Friday, February 05, 2010

Dave Hackenberg on MAC Basketball--Must Read

Dave Hackenberg has an excellent column in The Blade today about MAC Basketball.  It isn't that it is new ground per se, because we've posted articles that Graham Couch from the Kalamazoo Gazette has written that basically say the same thing.  The article is, however, as good an analysis of the recent history of MAC Basketball and what has happened to bring us to where we are today, which is to be very much a mid-tier basketball conference.

Here's a salient passage...

Football survived and most would agree that is a good thing. But did it happen at the expense of basketball? It can't be coincidence that the mid-major leagues that have made the greatest strides in NCAA tournament participation - Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Colonial, Horizon - do not play football at the Division I-A (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) level.
"I won't hold any punches back on this subject," said Hawkins, the head coach at Western Michigan since 2003. "Basically, you get back what you put into something and, when it comes to men's basketball, we went through a stretch when not a lot was being invested. Things were going pretty well with multiple bids and NCAA wins, too, and at that point I think [administrators] figured basketball was headed in the right direction and they let up on the gas pedal. Now, we're experiencing problems because of that. It has been a very bothersome trend."

A couple things I found interesting:
  • I didn't realize that the attendance woes at Bowling Green were also endemic at other MAC schools, even ones that have stronger basketball teams.
  • He has a couple of coaches coming out and talking more directly than they have in the past.
  • He has an interesting theory from Charlie Coles on why certain marquee players don't come near the MAC.

Essentially, the conclusion is that I-A football was in jeopardy and the MAC made the decision to save it, which took resources from basketball and began the decline that got us where we are today.  Further, the conferences that have passed us up do not have I-A football.  This is the same conclusion Couch has drawn, and I believe it is true.

I love football.  You have to recognize, however, that it is a huge burden on an athletic program.  Even if keeping I-A football was the absolutely right thing to do, it cannot be done without sacrificing elsewhere in a conference like ours.

Finally, while MAC football has maintained its I-A status and gotten more teams in bowls, I would like to suggest that perhaps we have not gotten quite the return on our investment that we might have hoped for.  It seems to me that the number of MAC upsets over BCS teams has slowed in the years since Marshall left the MAC, and furthermore, the MAC remains the second-lowest ranked I-A conference, and has lost 14 of its last 15 bowl games, most against non-BCS teams.

Even if  you concede that the bowl bids are progress in and of themselves, it is important to remember that the NCAA is re-examining the 7-win rule for bowls, and I believe that starting next season, those 7-5 bowl bids to MAC teams (such as Bowling Green) will begin going to 6-6 teams from BCS conferences.  And, as we fall to 3 bowl bids, how does that effect our perception of the ROI we got from investing in football.

People fall on all sides of this debate.  I would just suggest that even if you think I-A football was the right strategy for the MAC, it has had its costs.

1 comment :

Tim said...

Football and Basketball are a must, The MAC footprint site in football heavy fan bases..

Buffalo, Cleveland Area, Cincinnati Area, Chicago Land, and Indianapolis.. Al of these areas have football teams and support them.

Basketball? not so much. Baseball? Definitely not so much..

If you want to free up resources for Basketball get rid of the baseball requirement.