The Mid-American Conference holds the title as the most stable league in college football. All 12 of its current members have resided in the league since the 1990s, and after news dropped Wednesday evening, stability will remain the way of the future.
After expansion scenarios involving Conference USA members WKU and Middle Tennessee gained initial steam, the MAC decided to maintain its current 12-team structure.
“Following analysis and evaluation by the membership, it has been determined our best interests are served in the Conference remaining at 12 full member institutions,” Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a press release Wednesday evening. “For some time we have been examining the FBS landscape, and certainly our discussions have been more focused over the past several months as our conference was contacted by other institutions. While a number of institutions have expressed interest, we never requested any institution to apply for membership nor did we have a formal or informal vote concerning any institutions.”
WKU and Middle Tennessee would have operated as the southernmost teams in the conference, distanced by over four hours on the road from any current MAC institution, as most of the current membership is situated in the “Rust Belt” of the Midwest.
Geography was one of several reasons Steinbrecher provided for maintaining the status quo.
“Our focus will continue to be on building upon the strengths of our conference – providing a student-centered academic and athletics experience, celebrating long-standing relationships and rivalries, and maintaining our tight geographic proximity to one another,” Steinbrecher said. “Today’s announcement is intended to end the speculation that has been occurring.”
Prior to the MAC’s announcement, Middle Tennessee withdrew from expansion dialogue by declaring its commitment to remain in Conference USA on Wednesday morning.
C-USA announced the additions of FBS independents Liberty and New Mexico State, as well as FCS programs Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State last week after losing the majority of its members to the American Athletic Conference and Sun Belt in the latest rounds of conference realignment. Middle Tennessee and WKU will remain a fixture of the new-look conference for the time being.
“With the addition of four new institutions last week, Conference USA remains a great fit for Middle Tennessee,” C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a statement. “We are very pleased that they have decided to reaffirm their commitment to C-USA as we continue to move forward as a conference. While several institutions have indicated interest in joining our league, we will use this time to be deliberate and strategic in exploring any potential additional expansion.”
WKU was reportedly still interested in joining the MAC after its rival’s decision, per Jared MacDonald of the Bowling Green (KY) Daily News, but the MAC ultimately did not extend an offer. Solely adding the Hilltoppers to the league would have manufactured the FBS’s only 13-team conference. The MAC previously featured 13 members when adding Temple from 2007 to 2011 and when adding UMass from 2012 to 2015, but both geographic outliers did not experience long tenures in the otherwise-stable conference.
The MAC announced its decision was made after dialogue among athletic directors and presidents of the 12 member institutions this afternoon.