BYU & Building a New Conference

In the spring of 1998, the decision-makers at BYU athletics did not like the position they were in. The WAC had grown to 16 teams and BYU, along with Utah and the Air Force Academy, were unhappy with their divisions and what that would mean for travel budgets. As a solution they got together, along with a few schools who were sympathetic to the cause because of similar circumstances, and formed a brand new conference that fit their needs.

MountainWestConference_100

Let’s skip over the next 12 years of BYU consistently succeeding in, and eventually leaving that conference for the hopes of a better world in football independence. Let’s also skip over the following several years of experimenting in independence. Today we find ourselves, in early 2016, just a little disappointed that this round of rumored P5 conference expansion never actually happened. Is there a possibility to once again band together with like-minded institutions and solve our own problems? In 2016, at least for football, travel considerations appear to have taken a back seat, giving way to the “whatever it takes” mentality to access the College Football Playoff, the upper-tier bowl games, and the huge payouts that come with it.

Why now? Because of the frightening and ever-widening financial gap between the haves (P5) and the have-nots (G5). BYU has managed to stick around solidly in-between these groups for a few years, but how much longer is this likely to be the case? And how safe is it to continue being a one-man wolfpack in a dog-eat-dog industry?

Rather than considering location & travel expenses, invitations to this new conference will be extended solely on ability to make the conference better at football. Poor academics? Doesn’t matter. Located in the middle of nowhere? Doesn’t matter. Small TV market? Not our concern. Consistently good at football over the past several years? Welcome aboard, comrade. Why am I building the conference this way? Because the one thing these schools have in common is the desire to have a seat at the table. Collectively, we could make our own seat and be considered equals in the new “P6” landscape. Stop laughing I’m serious. Keep reading and you’ll see my case.

During the process of forming this conference, I’m going to be relying on the 2015 numbers from Jeff Sagarin to keep track of where we should be and what each team does to help or hurt the conference. For those of you not familiar, Sagarin is pretty much the gold standard in analyzing all NCAA football teams and where they stack up when ranked #1-253.

In order to give us a solid target & a starting point, here’s a look at the respective strengths of the current P5 conferences, top to bottom, where each member’s numbers are averaged.

P5 Sagarin Numbers

From these numbers we learn that in 2015, the SEC was indeed the strongest football conference by an appreciable margin. Not only did they have the #1 team in Alabama, they also had the highest-ranked worst team, with Vanderbilt at #82. I also looked all 64 P5 schools as a group and averaged their numbers, which resulted in an averaged ranking of 44. To me, this should be our target. If we’re serious about forming a new conference worthy of “Power” status, we should fit within the range of 33-50, getting as close to 44 as possible.

So, without further ado, who should be invited? If the numbers I just explained were the only thing that mattered, the answer would be easy – just take the top 10 teams from 2015 not already in a P5 group. That would be:

Plan A

Boom. Done. Game over. I’ve just formed a conference whose strength is 2nd only to the SEC and is slightly better than the Pac 12, and I did it by using the spare parts of the modern college football landscape. Thank you, I’m a genius.

Ok ok you’re right. I don’t seriously believe in this conference. Some of these names are strong schools that have been producing good teams year after year, but let’s be honest, others just don’t belong. Let’s take a look at those same schools, but this time using a 4-year average on the Sagarin score:

Plan A 4 year ave.

Bummer. Turns out the best 10 teams can’t be that great consistently. One could still make a case for this conference, and that would be this: the difference between the SEC and the B1G is 17 spots, while the difference between the B1G and this new conference is only 15 spots. Still, I doubt it gets us a seat at the table. Among these numbers were years when Temple finished 117 and Bowling Green 119.

So, rather than taking the Hansel of NCAA football (he’s so hot right now) let’s look a little deeper and find more teams that resemble BYU and Boise State. One way would be to take a closer look at the teams that typically arise when conference expansion rumors begin swirling. If you’ve been on social media, you’ve probably heard the same names I have. Here’s who I like:

 

Phase 1: The Core

Core

I like these 7 teams to build around, and I really like how they finished in 2015. By the numbers, this group could be thrown into the SEC and finish around .500. The problem is that 7 teams aren’t enough for a conference to be taken seriously, so let’s add a few more – once again skipping over those who’ve done well this year in favor of those who can make a great “pick me” case.

