Expansion Part III – Breaking down non-AQ schools

By Dave Bartoo, Founder, The CFBMatrix

Friday, October 7, 2011

Part III in a series on College Football Conference Expansion and Contraction.  In this article I profile the top overall non-AQ schools in the country, break them down by region and which AQ conferences might be interested in them.

Do not forget, that college football is a major business.  It drives jobs, revenue and enrollment for everyone involved. Adding a school is a big deal and instantly changes the dynamics of the entire conference.  We as fans all too often view this as an easy transaction and one that is driven by football success.  However, there is so much more involved in the long term outlook of adding schools than just what is best for football.   Each conference has  a different model in growing their overall business.   While there is no way to list out every reason to acquire a new non-AQ school into a conference or all the impacts a change will have, we need to start somewhere with the evaluations of potential acquisitions.  Sports strength, football strength, media market access, alumni base, academic excellence and financial strength are all significant considerations in the long term outlook of adding a University to a major conference.  A key to understanding options and opportunity is to open your mind to the business decision of conference reshuffling that is altering the college football landscape.  In Part III, I will cover the top 20 non-AQs that have the strongest ‘material’ numbers compared to the AQ schools as well as potential fit and need for non-AQ in each major conference.

To date, only AQ schools from the Big East and the Big 12 have committed to changing conferences. Texas A&M is moving on to the SEC and Pittsburgh and Syracuse are committed to moving to the ACC and out of the Big East. This puts the Big 12 and especially the Big East in harms way for conference sustainability and retention of automatic BCS bowl bid status.  The ACC, SEC, Big Ten and PAC 12 have no reason but to cherry pick the best opportunities for their business strategy in expanding their conference monopoly (‘Anti-Trust’ will be the next term to be tossed around by desperate conferences).

Breakdown of Major Conference Needs and Non-AQ Targets

The Big 12:  Texas and Oklahoma are strong enough to command a BCS auto bid. As long as they stick together, they will pull other teams to them looking for the security of their BCS ‘power’. Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State, the bottom three ‘power’ teams in the Big 12, have little choice but to stick with the big two. They offer little in terms of football strength, branding, media market access or academics. The mid-tier III recruiters of Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech appear to be going nowhere and have not been named in  rumors to any conference.  Missouri, for some reason, has been engaged with the SEC.  It would be a great get for the powers of the SEC conference, but the Tigers would suffer measurably.  Win totals would drop (link to Part IV evaluation), recruiting would not improve over time fast enough to compete with the SEC elite.  They are much better off for their fans and football program to stay put in the Big 12.  The Big 12 has already grabbed the #3 rank acquisition in the Southwest in TCU.  This should keep Rice and Houston still in play.  BYU is not Utah (SLC market) and does not open trails for strong recruiting.  A dark horse conduit to California would be San Diego State.  SDSU is almost as close to Lubbock as Ames. Top overall ranked teams in the Big 12 Texas and Missouri.

The Big East:  The 800 pound gorilla in the room in the past month is who can the Big East pull in from the non – AQ ranks to grow and maintain a reasonable size. While I believe the elite power of Texas and Oklahoma can sustain a 8 team Big 12, a 6 team Big East is not going to be viable. The Big East, reeling from the losses of TCU, Pitt and Syracuse is down to just 6 teams and all have been named as possible additions to other conferences.  In a review of the Matrix chart below, Notre Dame is clearly the best “free agent’ of the bunch. But why would they make a change? They have an auto bid for the BCS already in place, they get 8-9 home games each year, they make their own schedule, have their own TV deal and share it with no one. Notre Dame could save Big East football from losing it’s auto-bid (link to why they should lose it) and potentially its entire football conference. But they will have to give their sole to the devil to get the Catholic school to consider it.  The Big East, in it’s most recent statement (10/10/11), threw out a half dozen names of schools they are considering inviting to the Big East.  Ranging from Temple (PA) to Air Force (CO) to Boise State (ID), the press release reeks of desperation to save its conference and BCS bid.  Most of the teams named were for football only and make little geographic sense and no long term business sense.  The Big East should look to target the top programs geographically that can bring long term balance to football, all other sports, academics, media markets and alumni support.  Despite its best efforts, the Big East, unless they can pull in an elite program (ND), should lose its auto bid status, putting any non-AQs that join right back where they started the season. Top overall ranked teams in the Big East are Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia.

