Massachusetts leaves the MAC in 2015 after balking on becoming a full member, which leaves the MAC at an even dozen. Recently, the Sun Belt expanded to a twelfth team, adding Coastal Carolina, meaning it can play a championship game now. In the past, Commissioner Steinbrecher has stated he wants to wait for the right school to come along before considering expansion. I figured I would help him along a little bit by researching schools for him.
Let's begin, shall we?
James Madison Dukes
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
Football Stadium: Bridgeforth Stadium and Zane Showker Field (24,877)
Basketball Arena: Convocation Center (6,426)
Charles Haley's alma mater has been making a huge run since the late 1990's to become one of the top FCS schools in the nation just 42 years after the program's inception. Currently, the Dukes rank #3 in the FCS and are hosting College GameDay as we speak here right now. The basketball program isn't half bad either, as they consistently top the Colonial Athletic Association and have made recent appearances in the NCAA tournament and the CIT. The Dukes also recently invested $90 million into completely refurbishing the football stadium to FBS capacity, so surely they would be eager to jump. A third Convocation Center in the MAC could be confusing, though.
Probability: 9/10. JMU is ready to make the jump. Some realignment might have to be done, which is something the conference would have to deal with. But if the MAC does make that call, Harrisburg will be hanging #MACtion banners by the end of the night (probably).
North Dakota State Bison
Location: Fargo, ND
Football Arena: Fargodome (19,000)
Basketball Arena: Scheels Arena (6,000)
If we're talking about checking off the checklist, NDSU would definitely get all of the marks. D-I ready stadium? Check. Great football team with championship pedigree? Check. Good basketball program? Check. But there are a few issues here, mainly concerning location. North Dakota is pretty far away from the rest of the conference, with NIU 596 miles away being the nearest school to the Bison's home. Another deterrent could be the feasibility factor; would NDSU simply be too good? They've won four straight championships, and have beaten two MAC programs handily in the last ten seasons, along with good FBS programs in the Power Five. My guess is that they are awaiting the Mountain West for an invitation, if they're waiting at all. Perhaps the Bison are comfortable stomping the rest of the FCS to the ground. Which I don't blame them for.
Probability: 4/10. Facilities and programs are good, logistics might be impossible to maneuver. NDSU also seems content in the FCS.
The CFL is flooded with MAC talent
With the 2015 Canadian Football League season drawing near a close, we here at Hustle Belt examine the 37 former Mid-American Conference football players that call Canada home from May to November.
Illinois State Redbirds
Location: Normal, IL
Football Arena: Hancock Stadium (13,000+)
Basketball Arena: Redbird Arena (10,200)
The Redbirds have soared to new heights in the last three years, reaching the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, facing the NDSU Bison in the 2014 FCS Championship, narrowly losing 29-27. Both basketball teams have also been decent in Missouri Valley play. Illinois State would give a geographical rival to Northern Illinois, and allow the MAC to further impede on B1G recruiting territory. However, with a relatively small stadium and only a recent run of success, the alma mater of broadcaster Doug Collins might not be ready for a move to the FBS just yet.
Probability: 5/10. Great geographical partner if another team is brought on. Decent facilities, but is a move feasible at this time? Probably not.
Indiana State Sycamores
Location: Terre Haute, IN
Football Arena: Indiana Memorial Stadium (12, 764)
Basketball Arena: Hulman Center (10,200)
The place that created Larry Bird is next on the list, and not just because of Larry Bird. The Sycamores are a great geographical (and historic) rival for Ball State, and could bring balance to the West (a la Illinois State from before) if another, more Eastern-oriented team was also brought in to make the number of full members to fourteen. The Sycamores beat their rival Ball State last year at Muncie on the way to an 8-6 record last season, losing in the second round of the playoffs to Chattanooga. Their basketball program is tradition-laden, being the oldest in the NCAA, and is a consistent power in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Sycamores are also considering the construction of a new stadium, which could work out well in terms of FBS expansion.
Probability: 7/10. Everything is there for the jump, but are the Sycamores willing to jump if the MAC comes calling?
Northern Iowa Panthers
Location: Cedar Falls, IA
Football Arena: UNI-Dome (16, 324)
Basketball Arena: McLaren Center (7,000+)
Northern Iowa is already a MAC affiliate in wrestling; why not offer them a spot at the full member table? The Panthers have a ready-made stadiums in the UNI-Dome that will soon undertake renovations for football, and the McLeod Center for basketball. The team is a consistent competitor in all sports in the Missouri Valley Conference, and though a bit far from the rest of the MAC, is certainly a better option for a Western team than NDSU.
Probability: 7/10. It could very well happen, since the facilities are getting modernized and the teams both have recent strings of success over the last ten years. Already being an affiliate member in wrestling certainly boosts their resume.
Army West Point Black Knights
Location: West Point, NY
Football Stadium: Michie Stadium (40,000)
Basketball Arena: Christl Arena (5,043)
Out of all the candidates, Army West Point is easily the most mobile, as they are already at the FBS level in football as an independent. (In all other sports, Army West Point is in the Patroit League.) The facilities are there for the leap to the MAC, and if a move happened, it would take effect in just one season, as opposed to two or three. Army West Point would provide a geographical rival to Buffalo and clamp down on the New York media markets, while providing a competitive team for the rest of the MAC. Army West Point could certainly benefit from the MAC's bowl ties, as well.
Probability: 6/10. Army West Point can pack a bag overnight and has ready facilities. However, they have also gone down the conference-alignment road before, and was left orphaned. Perhaps their breakup with C*USA will make them think twice.
Youngstown State Penguins
Location: Youngstown, OH
Football Stadium: Arnold D. Stambaugh Stadium (aka "The Ice Castle") (20,630)
Basketball Arena: Beeghley Center (6,300)
YSU and the MAC have been linked together before, and for good reason. YSU is right in the geographic center of the conference and has fantastic football and basketball programs in the tough Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Horizon League, respectively. It also attracts world-class talent in its executive positions, with former Ohio State legend Jim Tressel the current AD, and the inspiration behind @FauxPelini Bo Pelini the current head coach of the Penguins in football. However, a transition from the Horizon League to the MAC would be considered a downgrade for YSU, and the MAC does not want to deal with "affiliate members" again (see UMass, Temple, Marshall, UCF, etc.)
Probability: 5/10. The sides have flirted before, and it would be a perfect fit. But, at best, it is a pipe dream at the current.
Location: Lynchburg, VA
Football Stadium: Arthur Williams Stadium (aka "The Bill") (15,000)
Basketball Arena: Vines Arena (8,085)
Our final candidate for expansion is the upstart Liberty Flames. The second youngest school in the FCS, Liberty has been dominant in the Big South Conference in pretty much all of its sports, winning the Sasser Cup (best athletic institution in the Big South) 10 times since the institution's inception in 1972. The Flames recently made noise as being the second team with a losing record to ever make the NCAA tournament back in 2013. Former Buffalo coach Turner Gill has made the Flames a legit football team, and has helped continue the Flames' dominance of the Big South, which they have won outright or as a co-champ since 2007. Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. also announced a major expansion project for both the football and basketball stadiums, increasing their capacities to FBS standards, with The Bill going from 12,000 to 30,000 and the Vines Center from 8.085 to 11,000.
Probability: 8/10. This would make perfect sense if JMU were to be brought in as well, or if a different institution were brought in for the MAC West. However, Liberty has a notorious reputation and there is speculation of suing the NCAA on the basis of discrimination. Commissioner Steinbrecher is not one for problem programs.