"Why are you a fan of the MAC?"
In my sports life, I call it "The Question." The Question doesn't always come in this simple and convenient version. My favorite derivative of The Question in a sports setting usually begins with an innocuous inquiry into where I went to college, followed by a "who do you cheer for?" At which point I proceed to regurgitate my prepared speech concerning why I'm a fan of the school I attended. Let that sink in for a second. I have to explain why I'm a fan of the sports teams that are affiliated with the university I graduated from. For perspective, it's harder for people to believe I'm a fan of a MAC school than of programs like Penn State and Baylor. Insane, right?
About that prepared speech. It's actually really short:
I love sports. I went to Western Michigan. I love the school. I'm a fan of the school and by extension the teams that play for it - not the other way around.
But there's more to it as it pertains to the broader scope of MACtion. The MAC feels like home. It's fun, unpredictable and loaded with parity. It reminds me every single year of why I love sports in the first place, and it allows me to shed the burden of feeling like national recognition is the end all be all of sports fandom. There's a clear line drawn in the sports world for things that "matter" and those that don't. In the eyes of the general public, MAC sports is on the less favorable side of that line. It's because of this that The Question is so repeatedly asked, as though the person asking can't fathom why I'd subject myself to apparent mediocrity and non-importance. Why would I choose not to "matter" when I could just as easily live vicariously through family members' experiences at certain schools? Quite simply, not everything that "matters" matters all the time to me.
For example, I grew up a huge fan of the Michigan State Spartans. Not the Spartans you know today, I was a fan of the Sparty No! Spartans, so you could say I'm quite familiar with disappointment. If I were still a fan today, I would have to live with the fact that everyone was forced to endure a crappy New Year's Eve football game and it was my favorite team's fault. In addition I'd have had to pretend to be seething with rage over Connor Cook's slip in the NFL Draft. At least it matters, right? My new favorite team, the one that represents the name on my college degree, won a game on Christmas Eve. It didn't matter to everyone, but I had a great time. And that's all that matters.
I fell truly in love with it all my second year at college when WMU appeared in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl at Ford Field against Purdue. The game played out like a video game where one player (Purdue) won't stop taking onside kicks and the other player (WMU) still can't figure out how to defend the onside without calling timeout. We all know a guy like that. Anyway, despite all that Jordan White was JORDAN WHITE for the umpteenth time, and I was there for the whole thing. WMU lost and I had never been happier at a football game. Nobody can take that away from me.
Everyone around these parts has similar stories, and that's because the product is pretty damn strong, too. Nobody in this conference is winning a national title anytime soon, but that doesn't stop the games from having an impact on the lives of everyone involved. Buffalo was a repeat basketball champion missing its two best players from a year before - and won on a buzzer beater no less. The MAC football champion Bowling Green Falcons were blown out before their trip to Detroit by Toledo, who is the best team to not win a championship I can remember in awhile. The WMU baseball team, with a losing record, went to the MAC tournament in Avon, Ohio, and won the whole thing and even sprinkled in a walk off grand slam. More MAC memories, all in one year.
This conference is unpredictable, crazy and it can drive you equally so. It's fun, loaded with parity and is all the fun of college sports without the yelling about satellite camps. It's the home of Row The Boat Dot GIF. You know, I think I've changed my prepared speech. Next time someone asks me why I'm a fan, I think I'll just say "why not?"