A lot of football fans look for entertainment in places other than the Mid-American Conference. Those fans may want to think twice.
MAC teams, including Western Michigan University, won four games against Bowl Championship Series opponents on Sept. 22. Eastern Michigan also led Michigan State at halftime, while Akron was tied with Tennessee at the half.
“I think our teams are very, very competitive,” said Jon Steinbrecher, Ph.D., MAC commissioner. “We’re coming off a season where we did some really good things. Look at what we did in the bowls last year where we went 4-1 and were awarded ESPN’s Bowl Challenge Cup which goes to the BCS conference with the best winning percentage in the bowls. It shows we’re doing some things. We’re going out and beating some good people.”
On Sept. 22, the MAC showed that they have the ability to compete against schools that have more students and more money. It can’t happen on just one day, though. MAC football programs are going to have to keep beating teams from bigger conferences on a regular basis. Winning is what makes a conference build credibility.
“First and foremost, it starts with what you do on the field,” Steinbrecher said. “There is no marketing program that works as well as flat out winning. So when you go 4-1 in the bowl season, when you come off a sweet sixteen season in basketball or a college world series in baseball – those are the notches on your belt that build credibility in your product.”
Winning is easier said than done, especially for schools in conferences like the MAC.
“We’re competing against a lot of people that have significantly greater resources than we do, and that’s not going to change,” Steinbrecher said. “We need to fight to generate more resources, but, let’s face it, there is going to be a core group that always has greater resources. So, our challenge, and it’s a challenge we’ve all accepted, is that we have to be more efficient and more productive with the resources that we have.”
Weekends like the MAC had on Sept. 22 really draw attention to the conference. When a conference can get recognition, the schools can recruit better players and generate more revenue. That plays a role in winning more games.
“[The games] were invaluable in terms of raising awareness about the quality of the teams that we have,” Steinbrecher said.
Winning plays the biggest role in drawing attention to a team or conference, but television exposure always helps, too.
“Hopefully, we can continue to grow our TV packages, and continue to bring our product not only within our footprint, but across the country and really, globally,” Steinbrecher said. “It’s the beauty of national television. It focuses attention on your league and on your institutions dramatically.”
For a conference to be successful, each individual school has to come up with the right pieces and put them in place. MAC schools are starting to get those pieces.
“What I see are our institutions and our administrators hiring very good coaches who hire good staffs who recruit and develop really talented student athletes,” Steinbrecher said. “They are also investing in the programs in terms of infrastructure and facilities. All those things build upon each other.”
A team from the MAC probably isn’t going to the national championship game this year, but the conference has proved that its football teams deserve respect and recognition. Now they have to keep that respect by proving that the games on Sept. 22 weren’t a fluke. How? Keep winning. They’ll have opportunities to do just that in the months and years to come.
WMU will play against Michigan State in 2013, 2015 (at Waldo Stadium), 2017, and 2019 as part of a “Celebrate the State” football series. Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan will be playing regular games against the Spartans as well. Those games, and others against larger schools, will be great chances for MAC teams to prove that their schools, and their conference, can compete against anyone.
However, for a conference with limited resources, it’s always going to be an uphill climb.
“I hope we continue to fight the good fight,” Steinbrecher said.