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Examining WKU as a MAC expansion candidate with The Towel Rack

WKU to the MAC is in the works. In the meantime, we interview The Towel Rack, the king of all Hilltoppers content.

UAB v Western Kentucky Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

The stable, 12-team Mid-American Conference as we know it may not sustain much longer.

The college football landscape began dramatically shifting since the summer when Oklahoma and Texas officially were accepted as new entries into the SEC. Shortly after the massive move, a ripple effect was felt in the contracted Big 12, which replaced the Sooners and Longhorns with three American Athletic Conference programs and BYU. The AAC responded to its losses by poaching six C-USA members. Three other C-USA affiliates fled to the Sun Belt instead.

Now, the C-USA which contained 14 teams is down to five members which haven’t formally moved on to another conference. Two of those programs, WKU and Middle Tennessee, are now pegged as prime expansion candidates for the MAC.

Per breaking news reporter Brett McMurphy of The Action Network, the MAC is “likely” to add WKU and Middle Tennessee by the end of the week, pending approval of MAC presidents.

All 12 current MAC members have resided in the league since the 1990s. The conference attempted recent “expansions” by housing Temple from 2007 through 2011 and UMass from 2012 through 2015, but neither geographical outsider ever became fully acclimated to MAC membership. WKU and Middle Tennessee seek to become the next additions and the southernmost programs in a new-look MAC.

To discuss WKU’s membership specifically, we reached out to Jared Rosdeutscher (@rosdeutscher) of The Towel Rack (@TheTowelRackWKU) — which is the premier destination of all WKU Hilltoppers content on Twitter.

Steve Helwick, Hustle Belt: If you were WKU’s AD and received offers from the American Conference, the Sun Belt, and the MAC, which conference would you select for the Hilltoppers and why?

Jared Rosdeutscher, The Towel Rack: Personally, the one that I thought would make the most sense would be the AAC. Mostly because it would’ve made the most sense as far as geography as well as competition level. WKU left the Sun Belt in 2012 so I had a funny feeling they didn’t want the Hilltoppers back after that break up. The MAC intrigues me a ton. While WKU would be one of the most southern teams in the conference, competition-wise it makes a lot of sense and the TV deal would be a major upgrade from the C-USA.

Hustle Belt: The Sun Belt to C-USA transition in the mid-2010s worked wonders for WKU and the program captured two conference titles in an instant. Looking back on it, are there any regrets about leaving the Sun Belt in the first place, and how do you think WKU’s second transition in less than a decade will fare from a competition standpoint?

The Towel Rack: Moving to the C-USA at the time was definitely the right move. When WKU first joined the conference, it was still a very strong G5 conference in both football and basketball, but as the years progressed, the relevancy of the conference diminished and the TV deals got worse. I don’t think there are any regrets because most WKU fans would agree that WKU had outgrown the Sun Belt and wanted to keep moving up. I’m not sure any of us would’ve predicted the Sun Belt rising to where it currently is now after we left, especially with football.

Leaving the C-USA at this point seems necessary. Nine schools have already announced their departure to other conferences with a potential of more on the way, so going to another conference could be the lifeboat the Tops need to be saved from a sinking ship.

CUSA Championship - Southern Miss v Western Kentucky
Quarterback Brandon Doughty led the Hilltoppers to capture their first-ever C-USA title in 2015. They repeated in 2016 under the direction of QB Mike White.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Hustle Belt: Describe a typical Saturday gameday atmosphere at “The Houch” (Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium). Also, how do you think the atmosphere would look on Tuesday and Wednesday nights during midweek MACtion?

The Towel Rack: The Houch is a fun environment to be in but it isn’t perfect. Students and fans will show up and be involved, but usually only until halftime and then leave. Even when WKU set a new home attendance record against Indiana this season that was still the case. WKU still averages around 15,000-17,000 fans a year (at least before COVID happened).

As far as playing on weekdays, it is something that WKU did back in the Sun Belt days so this isn’t a completely new concept for Hilltopper fans to come to terms with. It is good as far as the students will still be on campus during the week, so having a bigger student turnout could be a possible outcome. WKU has a lot of students that live close by so if you’re able to get students to come to games before they go home on the weekends, that would be great.

Hustle Belt: Are there any MAC teams you are eyeing rivalries with? Also, does the 100 Miles of Hate rivalry with Middle Tennessee intensify into the Hilltoppers’ premier rivalry if the Blue Raiders simultaneously join the conference?

The Towel Rack: I feel like there’s still major potential for a battle of the Westerns with WKU and Western Michigan. WKU just recently had a bowl game against them in 2019 that came down to the wire so that could be a fun rivalry. Also WKU has had a great bowl history against Central Michigan as well so that would be another fun matchup.

As far as the 100 Miles of Hate, it does help WKU and Middle Tennessee by still having that rivalry continue, not just for rivalry sake, but also still having that close-to-home matchup where fans can travel easily.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 First Responder Bowl - Western Kentucky v Western Michigan
WKU kicker Cory Munson drained a clock-expiring 52-yard field goal in the 2019 First Responder Bowl to lead the Hilltoppers past Western Michigan.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hustle Belt: How do you sell WKU to the MAC? What makes the Hilltoppers a unique program and a strong fit for this stable conference?

The Towel Rack: WKU has won 33 conference championships since joining C-USA in 2014 so this is a winning program in every sport. Football-wise this is a very competitive program with one of the best offenses in the entire NCAA this season. Basketball is what WKU is known for and with the strong recruiting that head coach Rick Stansbury continues to bring to The Hill, it would definitely help men’s basketball by joining the MAC. They’ve been good but not good enough and have lost three consecutive C-USA title games, so getting to play a conference tournament in an actual basketball arena would be cool too.

Athletic director Todd Stewart is one of the best out there in my opinion and is very proud of what he and his programs have accomplished in the C-USA, but I’d love to see how WKU could grow by potentially joining the MAC.

Hustle Belt: We’d be remiss to write this much about WKU without bringing up the beloved centerpiece of the program. If the MAC invites WKU, is Big Red going to be the best mascot in the conference?

The Towel Rack: Undoubtedly, yes. Big Red would cause mass chaos within the MAC. Just don’t tell him about the Beer Garden or it won’t end well for anything within swallowing distance.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Western Kentucky at Illinois
Big Red has served as WKU’s mascot since 1979. The mascot won a 15-year legal battle against an Italian TV station in 2018.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thank you to Jared and The Towel Rack for participating in this Q&A. To see the other side of the spectrum, we responded to The Towel Rack’s questions about the MAC.