'We can compete with anyone': Alford's connections help CMU schedule Alabama, others

Central Michigan Athletic Director Michael Alford watches the CMU men's basketball team practice prior to the Mid-American Conference Tournament game against Buffalo.

John Bonamego doesn't pay attention to team names, conferences, logos or colors. 

Since his first day on campus, Central Michigan football's head coach has preached to his team: "We treat everyone the same."

However, the scheduling of games is not a decision made by Bonamego. That responsibility lies with CMU Athletic Director Michael Alford, who has connections across the nation. 

Before arriving at CMU in 2017, Alford worked in athletics for the Oklahoma Sooners, Dallas Cowboys, Alabama Crimson Tide, USC Trojans, Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Bearcats. He also spent time with ESPN. 

"The good thing is that I have relationships around the country," Alford said. "I know the athletic directors."

Alford called coach Nick Saban and the rest of the athletic department at Alabama and said, "We have an opening and would like to come down to give our kids and fans the experience of going to Tuscaloosa."

After some back-and-forth conversation, the date to play the Crimson Tide was scheduled for Sept. 2, 2023. 

Sometimes the conversations to schedule games occur at a meeting with many athletic directors. However, Alford also makes and receives phone calls regarding adding opponents.

The speed of going from the first conversation to having a game scheduled varies between programs. At times, like with the Sept. 4, 2021 game against LSU, it moves quickly.

"Some other ones, we go back-and-forth on contractual language, so it varies," Alford said. "Once we agree that we want to do this, it moves pretty fast. It's more or less lining up the dates."

From 2018-2024, Central Michigan has intriguing games scheduled against Kentucky, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Miami (FL), New Mexico State, Northwestern, Nebraska, LSU, Oklahoma State, Illinois, Penn State and Alabama, among others. 

Even though Alford works in the athletic department, he remains focused on not only recruiting student-athletes but recruiting students for the university. He believes playing on the road at big-name schools will help grow CMU's brand.

Upon talking to recruits and current football players, Alford said the student-athletes all want to play against the best. So does Bonamego. 

"It's exciting and helps in recruiting," Bonamego said. "When you aspire to be the best, you want to measure yourself against the best. We get a chance to find out where we are at. We welcome those challenges. It's just our 11 against their 11." 

Alford scheduled a home-and-home series against Wyoming based on a phone call received from Tom Burman, the athletic director in Laramie. 

"Hey. Let's do a series," Burman said to Alford on the phone. 

The two programs agreed to a series in the 2026 and 2027 seasons. The Cowboys will visit Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Sept. 19, 2026, and the Chippewas will travel to War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 4, 2027. 

In the 2017 season, CMU and Wyoming faced off in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Albertsons Stadium on Dec. 22. The Cowboys won, 37-15.

"It's so far out, but it's there," Alford said. "The agreement happened before we played them in the bowl game." 

Another valuable piece in scheduling nonconference games is receiving a financial payoff. Alford said it helps to make sure the facilities at CMU are up to par with its peers, an important aspect to growing the Chippewa brand. 

CMU’s future non-conference schedules from 2018-2024:

Sept. 1: at Kentucky
Sept. 8: Kansas
Sept. 22: Maine
Sept. 29: at Michigan State

Aug. 29: Albany
Sept. 7: at Wisconsin
Sept. 21: at Miami, Fla.
Oct. 12: New Mexico State

Sept. 5: San Jose State
Sept. 12: at Northwestern
Sept. 19: at Nebraska
Sept. 26: Bryant

Sept. 4: at Missouri
Sept. 11: at South Florida
Sept. 18: Florida Atlantic
Sept. 25: at LSU

Sept. 3: at Oklahoma State
Sept. 10: South Alabama
Sept. 24: at Penn State

Sept. 2: at Alabama
Sept. 9: at South Alabama

Sept. 14: at Illinois
Sept. 21: at Florida Atlantic