The MAC: Mostly Average Conference

Michael Moses

“Since its inception in 1946, the Mid-American Conference has progressively grown and developed into one of the most aggressive Division I conferences in the country.”

This is an actual sentence displayed on the official website of the Mid-American Conference. I know they have to put something positive, but aggressive? That might be pushing it.

The last time a MAC school won a national championship was in 1965, by the mighty Western Michigan Broncos cross-country team. We’re going on a half-century! Some teams have come close just in the past few years. Miami’s hockey team made the NCAA’s Frozen Four each of the last two years, but lost in the semifinal and the national championship in heart-breaking fashion. Akron’s men’s soccer team, a perennial top-5 program, lost in the NCAA championship game in 2009 (they also were runners-up in 1986).

Close, but no cigar.

The reputation of the MAC as of late is for its off-the-field success. Out of the 11 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, the MAC ranks No. 1 in graduation rates. Unfortunately, caps and gowns don’t translate to rings and banners.

Luckily, the MAC football conference is respected in the eyes of NFL scouts. NFL-caliber talent is abundant — but maybe not apparent — throughout the 12-team conference. It’s known to many as the “Conference of Quarterbacks” for good reason, namely Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington, Charlie Frye, Julian Edelman, Josh Cribbs and Bruce Gradkowski. Just to name a few. Roethlisberger and Batch have both won two Super Bowls rings, but as we know, no NCAA championship rings.

To make matters worse, the NCAA gives no respect to the MAC, especially the selection committee when it comes time for the men’s basketball tournament. March Madness comes and goes every year, usually with a respectable, competitive team hailing from the MAC (Ohio upsetting Georgetown, anyone?).

Lately, it has been our own Golden Flashes. But last year, Kent State was barely mentioned in talks of teams “on the bubble,” despite an RPI ranking better than almost all of the teams mentioned. Usually, the only way to get into the NCAA Tournament is to win the automatic bid from the MAC Tournament. Hell, it’s hard enough for MAC schools to get a sniff from the National Invitational Tournament selection committee outside its auto-bid.

Kent State’s given its share of athletes to the national sports scene. James Harrison transcended to team success, winning a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thurman Munson, also from Kent State, won World Series titles with the New York Yankees. PGA Tour pro Ben Curtis won the British Open. Nick Saban, a Kent State alumnus, coaches the nearly perennial national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. That might be the closest Kent State has come to a national title, save a sixth-place finish from the men’s golf team in the NCAA Championships a few years back.

But Kent State has no national championships to speak of.

So the question remains, when will the MAC transcend from being a league of mostly average, fly-over schools to one of national championship contenders?

[email protected]