DETROIT-- Ford Field has been the host of the Mid-American Conference football championship since 2003. It's also been the host site for MAC Media Day, where 13 head coaches, 26 select players, numerous assistant athletic directors and communications personnel, as well as many local and national media members from newspapers, blogs, radio stations as well as broadcast, all congregated together to get ready for the upcoming football season: just 36 days away.
An hour before MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher took the podium for his opening statements, the preseason media polls were released. The Bowing Green Falcons received 18 first place votes and is expected to win the MAC East, with the Akron Zips, UMass Minutemen and Ohio Bobcats all picked to finish somewhere in the 2-4 range (six first place votes combined). BGSU has won the East two years in a row, winning the MAC title in 2013. The Toledo Rockets were picked to win the MAC West, but only by the slimmest of margins. After finishing 7-1 in conference play last season (only loss to Northern Illinois Huskies to win the head-to-head tiebreaker), the Rockets received 11 first place votes, finishing ahead of the Western Michigan Broncos by one point (eight first place votes) and NIU (four first place votes) respectively.
|Bowling Green (18), 160 pts||Toledo (11), 121|
|Akron (2), 118||Western Michigan (8), 120|
|Ohio (1), 118||Northern Illinois (4), 113|
|UMass (3), 113||Ball State, 66|
|Buffalo, 70||Central Michigan (1), 56|
|Miami, 47||Eastern Michigan, 28|
|Kent State, 46|
Nearly four and a half hours prior to the media polls, our staff of writers and editors released our own rendition of the preseason polls, with very similar results. Our staff at Hustle Belt granted 13 first place votes for BGSU to win the East (two votes to win the MAC title) with one first place vote for UMass. Toledo earned six first place votes to win the West as well as six votes to win the MAC title. WMU and NIU both earned four first place votes to win the West.
State of the MAC
Women included in MAC officiating
After introductions, Steinbrecher made note that the MAC would have eight officials, including women officials to work games starting this season.
This year we have added several female officials to our roster and they will work games this season. Not because they are female, but because they have worked their way up through the officiating ranks and have mastered the rules and mechanics and are prepared for this next step in their officiating career.
"#MACtion speaks louder than words"
If you have watched a football game of the Mid-American Conference, you know that we produce some of the most exciting football in the country. In fact, I could say that about a number of our sports. And while some may view us as a modest or humble midwest conference, we produce a disproportionate amount of greatness. Our institutions bring an "any time, anywhere" mentality. Our students who participate in athletics and our coaches achieve remarkable achievements, on the field and off. We make our own way, and in fact as many of you know during the month of November, we make our own game days.
The Mid-American Conference represents hard work, dedication, humility, and passion, highlighted by a passion for a challenge.
The MAC truly has made leaps and bounds towards branding themselves on a national platform. With leases and subleases through ESPN and CBS Sports Network, midweek football games have grown to be recognized by many within the region of the MAC schools as is echoed throughout the rest of the nation. While it's payed dividends to these schools for exposure and helped them out along the way in recruiting, it's also given the MAC more opportunities to brand itself.
Recently, we've seen and heard programs around the MAC campaign and present themselves with ill-glamorous mantras, such as Northern Illinois Huskies doing things "The Hard Way", Miami RedHawks football coach Chuck Martin only guaranteeing prospective high school athletes an ass-kicking, as well as the Eastern Michigan Eagles replacing their old field with a gray one to emulate a parking lot.
In efforts of branding that sort of attitude to everybody, website GetSomeMACtion.com was formed to show what the MAC is all about. It's a neat little website where you can create some "MAC talk" and eventually find a widget to see how much people are actually talking about the MAC all over the globe. Here's its introductory video:
Steinbrecher as well as MAC schools all see the student-athletes as students first, putting a academic achievement as top priorities. The Big Ten has considered freshman to be ineligible for their first year on campus, making sure that incoming students more focused on the student lifestyle, causing a lot of discussion. However, Steinbrecher would say that there's no need to make that a thing for the MAC. Schools should be held accountable for the academic achievements of their student-athletes, not the conference. That said, schools should be responsible for the profiles brought onto their rosters and just as they want to bring in talents to help their teams win on the field, they should also make sure that they are recruiting student-athletes that are capable of taking on the work load in the classroom as well.
Let's be very clear: there is no empirical evidence that participating in intercollegiate athletics as a freshman has a negative effect on the academic achievement of students who participate in athletics. My research and the research of others show that there is no relationship between playing as a freshman and academic achievement as measured in grade point average and and graduation.
Based on the academic accolades that I referenced earlier [rewind to 3:45] I would suggest MAC schools are doing a pretty good job of that.
The time has come for us... to take a comprehensive look at the current collegiate experience and consider a new paradigm. For instance in certain sports, especially football and basketball, it takes more than four years to graduate and that includes attending summer school. Perhaps we should consider a new model that reduces the minimum academic load during the regular academic year, especially in light of the concerns over balancing academic and athletic time demands.
As part of this, I would take a long look at moving towards five years of eligibility with no waivers except for injury. Is this a perfect solution? Probably not. There isn't one.
Mental health concerns
The well-being of the student-athletes is a big focus in the MAC, especially when we take a look at mental health and concussion prevention and management. Steinbrecher points out that there's been insufficient attention towards those with mental health diagnoses. He shared some statistics with the media, saying a quarter of young adults (18-24 years old) are dealing with mental health illnesses and a third of incoming college freshman have already been diagnosed with a mental health condition. More than most athletic trainers believe anxiety are a huge problem for student-athletes.
For 18 months Steinbrecher had a crew to further examine the mental health concerns and well-being of student-athletes, and examining support services that are available to them.
There is a strong focus on education and awareness for students, coaches and administrators for we need to better-understand the mental health issues that we are dealing with. And we must, and we will, remove the stigma associated with this topic, as well as provide safe havens for students to seek and receive appropriate treatment.
We need to emphasize to all that it is OK to not be okay.