The SEC:  They have no reason to target a non-AQ school.   They are too strong today, to do anything but pull mid-tier AQ teams in areas of demand for recruiting.  Texas A&M was a good fit today as it brought in a non-threat to the conference leaders and opened and new recruiting trail into Texas.  A&M’s recruiting will improve marginally over the next few years and with a good schedule and new coach, may be more than competitive.   Judging by the results of our Southeast poll, most fans don’t want any of the available non-AQs in the area.  Georgia is easily the #1 overall school in the national Matrix from the SEC.

The ACC:  They are supposed to be getting Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the coming years, so the only reasonable additions would be consuming more of the Big East teams.  No ACC team will leave for the SEC.  The ACC has a better overall media market, recruiting wars in overlapping states would no change and the competition is much tougher.  They have just a handful of programs on the east coast to pull from the non-AQ ranks.  They are already loaded in the Carolinas and Florida so if they make a move it should be West of Florida and North of North Carolina.  Miami, Boston College, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are all top overall Universities in the country for sports, alumni, media markets, academics and endowments.

The PAC 12:  The PAC already pulled two big media markets in SLC and Denver without any overlap of the existing ten schools.  Neither school posed a threat to the top half of the conference powers and brought big alumni bases with mid-level endowments ($894M and $553M).  There are no other major AQ schools in the west so to pick off another AQ would likely mean going further into Big 12 territory, specifically Texas.  There are several quality non-AQ schools in Texas and the Big 12 will not take them all.  Conversely, San Diego State is in their backyard but not highly regarded in our West poll.  However, I see them only being engaged as a defensive move if the Big 12 starts to consider SDSU to get into California.  The PAC 12 is the center for overall university ranking with USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal all in Top 3 media markets, top 25 academics, multi-billion dollar endowments and the most national titles in college athletics.

The Big Ten:  Like the PAC12, ACC and SEC, the Big Ten has no needs to fill.  They are simply waiting for an opportunity to present itself with a clear focus on AQ schools.  Other than Notre Dame, there is nothing in the Midwest for non-AQ schools that would improve the Big Ten.  Unlike the other regions, the Midwest offers up only one school above Kansas State, our Mendoza line, and Central Michigan is going nowhere with the Spartans and Big Blue already dominating the state.  Our Midwest non-AQ poll current has 77% of the 2,000+ votes going in favor of “None of them deserve to move up” over 5 other Midwest schools.  If the Big Ten expands again it will be on the fringes and with AQ schools (ie Penn State and Nebraska).  The top ranked overall conference building school in the Big Ten is  Michigan.  

Breaking down the top Non-AQ teams

The chart breaks down the top non-AQ teams and provides the bottom level AQ football recruiters as a comparison.   Why start with recruiting levels?  I started with the 4 year recruiting ranking as it is a predictor for nearly 80% of all FBS football games.  Most of the AQ teams on the chart are last or near dead last in their respective conferences.  However, there are some that are doing well, with good coaching, showing that even the low ranked recruiters can be competitive every 4-6 years in conference. (36 of the last 41 AQ conference champs were in the top half of 4 year recruiting ranks).  The Utes are a perfect example.  A perennial top 20 program with 9+ wins for a decade as a non-AQ school.  The Vegas lines was 8 wins for 2011 for the Utes, the CFBMatrix had them at 3 with a coaching adjustment to 5 all due to recruiting rank. Their coach confirmed it, recently stating, “Everyone in this conference is a little bit bigger, a little bit fast and a little bit stronger than the previous conference we were in.”

The CFBMatrix non-AQ chart starts with the highest 4 year non-AQ recruiter from the CFBMatrix profile, Central Florida at #54, and goes down to ten spots below the lowest ranked AQ recruiter, UConn at #80.  The AQ schools are included to give a reference to the lowest power ranked AQ teams in relation to the non AQs.  Teams are then ranked in order for Student/Alumni population*, media market rank**, University Academics Rank*, admissions rate* and endowment funding*

Vote now in our non-AQ poll about who should or should not move up

#1. Central Florida – #1 Southeast region – UCF would be a prime target for the Big East. The upside for acquisition: Power rank is close the USF, big media market, big population of students and is ranked in the top 200 universities in the US. The downside: USF will not like another competitor in Florida, but USF is unlikely to get Florida to approve them to the SEC and very unlikely to get FSU and Miami to approve them to the ACC. The UCF endowment is very low at $120M.  Comparable to Colorado Buffaloes

#2. Southern Methodist – #1 Southwest – The SMU Mustangs should be a very appealing target for several a couple of conferences. For the SEC, it would add the huge media market of Dallas/Fort Worth and give a second team in the state of Texas. For the PAC12 it would be an entry point in to Texas. The Big 12 has committed to TCU over SMU. Ranked the #62 university in the country, they admit just 63% of students that apply and has an endowment of over $1.4 billion dollars.  Comparable to TCU (offered by Big 12) and Vanderbilt

#3. Houston – #2 in the Southwest – The Cougars are in a huge media market and have a very large student population and alumni base. Their endowment is over a half billion dollars, so the money is from donations and research is solid. On the down side, the academics are not a strength of UH are they are not in the top 250 universities ranked by US News and World Report.

