How many times have we heard the following remark from Marshall University fans fed up with Conference USA?
“We should have never left the Mid-American Conference,” they lament. “I wish we were still in the MAC.”
If I’ve heard that comment once, I’ve heard it a few hundred times.
My retort now?
Be careful what you wish for.
It became the case abundantly when MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher confirmed to WTOL.com in Toledo that the league was going to jettison conference tournaments in eight sports starting with the 2020-21 academic year.
That’s right — eight sports.
Those include baseball, softball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s lacrosse and field hockey.
Supposedly, those league tournaments will go on hiatus for four years. Yeah, sure. I think we all know better than that. Once something is cut, it very rarely reappears.
The reasoning behind the cutbacks?
It isn’t difficult to guess.
“The pandemic and resulting financial issues play into that,” Steinbrecher told WTOL. “As the financial situation changes, it will give us a chance to re-evaluate.”
Other fallout from the MAC’s situation includes the end of divisional play in men’s and women’s basketball. Also, the MAC is changing from its usual 18-game conference schedule in the regular season to a 20-game slate.
That means two non-conference games will be cut.
So, will that affect the Marshall men’s basketball program? After all, the Herd has games with Ohio, Akron and Toledo scheduled for the 2020-21 season.
But, according to Marshall officials, there has been no talk of the three MAC schools pulling out of those games. And that makes sense. After all, Ohio, Akron and Toledo are just bus trips to Huntington.
Besides the 20-game conference slate, the MAC also is eliminating the first round of league tournament competition. That means just eight of the MAC’s 12 schools will advance to second-round play at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
As for baseball and softball, they will be limited to 30 games.
Also, the regular-season champions in the eight sports without conference tournament play automatically will advance to NCAA postseason play.
“There will be alternations in formats,” read the MAC’s statement, “for nine other championships — volleyball (four-team), men’s basketball (eight-team), women’s basketball (eight-team), men’s swimming & diving (three-day), women’s swimming & diving (three-day), men’s indoor and outdoor track & field (two-day), women’s indoor and outdoor track & field (two-day), men’s golf (two-day) and women’s golf (two-day).”
Money, money, money. That’s what this is all about.
And here’s some advice: Get used to it.
That’s because the MAC’s cutbacks are a major shot across the bow for Group of Five schools. The Power Five schools are safe for a year. And, perhaps, so is the American Athletic Conference and, maybe, the Mountain West.
But in the pecking order of the 10 FBS leagues, the Sun Belt, Conference USA and MAC are ranked eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.
Does that mean Conference USA officials might hit league members with similar cutbacks to the MAC’s austerity moves?
Yes, it could happen.
But let’s hope not.