Battle shaping up for BCS bowl between Fresno, Northern Illinois

Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois Huskies are chasing Fresno State in the BCS standings.  (USATSI)
Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois Huskies are chasing Fresno State in the BCS standings. (USATSI)

Fresno State may be ahead of Northern Illinois for an at-large BCS bowl berth. That doesn't mean it is playing in the best non-BCS conference.

In fact, the formula used to compute the revenue distribution of the four non-automatic qualifier conferences this season (MAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mountain West) may cause some consternation if NIU is left out of a BCS bowl.

The formula currently shows the MAC has the best of those leagues followed by the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Conference USA. That, despite Fresno State -- from the Mountain West -- being ahead of Northern Illinois -- from the MAC -- in the BCS standings.

That's significant with Fresno State at No. 16 in this week's BCS standings. NIU is at No. 18. If the season ended today, the Bulldogs would be in a BCS bowl. NIU, from the higher-ranked conference, would be left out.

If form holds to this point, the higher-ranked of those schools would only have to finish in the top 16 of the final BCS standings to qualify for a BCS bowl. That is, if it is ranked above the champion of a BCS league (Big Ten, Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC, SEC, American). Normally, the standard is top 12.

You can see why NIU types should be upset. It is playing in the best conference of the non-AQs, but is not the best team. This week the Huskies dropped from No. 17 to No. 18 in the BCS. Fresno remained at No. 16 but lengthened its lead from .0334 of a point to .0506.

Michigan State moved from No. 22 to No. 17 -- wedging itself between Fresno and NIU --after beating Michigan.

The four non-AQ conferences long ago agreed on a revenue ranking formula that averages the six BCS computers across the board. In the BCS standings, individual teams are evaluated through an average of two human polls (coaches', Harris) and four of the six computer indexes. The high and low of those rankings are thrown out each week.

Example: The MAC is No. 1 this week with an average rank of 80.63 of its 13 teams. The Mountain West, despite Fresno's lofty ranking, is second at 81.49. The Sun Belt is third with average rank of 83.69. Conference USA is a distant fourth at 85.62.

The numbers are not official. CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm calculated them for the purpose of this blog. Persons in each conference keep the official standings, but the order of the conferences for purposes of this blog was confirmed by a source. The conference ranking formula has been in effect for at least six years among the non-AQ leagues.

Last year, the now-defunct WAC finished No. 1 among the then-five non-AQ conferences followed by the MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference USA. The WAC benefitted from getting good seasons out of San Jose State, Utah State and Louisiana Tech.

Those schools have since landed in new homes after the death of WAC football. (San Jose State, Utah State in the Mountain West, Louisiana Tech in Conference USA.) Last season, NIU was the best individual team among the non-AQs, landing a financial windfall north of $10 million for the MAC playing in its first ever Orange Bowl.

Financial splits for individual schools are up to each conference.

Beginning next year, the five non-AQ conferences -- the American Athletic Conference drops down after losing automatic status -- will split $86.5 million in revenue from the new College Football Playoff pool. That's up from $28 million in the BCS. The Sun Belt, for one, will see a 10-fold increase in revenue, from approximately $100,000 per team to $1 million.

In January, CBSSports.com reported the details of the current and future revenue splits of the non-BCS conferences:

There will be an available annual pool of $86.5 million each season. That's the approximate equivalent of $17.2 million per non-AQ conference (beginning in 2014).

Of that amount, $60 million will be divided equally among the five. Another $20 million will be divided annually based on that ranking system. The highest-rated conference that year will get approximately $7 million. The lowest rated will get $1.5 million. That would leave approximately $6 million. If it has a team in a playoff bowl, the Mountain West has determined it will give half of that amount to its champion. The other half would be split among the conference members.

There are still discussions for conferences to be provided an additional $1.5 million each year out of the playoff pot to defer bowl game expenses (unused tickets, etc.).

• By playing in the Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois earned $28.2 million annually available for the non-BCS leagues. The biggest payday in MAC history worked out this way:

(This formula is in effect for 2013 for either Fresno State or Northern Illinois. Remember, if neither qualifies in the top 12 or top 16 there is no split.)

• In 2012, $7 million of the $28.2 million was divided between the five non-BCS conferences (Conference USA, Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and WAC).

• Another $7 million was divided into 15 “units” based on conference strength. The No. 1 rated conference (WAC) received five of 15 shares. The No. 2 conference (MAC) got four shares, etc.

• The MAC got $8 million of the remaining $14 million as the participating conference.

• The remaining $6 million was split up into those 15 units.

It's going to be an interesting race to the finish for Fresno and NIU. Here are the BCS rankings of their remaning opponents based on Palm's BCS calculations.

Fresno State

Wyoming, 96th in the BCS

New Mexico, 112th

San Jose State, 60th

Northern Illinois

Ball State, 35th

Toledo, 44th

Western Michigan, 114th

 
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