So Grantland, the Bill Simmons website where sportswriting uses big words and lots of 'em, has come to the MAC. Somewhat predictably, the story is a peek in at someone with BCS-credibility: former Auburn Coach and ESPN Head Terry Bowden, who, as you know, has taken over the job at the University of Akron.
The writer is Michael Weinreb, and says he worked at the local paper during the 90s. It was an interesting article with some solid, big school bullshit thrown into it. There are some interesting things though....
At one point he says this in a footnote/sidenotey kinda thing.
When a MAC blogger (yes, there is such a thing) named Matt Sussman wrote about this idea a couple of years ago, several commenters seemed content with the idea of the MAC stepping down to the FCS, or the Division Formerly Known As I-AA.So, not to be all homerish and everything, but I'd stack the intelligence and rationality of the MAC blogosphere up with any other conference, including the one where T. Bowden used to coach and where blogging and drooling happen at the same time.
Honestly, I don't get that offended by the paternalism because it comes with the territory. But that was a cheap and uninformed shot.
Anyway, here is the crux of his article. Here Akron is, without ever winning more than 7 games since they went D1 in football with the big Gerry Faust move. Here Akron is, with two wins in two years. (Here, I might add, Akron is with one more MAC Championship than BG over the past 16 years). And here Akron is, with a $60M Stadium and a coach who is the progeny of one of the game's great coaches.
And why? Because unlike any sport, there is zero chance for a MAC team to win the national championship. As Kyle Whelliston of the sublime midmajority.com has written, in basketball, every team has the same chance. Win your conference tournament and win the next six games and you are a national champion. You might say that's theoretical but it is not...it is real.
So, Weinreb argues (BTW, midmajority references are mine not his), why is Akron building an expensive new stadium and hiring big name coaches. And by extension, why is anyone in the MAC. (He actually uses Bowling Green as an example). Are Tuesday night games enough of a "porthole" to make it worth while?
Here, I weigh in.
First, I think the current football system is flawed and should be changed so that anyone who can with their conference can play for the national title. That is never going to happen, so forget it.
Second, there is more to life then playing for a national title. At our level, the league championship becomes your title, and a bowl bid becomes the secondary goal. That's something to play for and there is nothing wrong with it. At no point in my life has any MAC team had a realistic shot at a national title--even those Marshall teams--and so, it isn't any different than it ever was, super-conferences or no.
Weinreb's questions are certainly questions I have asked here, on this very MAC Blog, and for years. About a dozen years ago, faced with a crossroads, the MAC decided to invest in D1 football, and it has happened at the expense of Men's Basketball in particular. It is legitimate to ask if that has been a good move. Very few smaller schools are supporting successful football and basketball programs and with BG you can add hockey in as well.
Weinreb mentions that MAC fans would be surprisingly OK with going to FCS. I have also contended for years that if BG went FCS, it would not change my interest even 1%. And we might, someday, play for a national title.
That's not what we decided to do. That's OK with me too. Now, having said that, if the march to 4 super-conferences does come to pass, I think it is likely that it will cease to be our option, and we'll get by.
I don't want to trash the article because I found it thought-provoking and insightful.
I guess I would say this: the central question he has is "why?" As in, why would you bother if you couldn't be Alabama.
And that answer is because we love our schools and we love the game. Because it has been a part of our entire lives and we have been there for the ups and the downs and because it makes us happy. Honestly, it isn't any more complicated than that. Big is not always best. Home is where you heart is.