Phase 2: Building on the Core

Extended Core

Adding Air Force is a great compliment to Navy, USU has made a great case the past 4 years, and Cincinnati seems to always be in the P5 expansion conversations. The upside here is that with 10 teams, this can be a viable conference no worse than the ACC and B1G.

Here’s how the new Megaloconference looks on a map:
10

The news this week, barring any last-minute surprises, is that you can have a championship game with only 10 teams. Looking at the above map, it’s easy to see the geographical boundary dividing the east and west divisions. Most conferences with only 10 teams have each member play all 9 other teams every year. As commisioner of the Megaloconference, I wouldn’t do that. Why? Because we’re still a rag-tag band of misfits who need to prove our case to the world. Each team would play the 4 other teams in the division, three of the teams from the other division, and use the remaining slots to schedule every other P5 school it can. Consistently winning makes the case for us.

Phase 3: Embracing our megalo identity

Why stop there? So what if we have a footprint that covers the entire country. My local hockey team in Fairbanks (Go Nanooks!) plays in the same division as a team from Huntsville Alabama! Although the UCONN Huskies have struggled lately, because of their TV market they make a pretty attractive choice for expansion, so much so that their name was among those floating around for the Big 12 to possibly absorb. ECU has also made a pretty good on-field case for expansion. Let’s throw these two in and see what it looks like:

Megalo Core

Ok, not too bad. I can live with a score of 56, especially when you consider that the average of all the current G5s is 107. 56 is a lot closer to 44 than it is to 107.

Who says no here? Houston, that’s who. We’ve just bumped Houston into the west and slightly increased their travel burden. Still, I like the look of this map & the idea of more strength in numbers.

Helmets

We’re not done yet, I still have more maps to show you.

Phase 4: In my dreams

Here’s the map, now who can spot the difference?

13

Yep, there she is. For the rest of you, here’s a hint: it’s NOTRE DAME. Cue the rudy music! Here is my reasoning for including Notre Dame- it seems like every few years we get a new story about some weirdo 17-year-old outcast who contacts an up-and-coming porn star via social media and asks her to prom. She says yes, all the parents freak out, and it never happens, but meanwhile the e-harlot has gained some much-needed publicity and the kid gets a bunch of high fives from his buddies. Given, the analogy with Notre Dame can only be taken so far, but my point is this- IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK.

Tom Holmoe has gotten pretty good at his “hey we should play each other” sales pitches. Why not swing for the fences? Especially if we are the only ones encouraging members to play other P5 schools often. Keep the rivalry with USC and Stanford and several other teams you feel like playing, but replace what used to be the Big East portion of your schedule with a handful of our teams. We’ll show you how to build “Notre Dame TV” and not only help you showcase your athletics, but endless hours of religious programming as well! You can take whatever you need from BYUtv, we don’t even care!

Now that Notre Dame is on board, we have a lopsided conference, but guess what? Now that Notre Dame is on board, we can add any extra school we want! We’ve found our USC, our Florida State, our Oklahoma – so we can have our Oregon State, Wake Forest, and Kansas. Who is deserving of that final spot? Army. That’s who.

There are two reasons I like army. First, it seems fitting to round out all three service academies in one conference. Second, these are true American heroes. Who cares if they’ve been finished 140 last year – Kansas was 156! I say we bring them on board and do all we can to help them up. Shift Memphis to the west division and we’re good to go!

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the dream-version of the Megaloconference:

Dream Helmets

It probably wouldn’t work. There’s too many gold helmets.

Discussion:

Here’s some other honorable mentions and schools worth arguing over. For argument’s sake, I’ve included the “football strength” numbers showing both 2015 and the four-year average. Tell me in the comments section who is missing off my list and who should get bumped so they can have a spot.

My “last 10 in”:

last 10 inMy “first 9 out”:

first 9 out

I probably gave South Florida too much credit for this year and took away too much from UCF for this year. We could swap those schools out or just find a way to get them as a package deal & travel partners.

Getting back to the basics, if we simply organized all of the schools according to the 4-year average and took the top 10 we would end up with the strongest conference. It would look like this:

Best Average

I changed my mind. Let’s make this conference happen. Over the last four years, we’ve basically achieved P5 status individually. Someday we too will be able to look back and sing “Together We Reached.” 

