The Big Ten, defying the hyperbole of the weekend, obstinately refused to feed the beast re: conference expansion Wednesday during the annual meeting of all 11 BCS conference commissioners in Arizona — the topic wasn’t on the formal agenda, and the official timetable hasn’t changed. But that didn’t mean the BCS itself couldn’t take an expansive outlook toward the immediate future where the Mountain West is concerned:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP)—The Mountain West Conference has performed so well the last two seasons that it could receive an automatic bid to the BCS in the 2012 and ’13 seasons.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock was hesitant Wednesday to say the MWC, which has placed Utah and TCU in the Bowl Championship Series the last two seasons, was on course to become the seventh automatic qualifying conference.
But he did tell the conference commissioners and athletic directors gathered here this week for meetings that they should be aware of the strides the Mountain West has made toward earning an automatic bid.
"If they (the Mountain West Conference) meet the threshold, they’ll be the seventh," Hancock said, though he added the way the other conferences perform over the next two seasons influences that threshold.
The "threshold" is a four-year evaluation period (in this case, from 2008-11) that uses a mathematical formula to determine which conferences qualify for an automatic bid. This caveat in the system hasn’t gotten much attention over the last decade because none of the "Big Six" conferences that currently receiver automatic bids has been threatened with failing to meet the threshold, and none of the "mid-major" leagues on the outside has made a serious run at clearing the bar for inclusion. At its current pace, though, the MWC may not even be on the bubble when the bell tolls on the next round of BCS contract talks in 2012: Besides putting Utah and TCU in one of the big-money games, the league has put three teams (TCU, BYU and Utah) in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each of the last two years, with all three in the top 16 going into the bowls in 2008 and all three finishing in the AP’s final top 20 last year — more than the Pac-10, Big 12 and Big East. The MWC had the best bowl record last winter at 4-1, and has more than held its own against the major conferences overall.
That may or may not mean much compared to less flattering attendance and television numbers. A more cynical interpretation of Hancock’s remark is as a fig leaf for a member that almost backed out of the process altogether last summer, when the MWC only signed on to the Series’ new TV deal at the last second after having both its campaign for an automatic bid and its hopeless reform initiative summarily rejected by the other conferences. Another strong season on the field (not to mention just a little pressure from Capitol Hill) is good for a bit of a thaw from the BCS’ side when the decision is still two years out. We’ll see what it’s tune is then, if it doesn’t have bigger issues on its plate.