The MAC Should Zig While Everyone Else Zags

According to the Detroit News and many other outlets, the MAC presidents are discussing playing football this fall. The Big Ten released their schedule and the PAC 12 is discussing returning to the field this fall.

I would expect the PAC 12 to try to not be the only power 5 conference not playing this fall, but that is yet to be seen. If they do however, that would leave the Mountain West and the MAC as the only conferences not playing in the fall.

The Mountain West faces the same problems the PAC 12 does. There’s currently an air quality issue on the west coast but the California and Oregon teams were, until recently, not allowed to hold contact practices. Those issues seem to be worked out with each university able to work with local governing bodies to establish  a testing and safety protocol to move forward this fall.

Does the MAC dare be the only group not playing this fall?

Do it. Be different. Be weird.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel like a part of me is missing without MAC football on Saturdays. But I can’t help but feel like the benefit of playing in the same time frame as the power five has been removed. So why do it?

Finances are always going to drive this.

Even in normal times, finances for at least some of the MAC schools athletic program are subsidized by the student body. This will still be the same if games are played in the spring.

All MAC schools depend on pay games to support their athletic departments. These are gone in this fall season. Another source of revenue is attendance. Each university is potentially able to make their own decisions but it’s restricted or not possible this fall.

The postseason bowl games are revenue. I’m just not sure how much. MAC schools cover their own expenses and split the rest of the bowl payouts. I am also personally not confident that the post season won’t be seriously contracted, but I have not seen anything that backs that statement. Outside the years when a MAC school goes to the New Years Six, the bowl pool after covering expenses is not huge.

There is the ESPN streaming deal. I cannot speak to the contract or what happens if games are not played. It is not millions of dollars per team but every dollar counts now.

Spring. A Time to be Different.

So let’s review the revenue sources. Pay games are still gone. The post season is gone. February will be here before we know it but it is a long way away in this COVID-19 world. A lot can change. Attendance wouldn’t be high in February without luck for a balmy winter but it may be possible.

The ESPN contract. I don’t think that this can be reworked much if at all but the MAC could be spring time football for ESPN to own. I can’t begin to predict what sports will attempting to play in the spring but if the NFL finishes it’s season on time, the MAC will be the only football on.

That sounds like an opportunity. It’s the whole reason the MAC plays on Tuesdays in November. Even if ESPN does not pay out more for spring time football on their network and only pays what is already agreed upon, the conference’s position is totally unchanged.

A late start in the fall will certainly limit the amount of games that the MAC can get finished. The spring is uncharted. Play 11 conference games and play every other team in the MAC plus a championship game. That’s pretty fun.

So to recap, the chart below describes the financial situation as I see it.

The Unknown

Obviously there are numerous unknowns in this situation.

How is recruiting impacted? As long as games are played I think the effect can be minimized. Before Big Ten parents demanded to throw caution to the wind and protest to play games, I would’ve thought this decision to push the season was an easy sell to parents who want to know their children’s safety is cared for. I’m learning that I’m wrong a lot.

I also do not talk to recruits or coaches who would know best about this issue. It seems everyone is trying desparately to avoid being different.

NFL level players sitting out is also a concern. At a MAC school I think this is less than at a power five school, but there are definitely NFL players throughout the MAC. They also carry their teams in conference play. Missing them would make the conference schedule play out differently.

How does an athletic director evaluate goals and achievement in this hypothetical season? If a coaching change is needed, where does that team sit in the coaching carousel? Very late in the cycle without a coach, potentially. That’s not ideal.

The last issue is at least solvable. Logistics. Getting the season in the spring scheduled and off the ground will be a challenge. Now until February is more time than now until late October so at least that is one thing definitively better. Hooray for small victories.

The argument for waiting until spring essentially comes down to two reasons. I assume that the situation surrounding the pandemic will continue to improve. If that is not true, this 2020 football season will not be anyone’s top priority. So for safety, it should be better.

The finances of this season are bad for MAC schools in the spring and the fall. Don’t try to compete with the power five if there isn’t a financial benefit. Be different. Be the only show in town. What is there to lose?

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