MAC's back! Conference restores eight championships cut amid pandemic

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It's been everyone's goal the past 14 months — to get back to normal.

The Mid-American Conference is making a significant step in that direction, confirming to The Detroit News that it will restore the championship tournaments for eight sports that had been eliminated for 2020-21.

The MAC baseball tournament will return in 2022, good news for Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan.

Restored championships for 2021-22 will be baseball, softball, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's tennis, field hockey and lacrosse.

MAC presidents met this week and approved bringing back the championships, which had been eliminated amid financial pressures in the early stages of the pandemic.

“At my direction, I asked our championship staff to create models of how we could return our postseason events,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement, released to The News. “Conference tournaments are pinnacle events that provide lifetime memories for those involved.

"I am pleased we are able to reinstate these events for the student-athletes.”

There will be some alterations to the tournaments, regarding the number of teams that will participate in the championships. 

The format is as follows:

►Men's soccer: four teams, with the highest seed hosting;

►Women's soccer: six teams, with the highest seed hosting;

►Field hockey: four teams, with the previous year's regular-season champion hosting;

►Men's tennis: four teams, with the previous year's regular-season champion hosting;

►Women's tennis: four teams (division champion plus next-best winning percentages, regardless of division) with the previous year's regular-season champion hosting;

►Lacrosse: four teams, with the highest seed hosting;

►Baseball and softball: four teams, with the highest-seed hosting.

In addition, the league has expanded the volleyball tournament to six teams from four.

The conference seems to be sticking with changes to the men's and women's basketball tournaments. For 2021, it eliminated first-round campus-site games, and sent eight men's and women's teams to Cleveland.

When the MAC eliminated the championships early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference had planned on a four-year test run. But financial pictures have improved, as have health and safety issues, with more than 200 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered in the United States.

For those eight sports this year, the regular-season champion was declared the winner of the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. That's how, for instance, Western Michigan men's tennis earned its bid; the Broncos start play against Notre Dame on Friday.

The loss of the championships put added pressure on the regular season, but also stung for the student-athlete experience, Central Michigan baseball coach Jordan Bischel said.

"They had to make some pretty hard decisions in the middle of this pandemic, what would the world look like, what would budgets look," said Bischel, whose Chippewas are a game up in first place, ahead of Ball State, with the teams playing a four-game series in Mt. Pleasant this week. "But that's a fun weekend for the kids, and not just for the team that wins the tournament.

"Everybody undertstands we're missing something there."

MAC officials were among trend-setters early in the pandemic, as the first conference to pull the plug on its football season, before eventually restoring that. It cut the championships on May 12, 2020.

The MAC has 12 full-time members in five states, including Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984