Last week, the MAC announced they will cut down travel rosters from 76 to 70 for in-conference games, and teams will only stay in hotels on the road.
The conference has announced a bevy of cost-cutting moves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this one is logical for the conference.
It comes as a surprise that the MAC is the first conference to make these moves as it is one of the most geographically condensed in FBS.
On the contrary, their bowls are spread out far. Here are the average distances between the MAC’s schools and the conference’s bowl destinations (excluding the Bahamas Bowl):
- Arizona Bowl: 1914 miles
- Boca Raton Bowl: 1262 miles
- Camellia Bowl: 772 miles
- Cure Bowl 1087 miles
- Frisco Bowl: 1083 miles
- Mobile Bowl: 934 miles
- Myrtle Beach Bowl: 754 miles
- New Mexico Bowl: 1505 miles
- Potato Bowl: 1941 miles
- Quick Lane Bowl: 186 miles
In all, the average distance of each bowl is 1250 miles. This does not count the Bahamas Bowl, which is far off and expensive for everyone across the Group of Five.
The travel combined with ticket quotas tends to make bowls a pricey affair for many MAC schools. In their 2014 trip to the Potato Bowl, Western Michigan lost over $400,000, while Toledo lost an average of $150,000 a year in three straight bowl trips from 2014-2016.
With the MAC canceling postseason play for many Olympic sports, it is not far-fetched to imagine some schools turning down bowl bids. Bowls provide good exposure through national TV appearances but are costly and generally lack bigger motivations for these schools.
As it stands now, the MAC’s tie-ins are set in stone until 2025. However, they can start to think of the future by looking at the situation that the COVID-19 outbreak created.
This is one of the easier solutions. Eastern bowls are uncommon as many bowls are in warm-weather locales. However, there are some options the MAC has to work with. The MAC can swap out a couple of their tie-ins for the Military, Fenway, and Pinstripe Bowls.
For the Military and Fenway Bowls, it should be easy to coax the ACC out of a matchup with the American as the Power Five continues to distance itself from the Group of Five, but convincing the American to give up a Power Five matchup will be tough.
The Pinstripe Bowl has an ACC vs Big Ten matchup. This will unlikely change, but there is a slim chance that either side gives up their slot as the bowl is only close to a few teams combined.
While options exist, they are both small and unlikely, so the MAC should look at other options.
This is a financially viable option as there are a handful of cities within the MAC’s footprint that would make good bowl hosts, such as Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Chicago. The cities are there, but the obstacle is the NCAA.
The NCAA is the final authority on bowls and right now, they are unlikely to admit any more bowls before the next cycle. In addition, most cities are unwilling to give up hosting a bowl as they generate large sums of revenue for their local economies.
Despite this, there still exist opportunities as there are bowls struggling financially. In 2018, the Heart of Dallas Bowl’s fate in Dallas was questionable as a vote barely passed to keep it in the city.
The sponsorship opportunities are numerous, as the Rust Belt has several corporations headquartered in their footprint.
Additionally, several bowls currently struggle to find sponsors. For instance, the New Mexico Bowl has not had a sponsor since 2018. Here is where corporations could step in and move these bowls into the MAC’s footprint, giving them new life.
Several companies in the region like Goodyear, who has a jersey sponsorship with the Cavaliers, or Firestone could step in and provide mutual benefit. Even non-automotive industries could share in the fun, like American Greetings, headquartered in Cleveland or Finish Line, headquartered in Indianapolis.
There is perhaps no better college football sponsor than Goodyear, whose college football blimp possibly brings more publicity than their tires. A “Goodyear Bowl” in Cleveland or Columbus is a win-win for both the company and the city, and who wouldn’t love the American Greetings Bowl on Christmas Eve?
Sure some will miss these bowls, but many bowls have had declining attendance numbers in recent years.
The first solution for MAC football is to make their bowl situation more beneficial to its schools, which will not be easy. The MAC will have to watch the bowl landscape carefully to create postseason opportunities advantageous to them in the near future. Any changes or lack thereof will have implications for the conference for years to come.