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What’s next for Buffalo Athletics and the Mid-American Conference?

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Buffalo’s weight-cutting not only affects its student athletes, but might also play tricks on the conference.

Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo Bulls
Kaleb Carter

In case you haven’t heard yet, Buffalo is set to cut four varsity sports effective the end of the spring 2017 season.

The sports affected are men’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, baseball and women’s rowing. Baseball is currently in season for the Bulls, who suddenly find themselves in the awkward position of playing their final season.

The school cited financial concerns in its releases, with an FAQ page estimating about $2 million in savings, but many questions remain regarding the athletic department and why now.

Buffalo has one of the the largest endowments at the FBS level, bringing in $619 million, nearly $70 million more than Ohio, which is second in the conference, but has cut its athletics department to 16 programs, the bare minimum for FBS status.

Buffalo announced a master plan for its athletic facilities on Feb. 13, 2014, with the aim of $50 million in upgrades, including a $16 million indoor athletic facility, $6 million of which would have to be fundraised.

Buffalo is just one of three MAC schools without such a facility and the only school to currently not be constructing one.

The university is set to re-evaluate its budget for 2017-2018 and athletics could face even more cuts that the athletic department already volunteered to go through. Per current numbers, athletics spends $31 million, with $7.53 million (or, 25 percent) of that going towards football.

The cuts are expected to save $2 million, but the cuts will not be reinvested directly in any other sports, instead going back to the university to plug in where it pleases.

This once again presents many problems, as the fieldhouse has not met its fundrasing goal over three years after the project was announced. Other athletic upgrades are also probably affected as a result of uncertainty surrounding the fieldhouse.

Fundraising efforts probably won’t helped by the university’s clumsy execution of the announcement; per Bull Run, players and coaches found out around the same time the news was released to the media. Newly-hired soccer coach Dave Carmichael, who took the job in January, was also apparently not aware of Buffalo’s plans.

(That’s before mentioning that whole fiasco with the school’s branding and a total regime change that could be partially to blame for Buffalo’s current status.)

The rumor will probably be out there that Buffalo is seeking to move conferences or drop down to FCS-level athletics. That wouldn’t necessarily be unprecedented; Idaho recently made that decision with its athletics department, joining the Big Sky Conference starting in 2018.

The reality of that, however, is rather slim. UB officials made it clear that the moves were made to be competitive and on par with its MAC peers, and perhaps the narrowing of the budget will help UB be more realistic about its competitive expectations.

Not to mention, it could be a bad move financially.

The sky in the pie dream scenario for Buffalo could be an invitation to The American Conference as a full-member, but in all likelihood, such a jump would only happen if EXPANSIONPALOOZA 2: THE RECKONING happened, and even then, their bid would be on the outside fringes. One only has to look at the NIU bid for the Big XII from last year to see that in action.

Buffalo staying in the MAC is a relief, for obvious reasons, but it could also prove to be a bit tricky for conference officials.

The drop of men’s soccer in particular leaves the MAC in a bad place for the near future. Men’s soccer is an optional sport for conference membership and currently only has six member institutions (Akron, BGSU, Buffalo, NIU, WMU and West Virginia), the bare minimum for an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. Hartwick was a former member, but recently moved to the Sun Belt Confernece.

Losing Buffalo means the MAC has to find at least one new member within two years. Otherwise, they lose that auto-bid, which directly impacts Akron’s soccer program, considered one of the best in the country.

In baseball, Buffalo presents the problem of uneven divisions. Akron cut its baseball program last season due to financial woes, which already left the MAC East with one less team than the West. Buffalo’s departure will likely mean the MAC will either have to re-make its divisions or scrap them altogether in order to make it work.

Short-term, this should work out for the conference. Men’s soccer isn’t much of a priority outside of Akron and baseball is no longer a requirement for member institutions, so a change to no divisions wouldn’t really hurt matters.

Over the long-term, however, Buffalo’s move could have unforeseen ramifications, especially if UB can’t get going on its master plan. The MAC, above all, has to watch for its own interests and if it thinks something is wrong, it may have to cut the rope.

That isn’t to suggest the MAC would do such a thing; cutting Buffalo would require a restructuring of the conference, amongst other things. But the option is always there, whether directly or indirectly. The spectre of expansion is always looming and programs such as NIU and Buffalo would be silly to not consider the landscape.

Regardless, an eye should be kept on our neighbors in the Northeast, as this could be not only be a sign of shifting priority for Buffalo, but also a sign of things to come for other members of the conference.