With talk of conference expansion gracing newspapers and websites nearly every day, every conference seems to be working on a contingency plan just in case its membership takes a hit.
The Mid-American Conference is no different. Even though its membership hasn’t been linked to much expansion talk, MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said his conference is ready for whatever might happen.
“I don’t anticipate losing member institutions,” Steinbrecher said during last week’s MAC conference call. “I guess at the same time we’re prepared as a conference and we have the mechanisms in place to move forward if we need to. You never want to lose institutions, certainly that wouldn’t be anyone’s desire, I don’t believe, but we’re ready for any contingency that we would face.”
The lynchpin in conference expansion and possible realignment is the Big Ten, which was the first conference to announce plans for expansion. While Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany hasn’t mapped out the details of the expansion, published reports state that the conference could move to 12 teams or as many as 20. And with the MAC right in the middle of the Big Ten’s footprint, several of the conference’s 13 schools could be up for consideration.
"Those conferences are going to do what's in their best interest, and I'm sure at some point it will pull some teams out from other conferences," Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said on the conference call. "I think people have seen this on the horizon for a number of years. I'm sure it will have some impact on us but what exactly is I think is anybody's best guess."
While Steinbrecher wouldn’t share the specifics of his contingency plan, he did state that the conference already has been working on identifying new membership should a need arise.
“One of the things I think conference offices do anytime, and we’ve been doing for some time, is you continue to evaluate the landscape and the environment and I think you’re continually asking the question of, ‘Are there people out there that are the right fit programmatically, that fit philosophically, and would elevate your conference,’” Steinbrecher said.
The MAC is no stranger to having teams poached from its conference. After the 2004 season, Central Florida and Marshall left for Conference USA, which had lost some of its membership to the Big East. That left the MAC with 12 teams for two years before they added Temple as a full-time football member in 2007. That move has been scrutinized for years, even to the point where Steinbrecher’s been asked on several occasions whether Temple would be the first team ushered out should another conference come looking for a school.
Temple signed a six-year contract with the MAC in 2005. With the recent success of Temple’s football program, the re-emergence of the basketball team and the allure of the Philadelphia market, the Owls could be a prime target for expansion.
When Steinbrecher was asked point blank whether he wanted Temple in the MAC, he said: “We’re very pleased they’re a part of our league.”
Steinbrecher reiterated that his conference is not alone in trying to make sure that all of its bases are covered and that it’s not caught off guard when expansion does finally come to fruition. He said he doesn’t deal in hypothetical situations, but he’s fairly confident that the MAC will be prepared for whatever comes its way.
“I believe we are positioned if there are opportunities that we would act upon those,” Steinbrecher said. “We’ll need to continue to have membership discussions on those things and so on. But like, I got to imagine, every other conference out there, we’re paying attention and we’ll be prepared to do what is necessary to ensure the growth and stability of the Mid-American Conference.”