The Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers made some big news recently, renewing the Border War rivalry in basketball. That particular rivalry, long a part of Big 12 lore, had laid dormant for years due to Missouri’s move to the SEC after the latest round of expansion in college football.
It’s a big win for the pagentry of collegiate sports. With the intrensic regionality of the sport, rivalry games with states that share a state (or a border) and/or have stayed competitive over the years just have a completely different aura to them. No one gets up for say, Penn State vs. Rutgers. But Penn State and Pitt (which is a rivalry, no matter what one side says)? That is a completely different thing all together.
Casual audiences will watch games like Notre Dame/Michigan or Alabama/Auburn because those games encapsulate the majesty of sports in America. (Hell, we get up to watch Florida/Georgia every year for the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, for goodness sake.) The pagentry, the intensity, the outright excessiveness... It’s uniquely American in every way, especially when it’s wrapped up in the package that is football.
This is what makes the Kansas/Mizzou basketball series going back online so significant; it gives us hope for other long-dormant games to be renewed (looking at YOU, Texas/Texas A&M.) Since the last expansion era, college programs have simply hesitated to continue certain games, citing competitive reasons. That’s a disservice to fans and alumni both, who are deprived of getting to take part of a tradtion set back over decades of good ol’ fashioned hate and big brother/little brother bickering over bragging rights. Simply put, rivalry games are good, and help to ensure a tradition-laden sport continues to uphold its history.
So, what does this have to do with #MACtion, you ask?
Well, the reason why the return of the Border War is so intriguing is because of how the contract is set up: it’s a three-game rotating cycle. A home-home-neutral set up.
It’s a wonderful proposal to help boost the intrigue and mystery of big-ticket rivalry games, while giving fans an opportunity to see the games which mean a lot to them in new and unique venues. The possibilities, to say the least, are something which drew my interest in how it could apply if a conference fully embraced the idea and gave it a go.
How would this work, exactly? We (attempt to) explain below.
(Editor’s note: proposed schedules are hypotnetical approximations and not meant to follow real scheduling patterns which have been established already.)
The Michi-MAC Rivalry Series (Directional Michigans)
The Michigan MAC schools are perhaps the most interesting of the programs to talk about when discussing how this sort of format would work. They already compete for a shared trophy (the Michigan MAC Trophy, which could honestly use a new name), with CMU and WMU additionally battling for the Victory Cannon every season.
(Aside: isn’t it strange that EMU can’t seem to get an individual trophy game going with CMU or WMU? Feels like an oversight.)
We’ve floated this idea around before on Hustle Belt a couple years back, but I’ve taken it and modified it a bit for our purposes here: Make the Michigan MAC teams play one game every three years at Ford Field on a rotating basis.
Here’s a couple visual ideas of how it could potentially work:
Under this proposal, the Michigan MAC Trophy series would have at least one game at Ford Field per year, while ensuring the home-and-home games are still respected. It would also put the Victory Cannon Game in Detroit every three years, which is a fun little wrinkle to add to one of the MAC’s most intense rivalries.
The schedule would also ensure no team gets two home games in a given year for the other Michigan MAC games, making it a truly even series.
Battle of I-75 (Toledo and Bowing Green)
Another very fun and intense rivalry, the Battle of I-75 has lived through multiple iterations through the years (including the Peace Pipe Rivalry.) These are two programs who are very close to each other; 27 miles is all that separates the two.
Maybe a neutral field could sort out who’s really better?
There’s a couple directions you could go here. The last time we visited neutral site games, we suggested packaging the Michigan MAC games and the Battle of I-75 as part of a double-header “Legacy Series” at Ford Field on Black Friday. That would have packaged one of WMU/CMU, CMU/EMU or EMU/WMU with Toledo/Bowling Green every four seasons.
That could look something like this:
|Mt. Pleasant||Ypsilanti||Kalamazoo||Bowling Green|
|Mt. Pleasant||Ypsilanti||Kalamazoo||Bowling Green|
|Kalamazoo||Mt. Pleasant||Ypsilanti||Bowling Green|
|Kalamazoo||Mt. Pleasant||Ypsilanti||Bowling Green|
Of course, you could make it much simpler on both programs, and go with an in-state option.
One such proposal could be playing one game at MAPFRE Stadium, the current home of MLS’ Columbus Crew. It’s two hours from both schools and offers a very unique venue for fans in terms of viewlines.
MAPFRE Stadium is a fairly small stadium by conventional football standards (it comes in at a capacity of 19,968,) but it can be expanded if the crowds call for it. MAPFRE Stadium has usually done that when hosting games for the men’s and women’s national teams in the past. Schools at lower levels of college football have shown great success in selling out MLS stadiums for one-off games. Just this past week, St. Thomas and St. John’s of NCAA’s Division III played a game at Minnesota United’s Allainz Field and nearly sold it out.
MAPFRE Stadium will be reconfigured into Columbus Crew SC’s training ground in the near future, but that doesn’t mean a game couldn’t be played there. The Dallas Cowboys host youth football championships at The Star in Frisco, Texas, where the Cowboys practice.
If MAPFRE Stadium isn’t available, another option could be the new Crew Stadium, which is set to open up in 2021 in the center of downtown Columbus, with a capacity of 20,000 and a sparking mixed-use district around it. Fancy stuff.
If this were the case, the schedule would be pretty easy to figure out; just insert Columbus in every third season to allow Toledo and Bowling Green to have their home games.
