Remember When The MAC Was Good At Basketball?

Sports Illustrated is going through a pretty neat redesign, it seems, and it's hardly college basketball season. So it's not like all the kinks are worked out, but ... look at this. Five conferences are missing. No worries, they're all small conferences: the Big South, the Southland, the Metro Atlantic (MAAC), the Great West, and ... the MAC.

(sigh)

This really pains me. I know it's just a simple mistake, but when/whether they're rightfully added to that SI is not the point. Because this is about what the hell happened to the MAC as a basketball conference.

I guess it was never a "powerhouse," but they've had better days. In '98 and '99 the conference spat out back-to-back at-large bids: Western Michigan and Miami, respectively. Each won March Madness games, while curiously the tournament winner bowed out gracefully in the first game.

There were the great tournament runs, and memorable faces: Wally Szczerbiak and Miami in '99, Antonio Gates and Kent State in '02, Chris Kaman and CMU in '03. Then there was a long drought of one-and-done teams lasting six tournaments until OHIO somehow cold-cocked Georgetown, which as I've written has to be a perplexing aberration. Are we going to remember Armon Bassett's team fondly? Perhaps moreso than his arrest record.

It's not about the talent, either. The MAC never brings in the bestestestest players, and when they do pluck away that four-star shooting guard, odds are his dad is a head coach.

You already believe me, but let's look at some numerals. Such as the Pomeroy conference rankings since 2004:

2004: #13
2005: #11 (Marshall's last year)
2006: #16
2007: #13
2008: #12
2009: #18
2010: #16

Sagarin rating archives go back further, and keep the MAC nice and toasty in the 9 to 11 range before that.

And some non-number data, like MAC players in the NBA (draft number in parentheses)

1997
Antonio Daniels, BGSU (4)
Ira Newble, Miami (undrafted)

1998
Bonzi Wells, Ball State (11)
Casey Shaw, Toledo (37)
Derrick Dial, EMU (52)
Earl Boykins, EMU (undrafted)

1999
Wally Szczerbiak, Miami (6)

2002
Tamar Slay, Marshall (54)

2003
Chris Kaman, CMU (6)
Brandon Hunter, OHIO (56)
Keith McLeod, BGSU (undrafted)
Nate Huffman, CMU (undrafted)
Theron Smith, Ball State (undrafted)

2004
John Edwards, Kent State (undrafted)

So why the dropoff?

It seems like the MAC had been putting all their chips into becoming more of a football conference, and to that degree, they still are. They clawed for more bowl tie-ins, even if it meant hell, high water, or playing in Toronto. They added Temple. They ensured more national TV coverage. They got teams to play on Thursday, Wednesday, and Tuesday. They did all these neat things, and we all love college football, so there is no complaining here.

But in the meantime, it feels like the basketball portion has been neglected. That, or other conferences are doing it better. Since 2003 — the dropoff year we're using — the Missouri Valley became regular at-large exporter. Butler put the Horizon League on the map with a trip to the national championship game. Gonzaga — aside from being Gonzaga's bad self — and the West Coast Conference just added freaking BYU. The Southern Conference had the phenomenon of Stephen Curry; the CAA gave us George Mason's Final Four run. Even the goddamn Ivy League saw Cornell reach the Sweet 16 last year. The Ivy League! Mother of God.

It's not that I have an answer for the regression toward the mean, but it sure would be nice if the MAC could be considered a more powerful conference than the MAAC. Or even the MAAAC, should such a conference is formed out of the terra firma. But if you do see it, double-check to make sure it's not another SI.com beta bug.

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