How conference realignment affected the MAC

Dave Reginek

East coast teams came and went, and major conference schools joined up in non-revenue sports. In all, the MAC actually got stronger.

Jason Kirk wrote a damage report for college football realignment on the heels of the ACC making some agreement with their schools that they won't leave each other so long as they continue to make money hand over fist. Apparently the ACC was a hotbed for football conference trafficking, but it also puts rumors to bed that Duke will join the MAC as a basketball-only school — rumors that I started, just now.

And really drink in all those changes. It's like the World of Ruin from Final Fantasy VI. Completely different from the world we knew: livable, but it's going to take some time to find our bearings.

So how did this wacky period in sports history affect the MAC? Hardly at all, but let us list the ways:

1. We gained Temple football.

This was a slight precursor to the realignment clusterfracas, but as the Owls were evicted for the Big East for lack of competitiveness, they rolled into the MAC in 2007 a geographical (and competitive) outlier, then on the mystical wings of Al Golden, jumped all the way up the standings into no better than second place!

2. We gained UMass football.

When they jumped up from the Football Championship Subdivision last year, they were destined to be the 14th team and possible geographical rival for Temple. Finally, someone on the East coast for them! And then...

3. We lost Temple football.

Like a magical rainbow, it was gone before we knew it. It was clear they never wanted to stay a MAC member forever, and for some, the feeling was mutual. Thanks for the six million dollars. Enjoy the Big East, or wherever your realignment travels will take you!

3a. Bowling Green changed divisions for, like, a month.

That was neat. On the bright side, we avoided a confusing duality wherein Bowling Green would exist in both the MAC East and the MAC West.

4. West Virginia joined as a men's soccer affiliate.

When the Mountaineers departed to the Big 12, this left their competitive soccer team in an itinerant state, since the Big 12 doesn't sponsor men's soccer. The MAC ain't all that bad, mostly because of Akron, and it was a geographical fit, although this now made MAC men's soccer an eight-team conference with three affiliates (West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Hartwick), all strewn about the eastern seaboard.

5. Missouri, Old Dominion and Northern Iowa joined as wrestling affiliates.

SEC doesn't have wrestling, so not unlike the 'Eers, Missouri joined up with the next closest conference, which also happened to be more competitive than advertised. Central Michigan and Kent State are both strong teams. Northern Iowa just wanted to stay more competitive so they departed the Western Wrestling Conference. Old Dominion is leaving the CAA for Conference USA starting next year, and they have no wrestling affiliation either.

6. The Big Ten will probably limit their intake of MAC nonconference games.

This wouldn't have happened if they didn't balloon from 11 to 14 teams. It seems highly likely they'll go to a nine-conference game schedule, effectively removing one "easy" game a year from their schedule, which usually means their MAC game. But this is all probably a precursor to a 13-game schedule anyway, because once you go MAC you never go back. And we love these games, not only because they pay good money, but for every ten or so games that finish 35-7 in favor of Goliath, two of them are nail-biters that scare huge teams, and one of them is an actual MAC win.

7. The MAC hockey schools are now separated.

This one's probably the worst. It's not all the Big Ten's fault, but Penn State's hockey team started it so we'll go with that theory. When the Big Ten formed their own hockey conference, coupled with a new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, that pretty much ripped apart the CCHA. As the dust settled, Miami and Western Michigan were inducted into the new NCHC, with Bowling Green moving to an overhauled Western Collegiate Hockey Association. UMass remains unfazed and remains in Hockey East.

This may not be the end of realignment — count me in the camp of those who think UMass goes somewhere else in a few years — but if nothing else, we can build an arbitrary endpoint into history to at least breathe and reflect that, while conferences were created and destroyed, this one not only weathered the storm but added more than they lost. And that ain't bad.

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