Conference Realignment Update: WKU & MTSU not exactly racing for MAC
I was told that last week's meetings were all a formality. It's next week now, and the MAC still hasn't expanded.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! Conference expansion, I’m told by everybody in the internet, is happening in all directions. But is it actually going to happen in the Mid-American Conference? Last week’s reporting would suggest that Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee are definitely coming over, but as Lee Corso would always say: not so fast, my friend.
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WKU + MTSU to the MAC: ‘Closer to 50-50’
This morning’s conversation in the Extra Points newsletter by Matt Brown was focused on the update surrounding the Mid-American Conference.
On October 29, Pete Thamel of Yahoo! had the initial report that the MAC was at least exploring expansion, namely to add Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee from Conference-USA. The C-USA found itself into a pit when the American Athletic Conference swiped some of the top C-USA schools away from its conference, and a lot of schools in that league had to think more critically about their future plans. The social discourse was sped up by Brett McMurphy’s Nov. 1 report at Action Network, saying that the expansion plans were “likely”, and Kyle Rowland at The Toledo Blade followed that up by saying that the meetings that would lead up to Friday, Nov. 5’s vote were all just “ a formality.”
Well, it’s Monday, Nov. 8 and the 14 schools in discussion here — the 12 full-member MAC members, WKU, and MTSU — are still counting every potential penny earned and every potential penny lost by expanding to 14.
As of Sunday night, if I had to handicap it, I honestly think it's closer to 50-50. Of the two, I'm told administrators at WKU are much more enthusiastic about potentially joining the MAC, while leaders at MTSU are more hesitant. I've also been told there is some still some resistance at the school level for some MAC institutions.
Why the cold feet? Money, mostly, but also other stuff.
Most MAC schools are not especially wealthy, and even though adding WKU and MTSU will improve depth in football and men's and women's basketball, I'm told it'd be unlikely to push the MAC into a multi-bid conference. With television payouts already modest, and with ESPN not looking to dramatically increase payouts for both programs, all parties need to decide exactly, in dollars and cents, what the true costs and benefits are. It isn't just about NCAA tournament credits and ESPN paychecks, but also travel, sponsorships, College Football Playoff money, and more.
There's also the matter of potentially shifting recruiting territories northward. Only three players on MTSU's football roster list hometowns in the MAC footprint, after all. If you're used to playing regular games in Texas, Florida and Alabama, it's probably a little easier to recruit athletes from those places. Not every campus stakeholder is thrilled about the concept of swapping southern states for midwestern ones.
It’s easy and convenient for the MAC fanbases to see their schools opening up their recruiting footprints [even more than some already do] into a couple of more states: Kentucky and Tennessee. But if you’re MTSU and you’re leaving a more southern-based league to play against kids from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and the DMV area, then it might be easy to see how MTSU could run into a problem where — and I know nothing about MTSU’s recruiting, but — expansion actually makes things harder for it to recruit kids locally.
C-USA might’ve finessed its way into keeping the 100 Miles of Hate game in its league by adding a couple of independents (Liberty, New Mexico State) and a couple of thriving, previously-non-FBS schools (Sam Houston, and Jacksonville State). There are only nine schools in Dr. Frankenstein’s C-USA, but all you need is eight.
Other C-USA schools that are still with the conference: Florida International, UTEP, and Louisiana Tech.
Note: UConn was grouped with the initial reporting of C-USA’s adding of schools as a football-only member, but that obviously did not have enough legs. If UConn would’ve joined, then C-USA would be able to more easily survive a WKU + MTSU departure.
I don’t leave you with many opinions on the matter from here, mostly just questions. I’ve been pretty clear that my desire for a more expanded MAC is that the school(s) added have to be no-brainers and obvious fits. Geographically, the case for WKU is easier than MTSU. But neither are automatic home runs for the MAC in any way. And if neither, together or separately, can or will clearly help the 12 full-member MAC school’s bottom lines, then I must ask: Why spend the collective time and resources on staring at a dead end? Is it really worth the MAC’s effort to be into the school-poaching business if other pockets and other leagues of college football have to keep sweating and suffering as an aftermath?
All this because Texas and Oklahoma had to go to the SEC.
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