Lost in basketball sauce was the story earlier this month that sources believe the NCAA will relax the 12-team, 2-division requirement to stage a conference championship game.
This hurts UB's chances to move to the American Conference, as it is assumed the Big 12 will avoid expansion and instead stage a conference championship game despite only have 10 teams that already play each other once.
On the other side of the argument is the ACC, which having taken on the Notre Dame problem, want the flexibility to change their divisions. This intrigues me as a MAC fan.
I have a few issues with the MAC's attempt to have two divisions, but mostly
1) Bowling Green and Toledo separated - One of the best rivalries in the MAC but the only rivalry that is cross-division. The solution was to permanently schedule the two teams against each other, but that created a second problem.
2) Uneven schedules - Especially the last few years, and evident in UB's 2013 run. One team will face Kent, UMass, EMU, Akron and go 4-0 while another team in division faces NIU, Toledo, Ohio, and Bowling Green and are lucky to come out 2-2. It's not a fair competition.
3) Inability to create/foster meaningful rivalries - Outside of the proximity ones, I don't see rivalries as important in football. The basketball rivalries are much stronger due to the constant schedule and the melting pot of the MAC Tournament.
4) That final game - Is the Black Friday/Thanksgiving weekend slot the best place to put your top rivalry games? Many students will be far from campus, many citizens go home if their original home isn't near campus so they will all miss the biggest game of the year. Each year, there is a non-rivalry game between a directional Michigan and however they play. Buffalo has no rival. Multi-team fans in Ohio and Michigan often have to choose between their MAC game and the one of the biggest rivalry games in the nation, the Ohio State - Michigan game.
Not to mention that in years past the division winners are clinched early, leaving little or no drama for the final week.
Four division set up
I have always intrigued by a multi-division set up, and the thought of having a true semi-final game.
|Lake Michigan||Lake Huron||Ohio River||Lake Erie|
1) BGSU and Toledo Separated: SOLVED
This set up would put BG and Toledo in a division again and preserve every current rivalry except the NIU-Ball State rivalry. Instead of NIU which is 270 miles from Muncie, Ball State will play their closest geographic rival Miami, which is only 90 minutes away from the Ball State campus. NIU keeps Toledo, which has been one of the most intense and meaningful rivalries in recent MAC history.
2) Uneven Schedules: SOLVED
This is where I take the big leap. The divisional format allows the MAC to take a NFL-like approach to the schedule. Inside the division, you play each team HOME and AWAY.
Each team will play every team in one other division each year. If UB played the Ohio River division, then the schedule would be:
Every team in the Erie division would have the same schedule, and thus the division champ would be decided fairly based on the 7 games played.
3) Create/Foster Rivalries: SOLVED
Playing in division twice every year should foster rivalries similar to the basketball rivalries. The sacrifice is you will only be guaranteed to see other MAC teams twice every six years, and only once at home in six years.
4) That final game: SOLVED
You realize now that the plan above only has seven games. You remember I mentioned a semi-final. Make the final game the semi-final. UB has had two great seasons, 2008 and 2013. The penultimate game in 2008 was the moment UB fans will remember, when Starks ran UB into the MAC Championship. Less remembered is the final game, that didn't matter. UB was defeated by Julian Edelman's Kent team when Brett Hamlin fumbled going in for the game winning touchdown. In 2013, UB played the de-facto semi-final game, which while it didn't go UB's way, was a much more climatic game than the 2008 final.
So say in 2014 the Erie division played the Ohio River division. In 2015 they will play the Lake Huron division.
In 2014, the Erie division will matchup against the Lake Huron division in the semi-final/final game. The added bonus of this is you get an instant rematch game against the team you played in the previous year's semifinal.
|Year||Divison Play||Semifinal Play|
|2014||Ohio River||Lake Huron|
|2015||Lake Huron||Lake Michigan|
|2016||Lake Michigan||Ohio River|
|2017||Ohio River||Lake Huron|
On the schedule, the final game will be opponent TBD, but the location will be fixed, so ticket holders will know the final game will be home, or on the road. The #3 team in the Erie division will play the #3 team in the Huron division, the #2 will play the #2, and the two top teams will face off in the semi-final game.
In this scenario the importance of the #2 vs #2 games will also be high when it comes to gaining bowl eligibility and jockeying for bowl slots.
5) Unintended Benefits
After mapping out what I think this would have looked like in the 2014 season, the intra-divison home and away play inflated the top of the MAC and a destroyed the bottom of the MAC. As a result, the MAC would have six bowl eligible teams going into he final week and two teams fighting for bowl eligibility. The MAC's best teams would have more wins, and two late in the season opportunities for statement wins, in their semi-final and MAC Championship matchups. This will help the MAC compete for that one spot in the major bowls.
In season matchup:
Lake Erie vs Ohio
|Lake Erie Divison||Conf||Div||Overall|
|Ohio River Division||Conf||Div||Overall|
Lake Michigan vs Lake Huron
|Lake Michigan Division||Conf||Div||Overall|
|Lake Huron Division||Conf||Div||Overall|
Final week matchup
Lake Erie vs Lake Huron
Semi-final: Buffalo vs Western Michigan
#2: Akron vs Central Michigan*
#3: Kent vs EMU
Lake Michigan vs Ohio River
Semi-final: NIU vs Ohio
#2: Ball st vs Toledo
#3: BGSU* vs Miami
*Fighting for Bowl Eligiblity
In this scenario, only one game would be meaningless, the Kent - EMU game. The Conference can strengthen itself with likely wins by Central Michigan and BGSU giving the MAC 8 bowl eligible teams (in 2014 they had 6 bowl eligible teams).