Eying the F.C.S. (Again) for No. 14 (Again)
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 9, 2012
Since 2007, when Temple joined the fold, the MAC has featured a seven-and-six split between its East and West divisions. This led to a degree of scheduling awkwardness, as you’d expect. Teams from the West, which housed six teams, would play all five of its divisional rivals and another three teams from the East. Six of the seven teams in the East would play six games against divisional foes and two games against West teams. The seventh team, Bowling Green, played five games against the East and three against the West, with Toledo an annual rival.
Adding Massachusetts to the mix gave the MAC, for a time, the 14-team league it desired. And it cleared up nearly all of the scheduling issues that plagued the conference in its 13-team alignment; all the MAC had to solve was the Bowling Green riddle — Still five and three? Keep Toledo as an annual rival?
With Temple’s move, the MAC is back at square one. Thirteen teams: seven in the East, six in the West. For now, the conference will continue with the same scheduling format it has used since the 2007 season. This will continue until the MAC finally, and permanently, adds a 14th team.
The search begins today. Not technically, perhaps, but the MAC has a long-term goal of creating two evenly-split divisions. While the conference may not be actively recruiting a new member, it is certainly keeping its eyes out for a school that matches its primary criteria: competitiveness, promise and a built-in support system. Geography comes secondary, though the MAC isn’t going to stray too far away from the Heartland.
If the MAC does expand to 14 teams, it’ll almost certainly be with a team off the F.C.S. level, as was the case with Massachusetts. There are simply no F.B.S. options available: the MAC might be able to delve into the Sun Belt for its 14th team — going after Middle Tennessee State, for example — but would it want to? And would the Blue Raiders, or another F.B.S. program, reciprocate any interest?
The MAC should focus its sights on three F.C.S. conferences: the Colonial, Missouri Valley and Southern. The Colonial houses Delaware, Old Dominion, James Madison and Villanova, and may perhaps include Charlotte, which christens its football program in 2013. Northern Iowa is in the Missouri Valley. The Southern is home to Appalachian State, which has held internal discussion in the past about transitioning up to the F.B.S. level.
Villanova’s a pipe dream, but the MAC would be a solid back-up plan for the Wildcats on a football-only level should the Big East not open its doors on an all-sports basis. All signs point towards Villanova joining the Big East if the school does move up to the F.B.S. over the next four years.
Charlotte has some appeal, but how could the program go right from nothingness to the MAC? Old Dominion only reformed its football program in 2009 after a 68-year absence, though the Monarchs have gone 27-8 over the last three years. Old Dominion won 10 games last fall, its first season in the C.A.A., and finished one game behind Towson for the conference crown.
The MAC has options. But the top three, in my opinion, are James Madison, Delaware and Appalachian State. If for no other reason, adding any one of the three would give the MAC a very competitive team — one that could match up with the league immediately — while increasing the conference’s footprint.
Delaware is 83-46 since K.C. Keeler replaced Tubby Raymond in 2002. The Blue Hens have won one F.C.S. national title, in 2003, and played for another in both 2007 and 2010. Appalachian State is 79-19 since 2005, a period that begin with three straight national championships, with the third coming at Delaware’s expense.
Like Appalachian State, James Madison has shown a desire to transition up to the F.B.S. level. Last September, athletic director Jeff Bourne said such a move was “very likely,” and that there could be “movement in 18-24 months.” And like both the Blue Hens and Mountaineers, James Madison has played well enough to justify a move up to the MAC.
Each would have to show the league three things: an ability to compete immediately — something Massachusetts doesn’t have, in my estimation; the ability to raise the league’s profile in the long term; and the sort of built-in support mandatory for any team that wishes to compete on the F.B.S. level.
The latter idea includes university-wide support, in terms of donations, fan support and facilities. This is also the least important of the three: The MAC would add one of the three and hope that a move to the F.B.S. would increase each school’s athletic budget, which in turn would improve facilities and, perhaps, increase fan support.
Tags: Appalachian State, Charlotte, Conference Expansion, Delaware, James Madison, K.C. Keeler, MAC, Massachusetts, Old Dominion, Temple
Leave a Comment