2 because it was No. 6 in the second criterion. It goes to show that the Big Ten is a bit top heavy. The usual suspects are in roughly the right position from there on out.
The two-year totals:
- SEC, 22 (100%)
- Big Ten, 20.25 (92%)
- Big 12, 20 (90.9%)
- MWC, 20 (90.9%)
- Pac-10, 15.75 (71.6%)
- Big East, 15 (68.2%)
- ACC, 12 (54.5%)
For the current evaluation period, the MWC is in great shape in this category. Not only does it have more than 50% of the leader's total, it's not that far off from being the leader itself. The caveat about keeping it up applies, of course.
What if Boise State was in the MWC?
The BCS's site mentions this caveat:
*The computations will be made according to the conference's membership on Dec. 4, 2011.
That means that if the MWC was to get Boise State into the conference by the start of the 2011 season (so that the Broncos played as a MWC team that year), then its records as a WAC team get to count towards the MWC. It might want to get on that soon if it was going to happen.
Looking at 2006-09, the MWC jumps from eighth to sixth in the first criterion. In the second though, it remained in seventh place thanks to the dead weight at the bottom of the league. Its point total would jump to well above 50% in the third criterion, but because of its seventh place position in Criterion 2 and sixth place position (below fifth) in Criterion 1, the MWC would not even be able to petition.
As far as 2008-09 goes, things look better. The MWC would soar to third in Criterion 1, edge into sixth ahead of the Big Ten in Criterion 2 (by a margin of 0.45), and it would be the top league in Criterion 3 by a wide margin with 28.75 points. In other words, the MWC would be in position to get an automatic bid without a petition.
What if there was relegation?
So if the MWC could earn an auto bid, who would lose theirs if there was a cap for auto bids at six? For this, I'm only looking at the last two seasons.
The ACC might be a candidate for placing eighth in the Criterion 1 and being the weakest of the seven in Criterion 3, but it is a solid second in Criterion 2. The other potential candidate would be the Big Ten, as its average place in the first two criteria is 6.5, placing it last of the top seven conferences. It is tied for second with the MWC in Criterion 3 though, so who gets relegated between the two would be a factor of which criteria is judged the most important.
The Big Ten would be in more trouble if Boise State moved to the MWC. As a result, the ACC would move ahead of the WAC into seventh place in Criterion 1, and the gap between the Big Ten and ACC shrinks in the percentage terms of Criterion 3.