All of the talk in the sports world of late has been on changes to the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 conferences.
But that doesn’t mean other leagues aren’t getting involved.
The Mid-American Conference is also open to expansion, Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said Monday in a telephone interview with Central Michigan Life.
“We are certainly open to looking at opportunities right now,” Steinbrecher said. “If we think there are institutions that will help elevate this conference, then we will explore those opportunities.”
School presidents met Thursday night and Friday in Cleveland, Ohio, with the issue of membership the central topic.
“We talked a long time on that,” he said. “I won’t talk about institutions right now, but we’re being aggressive and looking at opportunities that may be available to us.”
Central Michigan Athletic Director Dave Heeke said Monday that MAC presidents and athletic directors have held several meetings to determine a direction and focus of the league in case of fallout in other conferences.
Heeke said the MAC wants to be ready if and when “all the dominos scatter.”
“We’re a little bit of an odd league with a 13th member team in football,” Heeke said. “We’re a little unbalanced so we’ve talked about that – we need to be an even number in the future. So we’re interested in where other teams kind of shake out that may provide an opportunity for us to grow or do something different.”
CMU President George Ross, who attended the meeting via telephone, confirmed the issue of membership was discussed. Should the MAC decide to expand, he declined the idea of looking at Division 1-AA and Division 2 schools and said the conference would seek other Division 1 schools.
“The MAC is a Division 1-A conference so we would look for other Division 1-A schools,” Ross said. “I am supportive of expansion and I think it would help to have an even number of teams. There’s an imbalance in the conference – with one less in the West – for football and I think it would strengthen the MAC.”
However, Western Michigan University President John Dunn said he “didn’t see a great level of enthusiasm” for recruiting other schools at the meeting.
“What I saw was a discussion of keeping our eyes open,” Dunn said. “We’re not in a sense of any panic.”
Steinbrecher declined to name any specific schools the conference is looking at and said there is no timetable for a decision.
“We could very well stay where we’re at,” Steinbrecher said. “We (have to) come to a point where we identify institutions that fit with us philosophically and problematically and the institutions felt that we were the right home. I don’t think you can put a time frame on it. I don’t think what we would do is linked to what anyone else is doing.”
Temple University is the newest member of the MAC, entering in a football-only role in 2007.
“You sit there and you watch,” Steinbrecher said. “There’s a general sense of great unpredictability in the environment right now. There’s a host of things we don’t know the answer to.”
Heeke: CMU staying put
Athletic director Dave Heeke confirmed CMU will not be moving conferences anytime soon. He said CMU has not been approached about joining another conference.
“I think we’d always be listening to those conversations, but we’re pretty comfortable with who we are,” Heeke said. “We have like-minded institutions in our conference, a vision for what our conference should be and know how we want to grow. I don’t anticipate a lot of conversations about that.”
A modest jump to even a Conference USA or Mountain West, Heeke said, would take a $40 million athletic budget – CMU’s current athletic budget is around $20 million – and larger stadium to reach minimum standards set by those conferences. In addition, Heeke said the number of season tickets would have to double, ticket prices would double and students would no longer get into games free.
He pointed to Marshall, who left the MAC for CUSA in 2005, as a prime example of a school who made the jump and hasn’t been able to duplicate its success in another conference.
“It’s very intoxicating and exciting to say we want to be bigger and go there,” Heeke said. “There’s not enough revenue from those leagues that would offset those investments.”