Update- UNLV thoughts:

I’ve had a few people point out something that seems pretty obvious – in building this conference, the addition of UNLV or even New Mexico would bring some geographical stability. Here’s why this is a good, and a bad idea.

Good– when you look at the map with 9 teams in the east and 5 teams in the west, you would imagine that those eastern teams are going to ask themselves why they need to include the western teams. Were they to say “thanks but no thanks, we’re good without you five” then the 5 western teams would be forced to pick up the next best 4 or 5 western teams. Congratulations, you’ve just created the Mountain West Conference again. We don’t want that. Keeping this new conference geographically balanced would deter this possibility.

Bad– remember, the goal here is to be instantly respected. Collectively, if we’re a power conference too, we need to show that. To me, UNLV is dead weight. Their past 4 years of Sagarin numbers are 123, 172, 99, & 157. This drags the rest of us down significantly.

Discussion question- Why is UNLV so bad? Think about it. If you were forming a new league in any sport and had the chance to build a team in Las Vegas, along with the huge population, TV market, and recruiting allure to both young men and coaches; or the city of Boise with it’s…. well… I’ve never been to Boise so I honestly don’t know what’s out there… my point is this- WHY ISN’T UNLV BETTER? For this model I really want them to be.

About the author

Benji Hadfield

Dentist by day, fisherman also by day, just on different days. BYU fan from birth. I live in North Pole, Alaska; and yes, it's as awesome as it sounds.

  • LouisD

    Do I see UTAH STATE (Loganistan, pop 50k counting empties) rather than UNLV (Vegas, pop 2.1 million)? Fans can be so unbelievably ridiculous!

    • Benji

      Louis- thanks for the feedback. You’re not the only one who has voiced support for the idea of UNLV so I added a couple paragraphs to the end of the article explaining what I like and don’t like about UNLV. Love ’em or hate ’em, Utah State had a vastly superior on-field résumé the last 4 years. When to comes to making our case to be considered a power conference, that trumps TV & ticket sales.

    • Boscatar

      No way do you put TWO teams in Utah and only one in each of Texas, Florida, and California….

      Here’s what you need to do, Benji. Simply add BYU, Boise St., Air Force, and SDSU to the AAC.

      This way, you avoid the poor consequences of a new conference that isn’t part of the CFP contract, doesn’t have existing bowl contracts or TV deal, and that doesn’t have an automatic berth to the NCAA bball tournament, etc.

      This establishes a true AMERICAN conference and would be a perfect branding play. Coast-to-coast conference with two military academies and teams in half of the top-10 markets: New York, Philadelphia, DFW, Washington, DC, Houston; and a strong presence in Texas, Florida, and California (great football markets and fantastic recruiting).

      Add the Las Vegas and Poinsettia bowls to the AAC lineup – and do everything you can to be part of a new bowl game at the Rams’ new stadium in Los Angeles (2019, I believe).

      Make that helmet map!

      • Benji

        I don’t hate this idea because only Tulane, Tulsa, & SMU would be “dragging us down” as far as football stength is concerned (my primary concern). I’ll run some numbers and make a map and get back to you. That would have made a much shorter blog post!

  • Cool Cool

    Good luck with that.

    • Benji

      Thanks Cool Cool. Obviously I’d prefer a world where BYU is in the Big 12, but if that’s not an option I don’t know if I prefer independence or forming a new conference like this one. Mostly I’m just thinking out loud and throwing it out there.

  • Matthew Bringhurst

    Way too long to read that byu isn’t good enough for p5 invite is what I got out of this.

    • Benji

      Haha yeah, if you think reading it takes a while you should try writing it- I spent way too much time on this one! If you’re crunched for time just look at the first table and the last table and you’ll see that “being good enough” isn’t their problem. Over the past four years they have been the best non-P5 out there.

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  • mjohns8700

    The Big 12 which only has 10 teams is going to add Houston & ?. Houston has a new on Campus Stadium and has a good program. Maybe they will take BYU if Holmoe can get down on his knees and beg.

    • Bruce Tanner

      Doubtful for Houston. They add nothing to the league except another Texas team.

  • CanbyCougar

    Wow! A new perspective on expansion! Thanks for writing this even though it is unlikely to happen (probably never). It is still fun to think about and helps me understand where BYU fits in the P5 and G5 landscape. It also demonstrates that not all P5 teams are better than all G5 teams.