The MAC teams come across their fans in different ways. Many of us are alumni of our fellow MAC school. Some of us grew up with MAC parents or MAC siblings or maybe you grew up near one of the campuses (campii?). And then there are those who just love the weekday MACtion games that never seem to disappoint.
However you came about as a MAC fan, you know the MAC will always live in the shadow of the Big Ten and the other BCS conferences in the national media. There will always be the Kirk Herbstreit's of the world criticizing the MAC's success saying a bowl game is undeserved or the Selection Sundays that will come and go with another disappointment. The truth is that is one of the best qualities of this conference. The underdog story and the "us vs. them" mentality may be a cliché throughout all sports but that is what makes the MAC so lovable and fun to root for. The weekday football games with video game scores and the Cinderella Sweet 16 runs are what every college sports fan wants to see. The MAC was built for the diehards and the hardcore fans looking for more than just the recycled SEC and Big Ten stories on ESPN.
While we all love the MAC and our respective teams, can we also root for the BCS conference teams and the national championship contenders? With the exception of Buffalo and UMass, all of the MAC schools reside in Big Ten country and many of us grew up a fan of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, etc. When you enroll at a MAC school, do you say goodbye to your favorite team you grew up with and pledge full allegiance to your school? This has been a more debated topic than the pronunciation of GIF.
I grew up near Cleveland, Ohio as the son of two Kent State grads. Nonetheless, I was raised as an Ohio State fan and fell in love with the Scarlet and Gray at an early age. It wasn't until I was 18 and
signed a letter of intent to play basketball decided to enroll at Akron that I became a fan of the Zips. While the Buckeyes and Zips can usually exist in separate universes in their respective conferences, I was about two weeks into my college career when the Zips first traveled to the Horseshoe in Columbus. The Buckeyes were coming off an embarrassing national title game loss to the Florida Gators the season before and I had high hopes for the Buckeyes to return to the national championship. It was not a tough decision for me at the time and it was obvious to me to root for the Buckeyes. A loss to the Zips would seal their championship dreams in only their third game of season. The week of the game, the Akron campus was covered in Ohio State jerseys which angered and confused many students. If you did not grow up as a Buckeye fan, it was hard to explain why you were openly rooting against the very school you were attending. Friends from Kent State and Ohio U. have described the same scene to me at their campuses the week they played the Buckeyes.
The game itself was an ugly one. The Buckeyes of course were huge favorites, but it was Akron who took a 2-0 lead and trailed at half 3-2. Halftime was when I started having real thoughts of "what if Akron won?" The initial thought was that the Buckeyes' dreams of a championship would be shattered, but I also thought of what the campus (parties) would be like and how awesome it would be for ESPN to talking about Akron around the clock. Those thoughts were washed away quickly and the Buckeyes went on to win 20-2 and did indeed play in the national championship game that season. After that game, I realized I would be both an Akron fan and an Ohio State fan going forward and I haven't had to worry about the worlds colliding since. I still come into every football season hoping for that Ohio State national championship and more than one win from Akron. Of course, college sports are more than just football and the MAC championships in Akron basketball and the national championship in Akron soccer will be more memorable than anything Ohio State does in my lifetime.
While it seems like you'd be torn during a meeting of your two favorite teams, it's more of a win-win situation than a lose-lose. Either your big conference team's championship dreams are alive or your MAC team pulls off a huge upset that you will remember forever. So try to enjoy yourself this fall or next with a B1G-MAC matchup.