MAC presidents discuss fall football; decision could come next week
The Mid-American Conference remains in a holding pattern.
The conference's presidents met Saturday morning to discuss the possibility of reinstating fall football, but parted company without taking a vote. They plan to meet again next week.
The MAC remains one of three Football Bowl Subdivision conferences with fall football still shut down, along with the Pac-12 and Mountain West. All three now are revisiting their options in light of recent medical advancements, particularly with rapid COVID-19 testing.
After the Big Ten reversed course Wednesday and reinstated an eight-game fall season, the Pac-12 and MAC immediately sent out statements saying they were not focusing on doing the same. But by Wednesday night, both conferences had started rethinking that — with the governors of California and Oregon getting into the mix in the Pac-12, while the MAC players began pushing for its conference to reconsider. By Wednesday night, MAC athletic directors were talking about possible fall plans.
Several MAC coaches sent out messages in support of a fall season, including the Western Michigan players, who sent out a combined statement.
"The past five months have been some of the most difficult months in the lives of many student-athletes within our conference and throughout the country," the Western Michigan players said. "As the Big Ten has announced their plans to resume play on Oct. 24, our team has been asking ourselves, 'Why not us?'
"We are asking the Mid-American Conference and its presidents to use the templates the other conferences have laid out to create the best and safest plan to allow us to play this fall.
"We all want to play. We all deserve to play. LET US PLAY!"
Among the MAC coaches who have expressed their desire to play: Western Michigan defensive line coach Lou Esposito, and Kent State head coach Sean Lewis.
The MAC's finances are in a much different place than the Big Ten, of course. In reinstating fall football, many Big Ten programs can come close to eliminating their previous projected budget deficits — some of which threatened to be $100 million or more. By playing, Big Ten teams recoup $35 million in TV money, and millions more elsewhere, including from the College Football Playoff payout.
Most if not all MAC schools, meanwhile, lose money with their football programs, with the university subsidizing them to the tune of millions a year, even in a normal year. This year, with no guarantee games — high-six- or seven-figure paydays to play Power Five programs — and no ticket sales, the losses still will be in the millions, whether they play in the fall or the spring, even with the $600,000-plus each school will get from ESPN, regardless of which season they play in.
The advantage to playing in the fall, MAC officials have said, is recruiting. If the MAC does become the only conference to reside on the spring-season island, it could set recruiting back years — possibly even leading to a mass exodus this month or next, depending when a decision is made. Many MAC officials believe the short-term financial hit is worth it, to salving the recruiting.
MAC officials also aren't sure if they would be eligible for their share of CFP payout if they don't play in the fall. That could be worth more than $1 million per school.
MAC officials do have medical hurdles to overcome. One of the big factors in originally postponing fall sports until the spring was the NCAA mandate that every athlete must be tested once a week. At $75 to $100 per test, at that time, that was a major financial burden. The cheaper rapid testing is a plus, to be sure, but securing all those tests is a challenge. The MAC is believed to be looking at the Big Ten's strict protocols — including a 21-day sit-out for any athlete who has tested positive, and a week shutdown for any program with more than a 5% positivity rate — as a blueprint, should it bring back fall football. But the MAC won't be able to test as frequently as the Big Ten, which is testing football players daily, starting Sept. 30.
The MAC was the first FBS conference to postpone fall sports, making the announcement Aug. 8. The MAC announced a unanimous vote, but there were presidents who wanted to play. Central Michigan and Western Michigan's presidents are said to be open to a fall football season; it's unclear where Eastern Michigan sits.