November 30, 2012 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Ford Field is still Mid-American Conference's better idea, despite attendance woes

Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference championship game last season in front of 13,052 at Ford Field in Detroit. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)

Detroit Kent State is 192 miles from Ford Field.

Northern Illinois … 385 miles.

And?

Well, when teams have to travel that far to play a football game — albeit a championship game like Friday night's Mid-American final — it usually equates to small crowds.

And that's the case when it comes to the MAC and Ford Field.

Since 2004, a span of eight games, an average of 18,294 fans have attended MAC championship games at Ford Field, which holds 65,000.

And the high-water marks came when Central Michigan — 23,714 in 2009, 25,013 in 2007 and 25,483 in 2006 — and Toledo — 22,138 in 2004 — were in the final.

That averages out to 24,087 for games involving Central Michigan and Toledo, and 12,501 for all other entries.

Still, what makes matters worse is the lack of interest from Metro Detroit.

"The MAC has football?" asked Toni Stoic of St. Clair Shores. "I have no interest. I won't be going."

Staying put

MAC and Ford Field officials signed a four-year extension to keep the championship game in Detroit through 2015. This came after conference officials talked of returning the title game to campus sites and even Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

But, instead of following the Big Ten to Indianapolis, MAC officials opted to maintain its identity and establish its own territory, this securing Ford Field as its home a while longer.

"This is one of the premier showcases in the entire country," MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said. "We always know it is going to be 72 degrees and sunny on game day. We know the elements are not going to decide the outcome of the game and it will be decided by the young men on the field."

Still, the problem isn't on the field. It's in the stands.

The game is being played Friday night, and people from Northern Illinois and Kent State would have to take a day off just to attend the game.

TV control

So, why not play the game on campus? Between 1997-2003, before the game moved to Ford Field, attendance for the game at the highest-seeded participant's stadium topped 20,000 on a consistent basis.

But this is the MAC's signature event, and playing at Ford Field adds to the prestige.

And let's be honest, games like this are all about television. The conference will be showcased on ESPN2 and there won't be wind or rain … or snow.

It's a win-win for the conference.

"We can put on a quality event there and we know everything we can control and everything we can't," Steinbrecher said about Ford Field. "We know that. It is a pretty great place for somebody to come and watch a top-notch game."

Coming up short

A look at the attendance for Mid-American Conference championship games at Ford Field:

2011: Northern Illinois vs. Ohio (13,052 attendance)

2010: Northern Illinois vs. Miami (Ohio) (12,031)

2009: Central Michigan vs. Ohio (23,714)

2008: Buffalo vs. Ball State (12,871)

2007: Central Michigan vs. Miami (Ohio) (25,013)

2006: Central Michigan vs. Ohio (25,483)

2005: Northern Illinois vs. Akron (12,051)

2004: Toledo vs. Miami (Ohio) (22,138)

terry.foster@detnews.com

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