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Bahamas Bowl Deep Dive: What can be learned from EMU-ODU?

The rest of the MAC take notice, quick success is possible

Eastern Michigan v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It’s really the stuff of video game Dynasty Mode dreams, where in short order a team goes from non-existence to prominence. Sure, on the console of your choice, it may be creating one from thin air and replacing UMass (because, UMass, right?) via Teambuilder instead of the hard work, practice, funding, and resource allocation that Old Dominion endured. And I don’t know if “prominence” in the video game version of NCAA Football is a 9-3 regular season and a Bahamas Bowl trophy, but this isn’t an XBox. This is reality.

It may not be a reality that blows the skirt up of Alabama or Clemson, but it’s the reality of a 9-win season and a bowl berth that Mid-American Conference fans would be happy to have. For comparison’s sake, only two MAC teams won 9 or more games this season and none have yet to win a bowl. So, before ODU gets dismissed as a johnny-come-lately that doesn’t warrant time or attention, perhaps MAC fans and administrators would do well to copy their map.

Instead of the body bag games for a payday, they scheduled regional games on a 2-for-1 against teams like Virginia Tech, NC State, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Their head coach sold a vision that the university bought into and financially supported. That bred loyalty and commitment and has made him value the institution over the potential dollars sure to come. Of course, a counter argument is possible that ODU’s Norfolk, VA base is a more valuable recruiting home than MAC areas, their alumni are more financially viable, and the institution is able to better support the program, and those may all be reality, but to me, even given those foundational differences if they even exist, there is knowledge to be gained from ODU’s approach.

There are certainly more than one way to skin the success cat, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that the current way of the day in the Mid-American Conference isn’t allowing long term sustainable success to happen. There are dozens of examples of a one or two year successful run followed by a dip in results, coaches defecting for better money or better facilities, or institutions funding their athletic program through high dollar football losses. So it’s decision time. Do institutions value the success of the football program or do they not? You cannot want champagne on a Miller High Life budget. And don’t look now, rest of the MAC, but someone is beginning to figure that out and make the call up the road in Kalamazoo. You’ve been warned.

That’s the 50,000-foot takeaway from Friday’s Bahamas Bowl, but the short term takeaway isn’t so easy to pin down. For the conference it was another loss, their third consecutive to start the bowl season (which would grow to four after Ohio’s loss later Friday night). It’s a consistent showing and one that I’m not sure an easy answer exists for. For Eastern Michigan, the takeaway is far more positive.

The Eagles were playing with house money in this season’s bowl game. At 7-5 prior to the game, and an accelerated return to success with Chris Creighton at the helm, EMU can safely remove the label of mitten state joke from their resume. Instead of now wondering whether a coach is getting fired, whether they’ll hit the attendance threshold, or whether or not their MAC counterparts will come up with new and creative ways of alerting EMU of their place in the Mid-American pecking order, they now face a different task: how to sustain.

As with any successful program, staff retention becomes an issue. That started quickly, nearly immediately, after the Bahamas Bowl:

That’s not ideal, but par for the course for a MAC program on the way up, which is exactly where EMU finds itself.