To be or not to be, that really is the simple question. On Monday, Buffalo athletic director Danny White decided to fire Jeff Quinn. With a bye week, White decided that this was the time to let Quinn go, despite a 3-4 record, which isn't great, but certainly isn't causing WNYers to run to UB Stadium to get tickets for the remaining home games.
I'm not really sure what Danny White sees and wants out of the UB athletic program? The New York branding, which frankly isn't working is White's concoction. Buffalo will never be New York's team. No matter what they call the university, it will always be in Buffalo and will be referred to as Buffalo. The only thing that might change this is to rename the school to something like a Rutgers or a Temple. UNY or NY-Buffalo isn't going to work.
The 2014 Bulls are what their record says they are. They're 3-4, with a good running game, an inconsistent quarterback and a porous defense. They have beaten two 1-AA teams and lost to woeful Eastern Michigan and despite Mark Gaughan calling Army a game they should have won, they lost at West Point.
The Bulls play in the MAC. The great thing about the MAC is that they know who they are. Toledo is Toledo, Kent State is Kent State and the directional Michigans are the directional Michigans. When all the talk raged on realignment, the MAC schools were never mentioned. As the Syracuses, Pittsburghs, and Connecticuts of the world scrambled to find new homes, the Northern Illinois', Bowling Greens and Ball States of the world were content to stay put.
The MAC schools are a good fit. In fact, both the MAC and the MAAC are made up of like sized schools that geographically are close enough to each other like the old days. There are no Hawaii at Louisiana Tech match ups in the MAC. Most of the MAC schools reside in Michigan and Ohio and all in all, that's pretty cool.
Buffalo, despite not dominating the MAC in any sport, thinks it's better than the MAC. They lament that they're the only "Top 22," designated university that's not in a Power 5 conference, yet they do little about it. Buffalo athletics are what they are and unfortunately, that's nothing special. They can certainly stay in the MAC and work towards success. If Bowling Green and Northern Illinois can win, so can Buffalo.
AD White is embarrassed that the Bulls lost to Eastern Michigan at Rynearson Stadium Saturday, so he hits the eject button and fires Jeff Quinn. The Bulls, since their move to Division I have had two bowl seasons and neither of the bowls---the defunct International and the Potato---did much to move the needle.
If the Bulls were a university in Rochester, the fan support would be great. Rochester is a super minor league town. They love the Amerks, embrace RIT hockey and not only support the Rochester Red Wings, but actually care about how they perform on the field. Except for RIT hockey, there are no Division I sports teams in Greater Rochester, and because of that, things like the Wendy's Basketball tournament not only gets fans, but ample coverage in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.
Buffalo has the Bills and the Sabres. The Triple A baseball Bisons are a nice thing to support in the summer, but Buffalonians know what they have. They may have the worst hockey team in the NHL right now, but it's a team that plays in the best hockey league in the world. They have a football team that hasn't sniffed the playoffs since the 1999 season, but they're one of 32 that play in the cash cow that is the NFL. Think about this. On Sunday, you had Patriots-Bills at the RWS, then Monday, it was Ducks-Sabres at the FNC. Now, try selling Buffalonians Kent State-Buffalo in Wednesday night MAC football.
Firing Jeff Quinn does nothing to elevate Buffalo Bulls football, in fact, it makes the university look bad by firing a coach who is 3-4 with a chance to improve. The problem with Buffalo is that they think they're better than the MAC, they believe that they should be in a better conference so they can better market the university like the big time universities do.
Buffalo needs to make the big decision and it's really a simple one. They need to pursue the Big Ten or drop into the Colonial Athletic Association. There is no sense settling on the American Athletic Conference or any other Little 5 conferences. I think that's what White envisions; he sees the University at Buffalo as a big time school playing in a big time conference. And, you don't have to dominate the MAC to move up. Rutgers certainly didn't shine in the Big East or in their one year in the American, yet they sold themselves to the Big Ten, and now they're in. They can 2-10 for a decade in football, but they're in. They could go 7-21 for a decade in basketball, but they're in. Rutgers is the largest public university in New Jersey with 59,000 students; Buffalo is the largest public university in New York with 29,000 students. New York is the fourth largest state in the nation, yet our largest university plays in a conference with directional schools and schools with the name "state," at the end. It's not an offense to the directional Michigans, Northern Illinois, Kent States, and Ball States; those schools are feeder schools into the larger schools like Michigan State, Illinois, and Ohio State. Kent State and Bowling Green State never wanted to be Ohio State, in fact, they'd probably tell you that don't mind getting kids who for some reason couldn't make it to Columbus to attend The Ohio State University.
Buffalo needs to be flirt and woo the Big Ten until they are admitted or told to get lost. Academically, Buffalo is a Big Ten school, they're right there and they would attract plenty of out-of-state students to attend it. But, if the school wants to use sports to brand itself, the MAC just doesn't cut it. Buffalo needs to go hard or go home. Buffalo is never going to attract great talent to Amherst by playing in the MAC, just like Rutgers lost plenty of players to Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. With Buffalo in the mighty Big Ten, now the players are thinking and choosing between Buffalo and Syracuse, Buffalo and Pittsburgh and Buffalo and Connecticut, and it's much easier to sell Buffalo and Big Ten, than Buffalo and MAC.
If Buffalo can't make the Big Ten, then they should go back to the 1-AA level and pursue membership in the Colonial Athletic Association. In truth, this will never happen, because there has been too much ego and too much money spent to come clean and admit the MAC didn't work. The CAA would be a great football fit. The Bulls would have natural rivals with Albany and Stony Brook and good regional matchups with Villanova, Maine, New Hampshire and Delaware. They could do the southern swing against James Madison, William and Mary, Towson and Elon, and go east to Rhode Island, too. The Bulls could be the 12th team in the league and could help the CAA form two, nice six team divisions. The other sports would do well also. The CAA, like the MAC is nothing more than a one bid league in basketball, so there is no "drop," there at all. And, in the CAA, crowds of 8,200 would be okay and 14,000 would be outstanding. If Buffalo is in the Big Ten playing at RWS or a refurbished UB Stadium, one can see 60,000 in the house against Ohio State on a Saturday afternoon or evening. As we've seen with hosting Bowling Green at the Ralph, the crowds were far less, and in truth, downright embarrassing.
In the end, I think Quinn's dismissal has more to do with getting the University at Buffalo into the Big Ten than it does with the team struggling at 3-4 in the MAC. My hunch is that White is bending the ear off of the people at Rutgers, trying to find a way to get into the BIG and not the CAA. There is pressure on White. He can't keep firing coaches and keep his job too. He needs to raise the profile, and position Buffalo for a strike at the Big Ten. He isn't here to steer the Bulls into the CAA, that might be something his successor does, so for White, it's go hard or go home, plain and simple.
Time will tell.