With vote looming, MAC players 'just want to know' what's up with football
The clock is ticking, and Mid-American Conference football players are hoping to see a victory formation.
The MAC presidents are scheduled to meet Friday via Zoom to discuss the state of the football season, and possibly vote on whether to have a fall season or stick with the plan to play in the spring. The MAC remains one of three Football Bowl Subdivision conferences still not playing in the fall, along with the Pac-12 and Mountain West, though all three are reconsidering and the other two possibly set to vote later Thursday.
"I just want a definitive answer, where we're playing in the spring or whether we're playing in the fall," said Skyy Moore, a wide receiver from Western Michigan. "I just want to know."
They'll know soon enough.
Central Michigan president Bob Davies said earlier this week that a decision will come by Monday at the latest, acknowledging "time is of the essence."
The MAC postponed fall sports Aug. 8 amid COVID-19, the first FBS conference to do so. The Big Ten followed suit three days later, the first Power Five conference to do so. But since the Big Ten announced last week it was rebooting the fall season — with strict testing protocols — the MAC has been debating. Initially, Sept. 16, the MAC put out a statement saying it was sticking with the spring. But by that evening, athletic directors had started talking, and pressuring the commissioner to take another look.
Several MAC athletic directors acknowledge this will be a lost season financially, with no seven-figure "buy" or big nonconference games, and no ticket sales. But they also believe not playing in the fall could set recruiting back years.
"It's been hard, it's definitely been hard," said Tariq Speights, a linebacker at Eastern Michigan. "Football is what we know, and it's what we were all raised to do. Having that snatched away now, it seems like two times in the past six or seven months, it's been hard. But one thing about Eastern Michigan, all 115 of the guys on the team have been through some type of adversity. This is nothing like what we haven't seen.
"It's something we're gonna roll with and gonna get through."
The pressure wasn't on the MAC immediately after the Big Ten's announcement, but has heated up over the past week, with Kent State head coach Sean Lewis tweeting a lengthy statement about his team's desire to play in the fall. Western Michigan players put on a combined statement.
Then on Monday, one player from each of the 12 MAC schools participated in a video that was blasted across all social-media channels. Speights and Moore participated in the video.
The video's message: "We Want To Play."
"At the end of the day, we want to play," Speights said. "It's very obvious that other conferences across the country have found a way to do it safely.
"We don't feel the MAC should be the exception. We deserve the chance to play this fall."
Testing, like with all conferences, has been the holdup with the MAC. Back before the shutdown, the NCAA mandated weekly testing for all student-athletes — and at the time, while no biggie for the Big Ten or the like, that was a huge hurdle for the MAC schools, at $75 to $100 a test. The emergence of rapid testing will get the Big Ten back on the field, and perhaps the MAC, too. Rapid testing is cheaper. The MAC, though, still must secure the required amount of tests, and likely will not be able to test daily like the Big Ten.
But the MAC is looking to the Big Ten for guidance on protocols. A player in the Big Ten who tests positive must sit for 21 days (the schedule is only eight games, plus a bonus game), and then only return when cleared by a cardiologist. If 5% or more of the team tests positive, the team must shut down for a week.
That, of course, puts the onus all on the players to be safe and to be smart.
They know it, and they hear about it, especially at Western and Central Michigan, which have dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks in recent weeks.
"We talk about it all the time. Before we leave the field, our coaches' main concern is to do the right thing," Moore said. "We say it all the time, the safest part for all of us is probably in the stadium. When everybody breaks off after that is when you've gotta be disciplined."
Six- and eight-game schedules are being discussed by the MAC, which officially announced a unanimous vote to shut down fall sports Aug. 8 — even though there were some presidents who wanted to play. A championship game at Ford Field on Dec. 19 is possible; the Lions are out of town that weekend.