In wake of the news that more conference realignment is on the horizon (thanks B one G) coupled with the announcement of the new playoff system and access bowl to the "Group of Five", it leads one wonder how does all of this affect the Mid-American Conference? The answer in short is: that when all the dust settles, the MAC may be one of the strongest and most stable conferences in the land, dangerously close to the "BCS" conferences.
The way I see it the moves by a certain
pretentious conference (which the MAC has had a fair amount of success against)has shaken the college football world. In a move that can only be described as money-driven, the Big Ten has grabbed two mid-level programs to further extend their Big Ten Network brand in the Mid-Atlantic and New York markets. On the surface, you can't blame the Big Ten too much, while neither school has a strong athletic reputation both fit the overall package that defines the conference; academic standards, steady success, and lack of NCAA snooping. Under that surface though, these moves stink of Jim Delaney acting like a child, upset that Notre Dame has joined the ACC in all non-football sports and needing the last word in the conference realignment conversation. What does all this mean? In reality we don't know yet what these moves mean, hypothetically we can infer that the dominoes will continue to fall with more schools moving to different conferences. Potentially, ultimately leading to my worst fear: superconferences comprised of 16 teams.
The Fallout. The addition of Rutgers and Maryland, along with moves made by the Big East in the last go round, point to geography bearing no weight anymore. I mean San Diego State is in a conference called the Big East and would play UConn on a regular basis. There's no good natured debate between friends in neighboring states or towns even. No natural rivalries, just manufactured ones spawned from greed. And if the superconferences were to transpire, you have essentially watered down the product. Missouri in the SEC is a good example, while the Tigers have performed better than some mainstays (Auburn, Vandy, Tennessee, UK), it is obvious that they don't belong in big boy football. This has also led to accusations that the schedules in the SEC have softened. How can the effects not be felt when conferences push towards 16 teams and potentially four divisions? And until these superconferences are achieved there will remain a constant unrest and fear of conference jumping.
We now come to how MAC football plays into these new/anticipated changes to the college football landscape. If the dominoes even slightly fall they way the experts predict them to, you are left with the MAC as the only conference representing traditional football. That's Right! The MAC! The MAC with its geographically close opponents, state schools of similar size, in similar towns, and similar fan bases. The MAC with its comfort level at 12/13 schools in football. The MAC who seems to be stepping up the competetion and putting more teams in the polls. When the dust settles after the last round of conference realignment, the MAC will be unchanged in number of schools only. Every game will still matter the same, every rivalry still highly anticipated, potential to automatically qualify for a major bowl every year is attainable, and member size big enough to provide quality competetion where every conference victory is earned, not skirted. Yes, I believe the MAC could come out the other end of the conference shuffle stronger and the most stable.
Afterword: The UMASS Situation
Scenario 1: I believe the most likely scenario is that UMASS eventually leaves the MAc with 12 teams and joins another conference during realignment within the next five years (perhaps some C-USA/Big East merger). This leaves the MAC with its original 12 teams and still in great shape from a stability and competetive standpoint.
Scenario 2: In the opposing scenario the MAC could jump on the expansion bandwagon and add a 14th member while making UMASS a full memeber. If the MAC were to do this I think the candidates should include Western Kentucky and Missouri Valley schools. Western Kentucky - geographically a little more south, but similar size and history of MAC schools. Indiana State - historical rivalry with Ball State, adds a basketball dimension, would need to upgrade stadium. Southern Illinois - good track record, long history, recent success, natural rival to N. Illinois. W. Illinois - large stadium, recent success, competed against similar non-conference opponents.