National Playoff Paves Scheduling Path For MWC Teams
By Joe Jenkins
Back in 2009, Boise State had a problem: no school with a decent football team wanted to schedule an out-of-conference game with them.
The Broncos had become too good. Then Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson told the Idaho Statesman “about 10 teams had turned them down” for an open date for the 2011 season.
To teams regularly in the top 25, BSU had become the worst kind of good. Beating the Broncos meant your team did what it was supposed to do. Losing to them sent any hopes of a national championship up in smoke.
Forget about home and home deals. Schools didn’t want to offer guarantee games where the Broncos would travel to their stadium for a hefty paycheck. BSU was commanding $1 million fee for that kind of game, and who wants to pay seven figures to potentially lose to one of the “little sisters of the poor” at home?
This was one of the great loopholes of the BCS. Traditional powerhouse programs could schedule easy non-conference games, navigate the conference schedule, and if the loss column read zero at the end of the season (or one for an SEC team), a trip to the BCS championship game was all but locked up.
And so the cycle went for non-automatic qualifying teams like Boise State and TCU before they joined the Big 12. When their teams had great years, the BCS would slight them due to their strength of schedule. When they tried to make their slate of games more difficult, almost no teams of consequence wanted to take the risk.
For schools in the Mountain West, two things are happening that will hopefully start to change that.
Schools from the five power conferences didn’t have a collective epiphany about the grand moral advantages to playing better teams outside of the conference. The change agent is the four-team playoff starting in 2014.
Once the playoff system is in place, the two national semifinal games will be chosen not by polls and computer rankings, but by a 14 to 20-person selection committee. What this means is a one-loss team with two or three top 25 games on their schedule will beat out a one-loss team that stacked their September with games against Youngstown State and Stony Brook.
The MWC's new television agreement may also make member schools more open to the idea of a guarantee game due to the national exposure clause. Any team in the conference that plays a game on one of the major networks is due a bonus of up to $500,000. If the going rate for a guarantee game is between $600,000 and $800,000, it could make for a very lucrative payday against a high profile opponent.
The additional money could even even provide the needed leverage to negotiate a home and home agreement like the one recently announced between BSU and Florida State. The two schools will pay each other $400,000 for games played in 2019 and 2020.
None of this will bring about immediate change since teams tend to establish out of conference games well in advance. So for the time being, you’ll still be stuck with Alabama and Georgia State (don’t miss it on Oct. 5).
One downside will be the eventual end any early season upsets, but which would you rather have: the chance to see another Appalachian State over Michigan in early August, or the possibility to witness Boise State over Alabama in early January?