The Wagon Wheel Rivalry (Akron vs. Kent State) and/or The Anniversary Award (Kent State vs. Bowling Green)
Akron and Kent State, much like Bowling Green and Toledo, are programs which aren’t separated by much distance. The two universities are separated by 17 miles, and the rivalry is so intense, that the rivalry trophy spans all sports the two schools compete in.
It could be potentially interesting to shift the rivalry game in football to a neutral field; Akron leads the series 35-27-2 all-time, making it a pretty tight game by rivalry standards. Admittedly, there aren’t plenty of options to go to when it comes to the Cleveland area in terms of neutral fields.
That said, the best option would likely be Progressive Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians. The two programs are well within driving distance to Cleveland, and Progressive Field has a max capacity of 35,041. In a football configuration, it could be reasonable to plan for a crowd of about 20,000 or so. It certainly helps the MAC is headquartered out of Cleveland, with the basketball championships played right next door at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (formerly Quicken Loans Arena [aka The Q].)
One issue would be scheduling; what would happen to the game if the Indians are in the playoff hunt? That’d likely mean for the purpose of avoiding conflict, it could be exiled to November, aka peak weeknight #MACtion. Even if it made it to a Saturday in October, it’d be very difficult to plan contingencies so far in advance.
This could also be a reasonable location for a neutral-site game for the Anniversary Award, played for by BG and Kent State, if that were so desired. In our hypothetical though, it would be difficult to pull off two rivalries in one stadium, especially since this is a protected cross-division rivalry. One solution could be to make it a double-header on a weekend, but that’d be fairly hard to pull off, all told.
The Battle of the Bricks (Ohio vs. Miami)
The Battle of the Bricks is perhaps the oldest and most traditional of the MAC rivalries. Ohio and Miami are two key institutions in the MAC, and the rivalry is so important, it’s getting the primetime treatment as a one-night, one-game option for college football’s 150th anniversary celebration. Pretty cool!
What would also be pretty cool is to give this game a neutral-site treatment to give it another level of gravitas.
Miami already has a rivalry game with out-of-conference for Cincinnatti, which is expected to have a handful of neutral-site games as part of a renewed contract. It’s reasonable to assume there could be a possibility to have a rotating neutral-site game in respects to that scheduling.
This is how that might work, based off future schedules starting in 2020:
Miami will play Cincinnatti at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Cincinnatti Bengals, which is the most logical site to host a neutral-site game in that region. It was a traditional Thanksgiving game for those two programs at one point.
That could work for Ohio and Miami as well, especially from a branding stadpoint. For a location closer to Ohio, FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns, could be a possibility as well. Fans of both programs would have to travel for that one, as it’s well north of their locations, but it would fill much the same boxes in the way of a neutral-site location, while also giving Miami fans more variety in locations of games.
Another off-the-wall idea could be to make the neutral-site game go between both stadiums. It would look like this: at Miami, at Ohio, at Cincinnatti (netural), at Miami, at Ohio, at Cleveland (neutral.)
If you really wanted to get crazy, you could toss in one more line and replace Cincy/Cleveled with Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium. (Hold on to that thought for a second.)
The Bronze Stalk Trophy (NIU/Ball State)
NIU and Ball State are the two uni-state schools in the MAC West, and share a border with one another. That makes this rivalry game especially intriguing.
Ball State has a history of neutral-site rivalry games, recently doing battle with Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, so it wouldn’t be unheard of for the Cards to extend their relationship with the stadium to the conference season.
NIU is also pretty flexible about neutral-site games in recent seasons, so these are two programs which could come up with several intriguing possibilities for neutral sites.
The most logical place could be Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. The Huskies have made use of it for a conference football game in the past, playing Toledo and winning back in 2017.
For a location closer to Ball State, the Cards could go with Lucas Oil Stadium or... Victory Field, the home of MiLB’s Indianapolis Indians.
An idea out of left field, yes, but one could certainly see the appeal of it when you strip it down to bare bones. It’s a baseball field with a capacity of about 14,000 when you include lawn and standing room seating, and it has a beautiful view of downtown Indy. You’ll have a very easy chance of selling this game out.
It’s also something Victory Field has done in the past, having hosted high school games in a football configuration. They’ve got experience doing it. Why not give it a chance?
Much like the other proposals, this would be predicated on a rotating schedule; at DeKalb, at Muncie, at Indy/Chicago (rotation every three years or an agreed-upon choice.)
The Ohio MAC school series (All Ohio schools)
For the final idea, I want to revisit MAPFRE Stadium for a second. Suspend your disbelief for a second, I know this will be a bit of a wild ride.
MAPFRE Stadium, or the new Crew Stadium downtown, would both serve as perfect venues to host a neutral-site game for any of the Ohio teams in the MAC, due to its central location within the state. So, what if the Ohio schools did something akin to our first idea with the Michigan MAC schools and scheduled one game at Columbus on a rotating basis?
Here’s what that would look like with the three major rivalry games listed:
(I tried to link up the BG/Kent State game in here, but it just didn’t work out very well.)
Realistically, I know these ideas will probably never be adopted wholesale as a change of the MAC schedule. But, who’s to say that a one-off neutral site game in-conference using this kind of logic wouldn’t be at the very least intriguing?
The MAC is a league of progression and experimentation; it’s often on the cutting edge of new innovations, leargely because it has to in order to survive the college football environment.
At the very least, putting these ideas into the void could serve to be a launchpad for future discussions. That and it’s fun to argue about the logic of such things.
If you have any suggestions or ideas on how such a thing could work out, leave them in the comments or at us on Twitter!