WMU, CMU officials express concern over same-day booking as UM-MSU

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester, left, and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh shake hands after the game earlier this year.

The biggest game is in East Lansing, sure.

But there's another storied rivalry taking place in-state Saturday, a double-booking that isn't sitting well with the folks at Western Michigan and Central Michigan.

The Broncos and Chippewas play at 3 Saturday in Mount Pleasant, just as the sixth-ranked Wolverines and the 24th-ranked will be in the fourth quarter of what many anticipate to be a thriller — an hour away.

"When you have the two biggest rivalries in the state playing on the same day, it does create a lot of impact, on attendance — not necessarily for them as it does for us — and media attention," Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard said. "It takes the focus off what could be one of our largest games."

Western and Central athletic officials, Beauregard said, have expressed concern to the Mid-American Conference about the scheduling, though there's been no set-in-stone commitment to avoid the issue in the future.

The Big Ten schedule comes out first, and then the MAC, which has multiple factors to consider when it comes to Western and Central.

Dr. John Steinbrecher, commissioner of the 12-school Mid-American Conference, said Western and Central officials haven't complained to him.

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"We have (many) things to consider," Steinbrecher said. "You know what, it's impossible for us to schedule around Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue.

"I wish we could, but you try and hit the things you can hit."

Last year's Western-Central game was played midweek, on a Wednesday night, which those universities also didn't prefer  — even though it meant a prime-time TV slot — as it made travel to Kalamazoo a burden for Central students who might've had class the next day. This year's game moved back to its traditional Saturday, but that also meant moving the game back into October. The MAC midweek games start in November.

ESPN coverage is a big consideration, though given Central's record (1-6), the network chose only to stream this weekend's game against Western (5-2) on ESPN-Plus.

Many fans of Western, Central and Eastern Michigan also traditionally have had an allegiance to one of the big two schools, Michigan or Michigan State, which could hurt attendance Saturday afternoon at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. This year's Western-Central game also falls on Western's fall break, another unfortunate conflict with the schedule; many students are out of town.

"We have (talked to the MAC), and it's unfortunate that they fell on the same day," Central athletic director Michael Alford said.

"But what a day if you are a football fan in the state of Michigan."

The Central-Western rivalry dates to 1907, while Michigan-Michigan State has roots as far back as 1898.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984