Sports

MAC commissioner talks BCS, conference expansion

CM Life Senior Reporter Aaron McMann and Staff Reporter John Evans sat down with Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher for a few minutes Friday during the MAC Football Preview at Ford Field.

John Evans: Given the success of certain teams and players in recent years, do you feel that there’s more a higher level of respect for the MAC on the national stage?
Jon Steinbrecher: I believe so. The things I could point to as part of that is that we gained our new contract with ESPN that started a year ago. It assisted us as we were in our negotiations last fall and winter for new bowl contracts, when we secured five contracts for the first time in league history. Yes, I think those are things that people point to. We have good name recognition. We have to continue to grow on the field and keep pushing so that we’re getting multiple teams in (the) Top 25. I think that’s critical as we move forward.

JE: What’s your take on the BCS and a proposed playoff system?
JS: One of these days, 100 years from now, some business school is going to do a case-book study on the BCS, no doubt. Just from where I’m sitting, in the 12 years it’s been around, it’s evolved. It seems like every 2, 3, 4 years there’s another evolution of it and some tweaks that facilitate more participation, more opportunity (and) a little more revenue. At the end of the day, the BCS has been very positive for the Mid-American Conference. It is hoping to facilitate more opportunities, it is putting more money into the bowl system—into the conferences that can be used to invest in bowls. It’s creating more attention on college football. If you go back before that time, it’s brought much more laser focus. We’re in January and February and people are talking about the BCS. People talk about college football because of it.

Would you like to see some tweaks? Perhaps. Yeah, we’d like a better or more direct way to have an AQ into it. We’ve agreed to the rules that are set and we’re going to play by those rules. Would we like a bigger slice of the pie? Absolutely, and we’ll continue to push for those things. And we’ll continue to push for this thing to evolve—and we’ll see where that goes. There’s very, very good discussion in the room.

I’m one of 11 commissioners that sits on the BCS board with those other commissioners. There’s a difference of opinion within that group. You got several conferences that want a plus-one model. You got a couple that, would they go so far to support a playoff? I don’t know, but that’s tumbling around in there. And then you have a lot that like the status quo. But it’s good and healthy discussion—there’s open conversation. There’s good, open conversation. This is the first year of a new four-year cycle. My guess is that within the next 18-24 months, you’ll see us talking hard about what the next four years will look like, and I’ll be curious to see where we go from there.

Aaron McMann: While the MAC lost the International Bowl after it decided to cease operations, it gained the Humanitarian Bowl. Do you feel like that ended up being a positive in terms of notoriety?
JS: I’ll take it as a positive. The International Bowl was a very good partner – we enjoyed our experiences there. But the Humanitarian Bowl, it was my first time out there last year, boy do they do just a marvelous job. We had a great experience – they had a record TV rating with our game out there. I think our folks, when they go out there, they’re going to have their socks knocked off. The community really embraces the event, it’s a marvelous facility to play in and it’s a good matchup for us. I like playing against the WAC and playing against people that we don’t spend a lot during the regular season getting a chance to match up against. I think those things are very positive for us.

AM: In terms of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, with the Big Ten adding another team (Nebraksa), do you see that bowl becoming more important in the future in that MAC schools could play Big Ten schools regularly?
JS: We would hope so. We’ll see how it plays out. History has shown the last few years that hasn’t occurred a lot, but we hope more and more to have the opportunity. At the same token, the Sun Belt is a very good partner. We’re pleased that they are providing a secondary or back up partner and we’ll forward to matching up with whomever.

AM: I talked to you about a month ago on conference expansion and where the MAC stands. Where is the MAC right now with that?
JS: There’s certainly nothing imminent and it’s a topic that we talk about at every meeting. I just came out of an ADs meeting, I gave a report on it. During our Presidents’ meeting back in June, I presented and they essentially adopted a memo that outlines perspective membership principles, or things we would at if we were to look at institutions. What would we want to benchmark against, what’s important to us, etc. We have the mechanisms in place. I don’t think there’s a conference commissioner doing his job if he’s not scanning the environment, (looking for) opportunities—poking and prodding. Would they help elevate the conference from a geographic point of view, would they add value as you start thinking about TV partners or bowl partners. That is ongoing.

If it would get serious about it, my hope would be that you wouldn’t know about it until I had a press conference and announced who it was. In an ideal world for us, that’s how it would work. I think those processes work better when they’re quiet. We watched some stuff play out this summer, and that’s an interesting to watch, and I don’t know if it was real positive that way.

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