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Mid-American Conference to scrap divisions starting in 2024 in favor of 3-team pods

For the first time since 1996, the MAC will revert to a division-less structure, following in the footsteps of other conferences.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Mid-American Conference announced a surprising revision of its future schedules on Thursday afternoon during the press conferences for the upcoming MAC Championship Game, with league commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher revealing the MAC will scrap divisions starting in 2024.

“After significant study and discussion, our membership has made the decision to eliminate divisions in football,” Steinbrecher said via press release. “A primary goal in our discussions centered around ensuring the scheduling methodology utilized facilitated the best opportunity to put the two best teams into the championship game. The new model will protect rivalries while facilitating a more even rotation of teams through each institution’s schedule.”

The MAC has been bifurcated into divisions since 1997, coinciding with the introduction of the MAC Championship Game to decide the football title. The change to a division-less model will instead place the two best teams by conference record in the title game. This has been an ongoing trend in college football, and prior to Thursday’s announcement, the MAC was one of two conferences to feature divisions, along with the Sun Belt.

Steinbrecher also confirmed the MAC recently signed a brief extension with Ford Field in Detroit, which will serve as host to the MAC Championship Game through 2025 as the site of the first two iterations of the division-less title game.

“This is a decision that was made after study and discussion and contemplation over the course of about a year,” Steinbrecher said. “The discussion began with, ‘How should we schedule to help us get our best teams every year into the championship game?’”

The MAC’s title game has always been unique amongst its “Group of Five” peers, with the conference being the first in adapting a title game structure, playing games on campus sites from 1997 through 2003. The MAC is also unique from the AAC, CUSA, Mountain West, and Sun Belt by playing its title game at a neutral site, sending its division champions to Ford Field since 2004, which oftentimes creates some unexpected results.

For instance, four of the last five MAC champions were underdogs in Detroit and three finished the season with 8-6 records. The winner of Saturday’s Toledo vs. Miami (OH) MAC Championship Game will be the first MAC champion with 10+ wins since 2017, even though the MAC has seen two other 10-win teams in that span.

Under the new scheduling model, the 12 members of the conference will be guaranteed two conference opponents every season. Steinbrecher confirmed the four three-team pods are as follows:

  • Akron, Buffalo Kent State
  • Ball State, Miami (OH), Ohio
  • Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Toledo
  • Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan

The new scheduling structure guarantees each MAC program will see the other 11 members at least once during a three-year cycle. This is a new development for the conference as some cross-divisional matchups, such as Miami (OH) vs. Toledo, recently went over 10 years without meeting on the gridiron.

“This provides us an opportunity, one, to protect rivalries and pay some attention to geographic proximity,” Steinbrecher said. “Second, it’ll allow us to establish our schedule so that every student-athlete, if they stay four years, will have a chance to play home and away at each member institution. I’m not sure there will be any other conference that will be able to achieve that and it will be the first time we achieved that since we went to 12 teams.”

Future opponents for each MAC program are set to be released at the end of January, while the 2024 conference schedules will be issued in February.

This is a developing story, and will be updated accordingly.