It is easy to fall into the trap. We all do it. We love fads and trends. The perpetual chase of feeling or looking “cool” is as tempting as it is transient. Whether it is a fashion trend, a technology innovation, or even a TV show, the desire to take advantage of the next hottest thing is always alluring.
Right now, the BCS is deciding if Mountain West Conference football is a passing fad or a bona fide good football conference worthy of a share of the BCS’s vast riches and automatic bids. In order to save time and resources I will help the BCS out – no, the MWC does not belong among the BCS elite.
It is easy to say a lot of negative things about the BCS (even though I actually like it, I can acknowledge it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination) and the supposed elite collection of conferences. Without getting into a pointless comparison between the Big East, the ACC, and the Mountain West, it is possible to simply highlight a few key points to prove that including the MWC in the BCS is the equivalent of a participation trophy at seventh grade basketball camp.
The Mountain West has some good teams. It seems every season at least one team earns an at-large BCS bowl big, and makes a splash in the game. Like many college football conferences, the MWC has a few excellent programs, but the remaining programs are not very good. Utah, BYU, and TCU have long been the recipient of dark house and “aww, isn’t that little conference cute” comments from pundits like Mark May and Lou Holtz. Sure, those are good programs deserving of the acclaim. However, depth is an issue for the conference.
Air Force is an excellent example of the questionable depth. While they had a successful 9-4 campaign in 2007, and they followed that up with an 8-5 campaign in 2008, this is the same program that languished at 4-8 in 2006, and began this season with a 72-0 drubbing of Nicholls State before losing to Minnesota – a mid-pack program from an elite BCS conference. Colorado State is another example of questionable depth in the MWC. The Rams began this season by surprising Colorado, then following that win with a squeaker at home – over Weber State. Colorado State is 17-23 in the last three seasons (2006-2008) – hardly enough to convince naysayers that the Mountain West has enough depth to compete among the top conference in the land.
The other programs – New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming – do not belong among the nation’s best programs, nor do they provide enough of a challenge to the conference’s top programs to warrant further consideration for the Mountain West.
Bottom line, many conferences have elite teams and are rightly labeled top heavy. The Mountain West fits squarely within that label, except that the drop off in quality programs after the top three elite teams is stark, and enough to prevent the conference from being considered among the elite.
It is not just about depth of talent and quality programs, either. Taking on the role of becoming a BCS conference is about selling out big stadiums and generating eyeballs on television to get top dollar for advertising. The Mountain West is an incredibly long way away from that. BYU, which has the largest stadium in the Mountain West (by far) only seats 64,045. While that seems like a lot, it pales in comparison to the cathedrals of the SEC, ACC, PAC-10, Big Ten, Big XII. Utah has the second largest stadium in the conference, seating a comfortable 45,017, so the drop off from first to second is significant.
While the Big East will not win any stadium size competitions between the nation’s elite conferences, they will win plenty of television market competitions, boasting New York (the undisputed number one television marketing), Pittsburgh (23rd largest television marketing), and Philadelphia (fourth largest television market), among others. The Mountain West’s largest television market is Salt Lake City, a mere 33rd in the rankings.
While the brand of football is certainly improving in the Mountain West, and the Western region of the United States is large enough for another power college football conference to emerge, it is not happening yet. At the end of the BCS evaluation period no school will have larger seating capacity at their stadium, local television markets will not be transformed into massive “can’t-miss” markets that demand top advertising dollars, and the depth of talent likely will not have changed a great deal. I know fans of college sports love a good Cinderella story – myself included. But in this case, the shoe simply does not fit.