#4. Rice University – #3 in the Southwest – The Owls are not frequently discussed in national talk about moving up and it is very likely due to the alumni base.  It is a small school and is dwarfed in size by most of the Big 12.  Unfortunately for Rice, the Big 12 is not an academic leader and would be less impressed with their overall package than other conferences.   Rice is in a huge media market, has a very high academic ranking and with nearly $4 billion in their endowment is not poor.  Comparable to Northwestern

#5. Texas Christian – #4 in the Southwest – Committed to the Big East and then decommitted for the Big 12, the Horned Frogs are essentially replacing the Aggies as they move on to the SEC. They meet all the requirements of the Rules for Expansion and bring a lot to the table. As #97 ranked university in the US, they admit just 65% of applicants and have an endowment of over $1.3 billion. They have a small student population but the #3 media market.  This is the biggest “football” name in Texas that is a non-AQ.   Comparable to SMU and Colorado

#6. BYU  – #5 in the Southwest –  The Cougars are tough to quantify.  Provo is a small town and the Cougars recruit from all over the country via their Mormon pipeline.  Their endowment is solid at $880M but getting any information to try and get a conference value is tough.  In spite of their #6 national ranking, I do not see any conference pulling BYU into their system.

#7. Florida International – #2 in the Southeast – I do not like the name branding of FIU.  Maybe it is because I am on the west coast, but it is a name in collegiate sports that I simply do not hear about at all.  They offer a big student and alumni population, solid academics and a big media market.    There are already too many AQ schools from Florida and UCF would be next in line in the state.

#8. Temple – #2 in the East – Temple would make a lot of sense for the Big East.  They are losing Pittsburgh and the Owls would be a huge media market and academic replacement.  They just are not too good in football with a #88 recruiting rank.  I expect that the Big East will recruit the Owls very hard to join their conference.

#9. San Diego State – #1  in the West – Big media market in the heart of Southern California.  But with USC and UCLA already in place, their only hope is for the Big 12 to take an interest in them.  The Aztecs have a solid sports program in football and basketball.  SDSU has a large alumni base and student population but they offer little in academics or endowment funding.
#10. Tulsa – #6 in the Southwest

#11. Fresno State – #2 in the West

Iowa State marks our AQ Mendoza line for non-AQ consideration.  Only Kansas State is under Iowa State in this ranking matrix.  While many will try to justify their team being considered for an AQ conference invite due to K State’s current top 25 status, it is not all about football in every conference.  Plus KSU is already in and will go where Oklahoma or Texas is willing to take them.  The rest of the teams are, in my opinion of comparing them to the lower end AQ and upper non-AQs, way down the waiting list for consideration.

#12. Memphis – #4 in the Southwest – I know the Tigers are on a huge losing streak in football, but the numbers show that they just need a good coach to be competitive.
#13. Southern Miss – #3 in the Southeast
#14. Hawaii – # 3 in the West – Talk about being in an island.  Only the PAc12 would be a viable partner in moving up and they have no reason to consider the Rainbows.
#15. Boise State – #4 in the West – If it was all about football …maybe, but Utah is already proving that handing out top 20 rankings based on a non-AQ schedule or playing one AQ team a year is not really a good measuring stick.  Once you take away the football, there is nothing to offer.  The Boise media market is ranked #113, they are geographically isolated, their academics are not ranked in the top 250 and they have just $61M in their endowment.  Compared their overall numbers to Washington State, Utah or Colorado on the matrix.  They are nowhere close to a PAC12 invite.
#16. Colorado State – #5 in the West – Their endowment, alumni base and academic ranking might get them a glance, but their media market and sports are very weak.
#17.  East Carolina – #3 in the East – #1 in our East coast fan poll but falls short and in a bad State for ACC
#18. Troy – #5 in the Southeast
#19. Central Michigan – #1 in the Midwest – Although ranked #17 it could be anything and they have little hope of ever moving up due to MSU and UM already in the state and no other conference even close georaphically.
#20. Marshall – #4 in the East
#21. Louisiana Tech – #6 in the Southeast
#22. Toledo – #2 Midwest team in Big Ten country
#23-#25 – Air Force, Navy and Army – I am listing these schools as they have been tossed around by the Big East and the media, but I do not understand why.  They must have a very large alumni base and media market that supports them.  It can’t be too big as they are only on TV when they are playing Notre Dame or another elite football program.


