Mid-American Conference could take a bath in losing 10 football games against Big Ten opponents

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Mid-American Conference schools were left scrambling on Thursday after the Big Ten announced it was going to a conference-only football schedule this fall due to COVID-19.

There were 10 nonconference games between the Big Ten and the MAC this season, and Central Michigan had two. It is not uncommon for Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan to have a Big Ten opponent on their schedules, but this season they had none.

MAC schools count heavily on the payouts from football games against Power Five opponents to meet their budget obligations.

JaCorey Sullivan and Central Michigan were supposed to play two games against the Big Ten this season.

CMU was hit hard by the loss of games at Nebraska Sept. 12 and at Northwestern on Sept. 19, taking a combined loss potentially of $2.15 million – the $1.3 it would have received from the Nebraska game and another $850,000 from Northwestern.

CMU athletic department officials refused comment until more information is available, instead releasing this statement from CMU athletic director Michael Alford:

“Central Michigan Athletics continues to work with the Mid-American Conference and member institutions on scheduling parameters for all 2020 fall sports. We are committed to a model that prioritizes the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, staff and guest.”

It remains to be seen if Big Ten schools will have to make full payouts to their canceled opponents.

Ohio State had two games against MAC opponents, Bowling Green and Buffalo. According to USA Today, OSU’s contract with Bowling Green and Buffalo states: “If it becomes impossible to play the football game for reasons of power failure, strikes, severe weather conditions, riots, war, or other unforeseen catastrophes or disasters beyond the control of either party, this Agreement may be terminated by either OSU or the Visiting Team, the football game shall be cancelled, and neither party shall be responsible to the other for any loss or damage.”

Illinois’ contract with Bowling Green specifically covers an epidemic, USA Today reported: Neither party shall be "required to pay liquidated damages … for a canceled or defaulted game resulting from events or acts which are beyond the control of such party, including events of limitation, such as: acts of God, athletic program termination, strikes, lockouts, riots, acts of war, epidemics, governmental or NCAA or other controlling athletic conference failures, earthquakes or other disasters.”

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Bowling Green was due $1.2 million for the Ohio State game and $1 million for playing Illinois. Buffalo was due $1.8 million for its game at Ohio State, and Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference was set to make $1.8 million for its game at Michigan.

Alford cut two sports – men’s track and field and cross country – back in May, which eliminated nearly $800,000 from CMU’s athletic department budget.

With the dropping of two teams, CMU received a temporary waiver from the NCAA’s minimum sport-sponsorship requirements for Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) membership. The waiver expires after the 2021-22 academic school year.

The MAC has taken advantage of its games against Big Ten opponents in recent years. In 2016, WMU won games at Northwestern and Illinois to earn a Cotton Bowl berth, representing the Group of Five conferences in the New Year’s Six game.

While WMU has no Big Ten opponents this year, the Broncos are set to receive $1.175 million for traveling an hour to play at Notre Dame Sept. 19.

WMU athletic director Kathy Beauregard already has been forced to cut $6 million from her budget back in May, reducing it from $31 million to $25 million due to the pandemic. She took at 25 percent pay cut, as did football coach Tim Lester and hockey coach Andy Murray.

Beauregard did not immediately return calls to The News on Friday. But in May she spoke to BlueandGold.com – which covers Notre Dame – about the importance of playing the Irish:

“We count on it for out intercollegiate athletic budget. That’s a tremendous amount of revenue that comes into the athletic department to manage the entire department. We take guarantees in football and men’s basketball to be able to function on a day-to-day basis. We need the game, want the game, hope that everything will be opened up. It’ll obviously be under their (Notre Dame) control.”

WMU also plays at Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference and hosts Syracuse of the ACC in nonconference games.

EMU has won games against Big Ten opponents in each of the last three years – Rutgers in 2017, Purdue in 2018 and Illinois last season. The Eagles are scheduled to play a pair of SEC teams, Sept. 5 at Kentucky and Sept. 26 at Missouri.

Chopping block

Football games between MAC and Big Ten teams that have been canceled:

Ball State: Indiana, Michigan

Bowling Green: Ohio State, Illinois

Buffalo: Ohio State

Central Michigan: Nebraska, Northwestern

Northern Illinois: Maryland, Iowa

Toledo: Michigan State