[ed: Bumping to the front. Some outside-the-box ideas here. —Sussman]
These past six months have been an exciting time in college football. Conference re-alignment has captured the attention of Big Six fans and Big Six hopefuls. The season seems to have put the talks on hold for now but all indications point to more changes. What is the best outcome for the MAC after the dust has settled? With six WAC teams hung out to dry, rumblings in the East over expansion, and several 1-AA schools looking to move up this could could be a great opportunity for the MAC to reshuffle the deck. As an Ohio University student I'm pretty interested in possible moves that could change the face of the conference.Expansion in the MAC should serve three purposes:
1. Cement itself above the WAC and Sun Belt in football
2. Transition into a consistent two-bid basketball conference
3. Improve its academic/ state profile
Step 1: Eastern Michigan is Out (Self explanatory for followers of the MAC)
Step 2: Go South
Searching for teams south of Ohio serves all three purposes of MAC expansion. Coercing Sun Belt teams Western Kentucky and Mid Tennessee to join the MAC reduces their football league to seven. Even in the event of a total WAC collapse where La Tech joins up with the Sun Belt, an 8 team Sun Belt just doesn't seem strong enough to out pace a 16 team MAC.
Western Kentucky University has a strong mid-major basketball program. The have a top 10 mid-major college basketball home environment. They have three NCAA tournament wins in the last three years. The Hilltoppers are the worst team in college football but when you consider the addition of the state of Kentucky to the MAC, and their Tier 1 University academic status, it's a plus for the MAC.
Middle Tennessee State University is also a Tier 1 University. They bring the state of Tennessee into the MAC. Almost instantly, the Blue Raiders would compete in the top half of the MAC for football (Bowl Winners in '09). A consistent 16-19 win men's basketball program helps with the stability of the MAC for basketball. When you consider how critical they are to the demise of the Sun Belt, they are a must.
Appalachian State University is the number three up-and-coming university in the south according to U.S. News. As 1-AA powers they have developed a following. While their competitiveness in the MAC will be uncharted, the addition of North Carolina as the ninth MAC state is more than enticing. 24-13 last year in the Southern for basketball shows that a bump up to the MAC could help this program blossom. The university has just released a statement regarding their interest in going D1. Let's make it happen.
Step 3: Put Up or Shut Up Temple
Temple is not a lock to join the Big East in the event of their expansion. As a suitor of their men's basketball program the MAC needs to remind them of their troubled past with the private powers of college basketball. The MAC needs to express their commitment to a two-bid conference and remind Temple who was there in the Owls darkest hour. Posting an ultimatum to Temple might lead the university to fully commit to the MAC that has a plan instead of waiting for an invitation from someone else operating in the unknown.
Step 4: Marshall/ 1-AA
The final step is not mandatory. If Temple doesn't add basketball and possibly even removes football it still would leave a balanced league without Marshall (14-team league). Herd fans don't want to come back to the same old MAC. I'm assuming their administration feels the same. But the new MAC, the one described above, might entice Marshall with the prospects of competitiveness in both basketball and football. The Herd would be a top third team in both sports. They have a great fan base and the closer away games would give their fans an opportunity to travel. Not to mention this adds West Virginia back into the MAC. That makes 10 states with MAC schools; that's just amazing for a mid-major conference. Half the U.S. population would have a relative that went/goes to a MAC school (slight exaggeration). The MAC could also look to add other 1-AA powers in the region to boost the conferences identity. To the west, Missouri Valley school Illinois State would add to conference's basketball strength while taking a hit with football. To the east, 1-AA football powers James Madison or even Delaware might be worth the risk in the name of expanding the MAC's footprint.
After everything is said and done the MAC looks to shape up as a North/South Conference in this hypothetical expansion. This is just meant for discussion. I have no sources that would lead one to believe the MAC is actually pursuing these goals but throw some of your own ideas out there. We're at the dawn of a new age. The MAC cannot afford to play dead.