Explaining the non-AQ Matrix Chart – The goal for each school in this Matrix is the fewest points. Each team starts with their 4 year national recruiting rank as calculated by the CFBMatrix. This number, plus a scheduling power variable, accounts for nearly 80% of the outcomes of all FBS games. Each team is then ranked on student/alumni population, media market ranking, university ranking, admissions and endowment funding. Each ranking is added together to form the total points column.  The lower the points, the higher the ranking.  In a nutshell, this decision matrix considers football power, revenue potential from TV and fans as well as academic/cash strength from each school.

*U.S. News and World Report University Rankings and Statistics

** Nielsen Media Market Ratings


10 Responses to Expansion Part III – Breaking down non-AQ schools

  1. BSU says:

    You really are idiotic. You know nothing about BSU football. Look at the history of BSU and what it has done…in less time, than any other program or university in your list!

    You are an idiot!

    Oh…And you are actually posting infomration like it is yours…when you actually stole half of this information from many other sites. Can you say Plagiarism?

    • cfbmatrix says:

      Clearly football success is the only driver of the decision paradigm for conference expansion. Your logic and argument provides all readers with an understanding of why Colorado (49 wins in the last 9 years) was selected over Boise State (101 wins in the last 9 years) to join the PAC 12. While I do not agree with your logic, mine is not perfect either. It is merely a simplistic analysis of non-AQ critical strengths for considering a University for conference expansion. I do feel that Boise State University’s limited media market, geographic isolation, low academic ranking (compared to others) and minimal endowment are all significant strikes against their consideration for inclusion into an AQ conference.

      • HuskyInExile says:

        Yeah, dead spot on.
        The Boise State guys may not like it, and it may not be fair, but there is a LOT more to expansion than just success on the field, starting with $$$ and media market (an indirect $$$ driver).

        >>> Ask BYU!

        They’ve been a football power for years, yet the Pac conf won’t give them the time of day.

  2. HuskyInExile says:

    Excellent analysis!
    I suspect the actual decisions are being made using a little data, and a lot more focus on dollar numbers (attendance, sports program budget), media market, and the fuzzy views of University Presidents on the academic ‘reputation’ of applicants. That last may not matter much in the SEC, but the Pac-12 & Big Ten take that very seriously.

    In any case you have conducted great research, and provided food for thought.
    I know the Boise State boosters won’t want to have their bubble burst, but despite their one sport recent success they are not at all attractive for expansion; They’re too far from the Big Ten or SEC, have a tiny budget and media market, and whether it’s fair or not the Pac does not respect their academic reputation.

    Cal & Stanford are still bent out of shape that WSU and OSU never lived up to their understanding that those schools would substantially increase spending on academic programs and research; they are the only non AAU schools from the original Pac-8, and there was great angst over Utah’s non AAU status in the most recent expansion.

    Best Regards,

  3. Dar says:

    BYU may not be in SLC, but they move the needle there more than the University of Utah. Saying “BYU is not Utah (SLC market)” misunderstands the reality of the situation. BYU is better covered on SLC TV and sports talk radio than Utah because it generates higher ratings.
    This is what I don’t understand about the TV aspect of conference expansion. The reality of who actually owns a TV market seems of less concern that mere geography. TCU is said to bring the DFW market, but in reality that market is completely driven by UT and A&M. BYU brings the SLC market, a bigger share of the Las Vegas market than UNLV, and also a strong presence in southern California. However, I never see this being mentioned in expansion discussions.

    • cfbmatrix says:

      I could not find any information on Nielsen, wikipedia, etc that sourced the media market for BYU. It is certainly a unique and scattered market beyond Prove and SLC. The difficulty is how do you rank it or factor it into a model. Al that being said, BYU is still ranked high in the charts for non-AQs in spite of a lack of available information on the school.

  4. JB says:

    USC and UCLA have nothing to do with the San Diego Market. Different TV markets, etc.

  5. Ray says:

    SDSU has a large alumni base and student population but they offer little in academics or endowment funding.

    You need to do some homework on SDSU academics. Way off the mark on that statement.

    • cfbmatrix says:

      Everyone has a different view on their own school. In terms of SDSU’s rank versus other schools, it is not comparable. Sure, SDSU may have just admitted it’s highest freshman class GPA in it’s history, but that does not move it up the university rankings.

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