One of the prevailing themes that endears me to MAC sports is that it's not big-time college athletics. As we've seen with the fallout from Jim Tressel at Ohio State, the revoked national championship with USC, and the scads of other violations in the past 10 years, with big-time college athletics comes a price. There's almost a half-life to the unparalleled success that some schools enjoy
That's not to say the MAC is pure. (Don't make me bring up the Toledo point-shaving scandal again.) But in the past decade, the largest violation happened in Muncie. Ball State lost football scholarships for a couple years because they misappropriated financial aid money for textbooks. I'm sure the other 11 schools have had their own share of violations.
What kind of system works when everyone's breaking the rules?
The NCAA needs major retooling – perhaps to the point that it needs to stop sponsoring college football altogether – but for now, there remains a happy medium with high-quality football in the MAC, with mere scant traces of NCAA violations.
Oftentimes we refer to the Big Ten as the MAC's bigger brother. I can't argue with this. The Big Ten is larger in every metric except total number of football teams. More wins, more fans, more money, more rankings, more accolades, and consequently more investigative stories written about them. When a school like Ohio State has a Pen of Damocles hanging over their program, I can foresee two after-effects:
1. Current and prospective campus athletes will consider transferring.
2. Over time, campus athletes from other larger schools may transfer as well.
And most of these will still try to hang onto a larger school, because bigger is better. But let's not factor out homesickness. A lot of these Ohio kids may not want to go all the way to the West coast. They'll want to stay near home with their family and old high school friends. There are six MAC schools in Ohio, three more in Michigan, and one each in Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. Except for that last state, there's Big Ten presence in each of those.
You're going to have your destined NFL first-round picks migrate to other larger schools to the west, south, and midwest, but certainly there are some true student-athletes who just want a place to play. It'd be foolish to convince ourselves that a DeVier Posey would find himself playing for Miami, for example. But any of these three-star athletes may be pleasantly surprised to find that any other mid-major school's football field is the same length, with goalposts and down markers and everything. They might even know that nine MAC players helped the Packers win a Super Bowl this year.
Or maybe this changes nothing, and the only big schools at risk are those who cheat poorly and/or win seven games a year. Which is the same thing. Even in this event, the less glamarous, equally-entertaining option is still right there, off the beaten path, and only less prone to breaking the rules.