I want to freely admit this is an entirely speculative editorial fueled by a very interesting article I came across this morning.
Eastern Michigan's AD Derrick Gragg dropped the following bomb.
“I think the MAC is going to try to extend invitations to one or two institutions in the next year or two,” Gragg told the EMU Board of Regents Athletic Affairs Committee.
From Oct. 11 to 13 the MAC will meet. Among other things they will reportedly discuss realignment strategies.
Gregg also speculated that Temple University will likely leave the MAC for another conference at the end of their current two year football-only contract.
I mentioned specifically this chain of events as a scenario that could hobble the Sun Belt in a previous article.
The MAC is generally pretty travel cost conscious. Their member schools recognize they are working with a limited budget as members of one of the lower level FBS conferences, so they tend to stay within a region. (Temple, as a football only add, was deemed enough of a value to allow in.)
Would the MAC add Louisiana Tech as an all-sport member?
I am going to say probably not. LA Tech adds a lot of travel and little market or esteem at this point, after years of bleeding in the WAC. Their basketball program is very disappointing in terms of fan support.
Who else does that leave?
Maybe the MAC would consider an FCS upgrade like Youngstown State, but in general FBS conferences don't like adding FCS schools unless conditions are dictating realignment terms to them (as is happening in the WAC today).
AD Gragg is suggesting up to two teams are on the MAC radar...Who else is out there?
I think the obvious choices are Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. Both were rumored to have initiated talks with the MAC in the past. (If you look at the geography and stability of both conferences it is pretty clear why they would be interested.)
Both are strong basketball programs - Middle Tennessee draws about 4,000 a game, while W. Kentucky draws about 5,000 - and Middle Tennessee is an emerging football power. Both schools look like MAC schools in terms of their athletic programs.
If such an invitation were to be offered and accepted, where does that leave the Sun Belt?
There is certainly a lot to consider for schools like Arkansas State and UL-Lafayette.
The WAC Could Figure in To This
It also could make some sense out of the WAC expansion strategy. The teams being mentioned most often frequently seem to add up to a niggling 10 football members with two non-football members in Seattle and Denver.
It has been bothering me for weeks that the numbers do not seem to add up to a division-allowing 12 members in all sports.
Well, the WAC could go to 10 in football, add two basketball only schools and have their division play-fueled travel cost savings in all the other sports.
That would give the WAC some flexibility to wait for schools with a little more immediate football credibility (ie. current FBS members) that the current WAC members may want more, instead of going whole hog with the FCS additions now.
Is it possible that the WAC is making moves in anticipation of stealing ULL and Arkansas State a couple years down the road? After years of unrequited love for North Texas, is the WAC putting together a strategy to bypass the Mean Green and stabilize the WAC's central front?
It is certainly an interesting comment open to a number of interpretations.