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Football Sunday: Erasing divisions makes for better schedules, championship games

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Two guaranteed opponents every year, rotate the rest of the nine in three groups o' three. It's practical.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, we had four teams in the West finish with 6-2 in-conference records, and the one with the most amount of wins was duped out of the conference title game. In 2007, we had three teams in the East go 4-2 against the rest of the division. 2005, Akron won a 3-way tie at 5-3 over Ball State and Bowling Green and Northern Illinois over Toledo at 6-2 to be East and West champions. There were four teams in the East that went 5-3 in MAC play in 2000, but it was Byron Leftwich and the Championship Game-hosting Thundering Herd that played (and won) the title instead of a 6-1 Toledo team getting a shot.

SB Nation’s usual suspects recently poked some fun with football divisions. In a limited window to play in-conference opponents, sometimes you go a long time before seeing a crossover school for a second time.

Think about what divisions do for us. It forces teams to compete with a strict pool of schools every year, and there’s hardly any time left over to see other teams from the other side’s. The best in both divisions get to play in the championship game.

We talked about it in our most recent episode of Tuesday Night Lights, Brandon and I talked about the division-erasing operation that’s been going on with the mothership and brought it to the MAC. Without writing down how it’d look, we both agreed that erasing the East & West divider would make sense for the conference.

The way SB Nation has theirs set up with 12-team conferences makes sense. You play eight teams in conference play; make three of those guaranteed opponents every year, then the rest are rotated every year. For example, Alabama’s three guaranteed opponents are Auburn, LSU and Tennessee, then they’d play Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi State and Texas A&M on even-numbered years, then swap those five with Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt on odd years.

Okay, maybe that works for the MAC too. 12 teams, so let’s see what we come up with. First things first, it’s time to take care of the rivalry games.

May I have conferences that lack a lot of rivalry games for $200, Alex?

Rival 1 Rival 2 Rival 3
Akron Kent State
Ball State NIU
BGSU Toledo
Buffalo ?
CMU EMU WMU
EMU CMU WMU
Kent State Akron
Miami Ohio
NIU Ball State
Ohio Miami
Toledo BGSU
WMU CMU EMU

Outside of the Michigan MAC, there's only four rivalry games worth talking about; no pun intended but Buffalo is left out in the cold without anybody to truly call a rival. Don't take it from me, Bull Run noted this back in February:

A strong schedule should have both an in-conference rival and an out-of-conference rival. UB lacks both.

There's the Battle for the Peace Pipe of I-75, Bronze Stalk, Battle of the Bricks, Wagon Wheel, Michigan MAC and the Cannon between CMU & WMU*, but there's nothing else outside of that. Sure, intra-divisional are able to string up great games, but when you're relying more on near-future hype than deeply rooted disgust, it's not a rivalry -- just a good game.

So no, we can't promise three with that method. How about two? It's a fair compromise, and it makes this rendition of rotational scheduling seem practical and could enhance the fans' experience. Plus, I have to play the hand I'm dealt here. Instead of having multiple rivalries to play with, I'd have to see what makes enough sense to force an annual matchup without forcing a rivalry too much.

Going to two also opens up the rotation from five to six. With two teams promised every year already, there are nine other opponents to face in the conference. Split the nine into three groups of three, you'd just start with promising 'Group A' two years against Team, 'Group B' one year, then 'Group C' begins two years starting next year, replacing 'Group B'. It's easier to explain what I mean on a table.

Here's what I have written down for Eastern Michigan. I'm not displaying these match-ups in order or grouped with any strategy. 'Groups A, B, C' are: Akron, Northern Illinois, Toledo / Buffalo, Miami, Ohio / Ball State, Bowling Green, Kent State.

Year

1 2 3 4 5 6
2016 CMU WMU Akron NIU Toledo Buffalo Miami Ohio
2017 CMU WMU Ball St BGSU Kent St Buffalo Miami Ohio
2018 CMU WMU Ball St BGSU Kent St Akron NIU Toledo
2019 CMU WMU Buffalo Miami Ohio Akron NIU Toledo
2020 CMU WMU Buffalo Miami Ohio Ball St BGSU Kent St
2021 CMU WMU Akron NIU Toledo Ball St BGSU Kent St

A steady rotation feels more organized, gives everybody to play against a school at home one year, away the next, break for a year, repeat. From the fan's perspective, it'd be cool to not wait so long for seeing another team again. For instance with EMU, they've played Miami four times since the new millennium (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015), but have seen intra-divisional foe Ball State every year since 1975.

I've finished the incomplete table of guaranteed opponents, which came to five non-rivalry games.

Akron vs. Ohio -- These two have a newfound basketball rivalry going on, and having these two play every year in football would be a good thing for the fan bases and maybe by some philosophy that I'm sure has been written about somewhere help build more hype for their basketball games too. A twofer.

NIU vs. Toledo -- No, this isn't a rivalry, but they've played some highly-competitive games lately and it brings in a lot of attention from all MAC fans. Hell, the national media likes to use this matchup as a source of #MACtion. At this rate, it'd be practical to not divorce the two.

Buffalo vs. Kent State -- Proximity. That's actually all I have here.

Buffalo vs. Miami -- The way I see it, both teams should be wearing school colors against each other. Bulls should don their blues, Miami in the reds. To be honest, we should have more games where [usually] the away team is forced to wear white uniforms. Break out the crayon boxes, I say.

Ball State vs. BGSU -- No rivalry, but these two did play each other every year from 1978-1996. I've had worse ideas than pairing these two together.

1 2
Akron Kent St Ohio
Ball St NIU BGSU
BGSU Toledo Ball St
Buffalo Kent St Miami
CMU EMU WMU
EMU CMU WMU
Kent St Akron Buffalo
Miami Ohio Buffalo
NIU Ball St Toledo
Ohio Miami Akron
Toledo BGSU NIU
WMU CMU EMU

Final results:

Every year Every year A A A B B B C C C
Akron Kent State Ohio Ball State EMU Miami BGSU CMU Toledo Buffalo NIU WMU
Ball State BGSU NIU Akron Buffalo CMU Kent State Ohio WMU EMU Miami Toledo
BGSU Ball State Toledo CMU Ohio WMU Akron Buffalo Miami EMU Kent State NIU
Buffalo Kent State Miami Ball State NIU WMU BGSU EMU Toledo Akron CMU Ohio
CMU EMU WMU Ball State BGSU Kent State Akron NIU Miami Buffalo Ohio Toledo
EMU CMU WMU Akron NIU Toledo Buffalo Miami Ohio Ball State BGSU Kent State
Kent State Akron Buffalo CMU NIU Ohio Ball State Toledo WMU BGSU EMU Miami
Miami Buffalo Ohio Akron Toledo WMU BGSU CMU EMU Ball State Kent State NIU
NIU Ball State Toledo Buffalo EMU Kent State CMU Ohio WMU Akron BGSU Miami
Ohio Akron Miami BGSU Kent State Toledo Ball State EMU NIU Buffalo CMU WMU
Toledo BGSU NIU EMU Miami Ohio Akron Buffalo Kent State Ball State CMU WMU
WMU EMU CMU BGSU Buffalo Miami Ball State Kent State NIU Akron Ohio Toledo

*- It's the Battle for the Cannon because at both Kelly-Shorts and Waldo Stadium, a cannon is fired every time their home team scores. That's really the best you could do?