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Should the Mid-American Conference Get Rid of its Divisions?

Some are clamoring for the big boys of FBS football to drop their conferences respective divisions. Should the MAC do the same?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps no sport has undergone as much structural change in the last few years as college football has. Conferences have been shuffled around or some even blown up entirely, and the very foundation for which a champion is crowned has been radically changed. Storied rivalries have been sacrificed in order to make room for these changes that are being made in an attempt to perfect an imperfect entity.

One thing that has been getting a little more attention is how these conferences that everyone seems to care so much about are structured. The ACC did submit a report to the NCAA supporting the deregulation of conference championship games, and over at Bleacher Report, Samuel Chi took a look at why the big guns such as the SEC, ACC, and PAC-12 need to abolish the divisional format of their respective conferences. In his argument, he states that dividing up conferences ultimately results in an imbalance, leading to a championship game that doesn't truly pit the two best teams against each other.

His assertion doesn't come without validity. There have been a few examples of this in recent memory: the 2011 SEC Championship Game pitted 19th-ranked Georgia against second-ranked LSU, even though two top-five teams were behind LSU in the Western Division standings (Alabama and Arkansas); the year before was even worse, with a whopping five teams from the West ranked ahead of the Eastern Division-champion South Carolina Gamecocks. And that's just one conference.

Since you're here reading this, I know the one question going through your head: should the MAC get rid of its divisions?

As it stands right now for football, the MAC is comprised of 13 teams with an East and West division (which feature seven and six teams, respectively). After the 2015 season, MAC East member Massachusetts will be leaving the conference, thus balancing out the divisions to six teams apiece.

Competitively, the West is a little bit ahead of the East. Looking at the last five years, the West has a total win percentage of .497, with a .550 mark in conference play. It has also featured the MAC's two ranked teams during that span: 2009's Central Michigan squad and 2012's Northern Illinois team lead by Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch (it should be noted that I only counted teams that were ranked at season's end). The East, on the other hand, sported just a .416 win percentage during that same time span, and only earned a minor bump during MAC play to .457. The fact that the East had seven teams with just one win or fewer compared to the West's two did the division no favors.

MAC Divisional Breakdown (2009-2013) East
30-53 (25-31)*
38-37 (27-21)
38-50 (25-31)
43-34 (27-21)*
37-50 (23-33)
42-34 (29-19)*
36-51 (25-31)*
34-41 (27-21)
39-49 (30-26)
31-44 (22-26)*

(* indicates season in which a team from that division won the MAC Championship Game)

Looking at those numbers seems to support Chi's argument, right? But if you look a little bit further, the disparity isn't as bad as it seems. Of the five MAC Championships awarded during the aforementioned time frame, the West took home three to the East's two. Also, the East's numbers were dragged down a big by the presence of UMass these last two years. The Minutemen's transition from FCS began in 2012, an extremely difficult adjustment for any football program to make. That might explain why they've gone 2-22 in their first two years at college football's highest level. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the MAC's divisional fairness is that, in each of the last five championship games, the two teams with the best record have played against each other.

So, really, the divisions in the MAC haven't hindered its conference championship game at all. Sure, when measured right next to each other the West looks a little better, but the biggest potential issue (a championship game that doesn't pit the two best teams against each other) hasn't surfaced as of yet.

An interesting wrinkle that would only affect the MAC would be how this decision would affect its basketball schedule. It's one of only three conferences in all of Division I basketball to still have a divisional setup (a note that Chi mentions as well), and it's the only FBS conference to do so. The "issue", though, may already be rendered moot; the MAC basketball tournament changed back in 2012 to seed teams regardless of division (though technically a division winner can receive a seed no lower than four, this would mean the top four teams would have to come from the same division for this to have any real effect on seeding, something that is unlikely to happen). It can be argued that the divisional setup in MAC basketball is a vestigial remnant of the past, making a decision to unite both divisions inconsequential should it happen.

So, would the MAC be best served to eliminate its divisions and roll with a 12-team deregulated conference? In my opinion, they should. Sure, we haven't had a season in recent years with a championship game marred by lopsided divisions, but why risk it? It's an unnecessary risk and a controversy waiting to happen. In the ever-changing world of college football, this is a change that everyone should get behind.