The Mid-American Conference has long been the home of Tuesday football, seven-overtime epics and the #MACtion hashtag that bonds together the most hardcore college football fans.
The MAC functions on the outer orbit of big-time college football, a key part of the food chain by providing early season buy games, midweek television inventory and early gambling opportunities for those who’ve endured lost weekends.
On Saturday, the MAC took over a new role in the college football universe — the center of attention. The MAC presidents met virtually Saturday morning and decided to cancel the fall football season, a source told Yahoo Sports. The MAC will focus on playing football in the spring. Stadium first reported the development.
All day Friday, athletic directors and coaches were fixated on the MAC as a potential harbinger for the sport. The MAC becomes the first FBS conference to cancel sports this fall, setting the table for a new question around the industry: “Who goes next?”
The Big Ten presidents are scheduled to meet on Saturday afternoon and discuss the league’s 2020 future, sources told Yahoo Sports. There’s some momentum among league presidents to cancel the fall season. But it’s unknown if there’s enough for a decision to be made immediately.
The Big Ten did show some signs that it’s at least slowing down on the path to the season. The conference announced that it will not progress to padded football practices, otherwise known as “Day 3” of the acclimatization practice period. (They will be able to practice in helmets.) The league wants further evaluation before it progresses to full-contact practices.
The Big Ten’s schedule release earlier this week was filled with warning signs that it wasn’t confident about the season being held. Industry speculation is that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are the leagues most strongly considering punting on fall sports.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told Yahoo Sports on Friday that he’s “very concerned” and “afraid” about the prospect of college football in the fall.
“If one major conference or two say we’re not playing, the others have a hard decision to make,” a conference commissioner told Yahoo Sports.
The MAC will inevitably cite health and safety concerns. But just like UConn’s decision to punt on football in 2020, finances will play as big of a concern as health.
The administration at Northern Illinois, one of the more powerful football schools in the league, had for weeks been loudly lobbying its preference to play football this spring.
The MAC lives on the fees of its so-called buy games as much as its modest media contract. And as leagues went to conference-only formats, it meant that only five profitable games remained on the MAC schedule — Ball State vs. Iowa State, Miami (Ohio) vs. Pitt, Ohio vs. Boston College, Western Michigan vs. Notre Dame and Buffalo vs. Kansas State.
The league presidents failed to come to a decision on what to do about fall sports in a conference call on Thursday. By the time they returned on Saturday, momentum had built. Northern Illinois was looking for allies in pushing to the spring, and the notion of small financial reward combined with the health risk was considerable. The cost of consistent testing was considered prohibitive at some MAC schools, and there’s a hope that more reliable instant testing will be available by the spring.
The MAC follows the Football Championship Subdivision to the spring, as that group fell below the 50 percent threshold earlier this week and will play out in the spring.
Yahoo Sports spoke to a half-dozen sources around the league on Friday. The general tenor in the league was that canceling fall sports was a matter of when, more than if.
The hope among the coaches was that they’d wait so their rosters don’t get pillaged by Power Five schools. Coaches expressed their concern that their rosters will jump in the transfer portal if the MAC canceled football first. They were hoping for optical reasons for higher-profile dominoes to fall, and they could slide in line quietly behind them.
“You’ve got to follow the big guys,” a source said. “I don’t know why we’d be first. It’s not smart politically.”
Now that the MAC is first, will others follow them to the spring? The spring option has received a tepid reaction from major conference coaches, commissioners and television stakeholders.
But the reality on Saturday morning is that the MAC will be remembered as the first conference to jump into the fray. And everyone around the sport is wondering if the MAC becomes a trendsetter: Will MACtion will cause a chain reaction?
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