MAC makes changes to athletics

The Mid-American Conference announced Tuesday it would be eliminating conference tournaments in eight different sports for at least the next four years. The move is being made to help stem the financial fallout the league is experiencing from the coronavirus pandemic.

Changes to the men’s and women’s basketball schedules and conference tournaments were also announced. Basketball will move to 20-game conference schedules for both men and women, and conference tournaments will now field eight teams. In addition, opening-round games on campus sites were eliminated. 

Conference tournaments will be canceled in field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s lacrosse, softball and baseball. In addition, softball and baseball will switch to playing a full conference round robin of 30 games. 

In response to a request for an interview, the following comment from Kent State Athletics Director Joel Nielsen was provided. 

“It’s a lot to unpack,” Nielsen said. “The changes affect every program in the MAC equally. There are too many (changes) to comment specifically, but our student-athletes and fans will see more games being played between MAC schools in almost every program, with more home games in some sports. The regular season conference finish will now be the goal in several sports due to the championship event being removed.”

In the same email, a comment from baseball coach Jeff Duncan was also provided. 

“It’s a decision that has been made by the league,” Duncan said. “We have moved on from it as a program and have begun to prepare to win a championship in the regular season.” Thirty games in 10 weeks, the best team will go to the NCAA [tournament]. Time to adapt to changes and dominate that.”

For the Kent State softball team, the changes announced Tuesday weren’t completely unexpected.  

“It wasn’t a surprise and honestly it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to our team,” softball coach Eric Oakley said. “I think the way it’s being portrayed in some circles right now is that this is some really traumatic shifting of the way the world of softball works kind of thing. But it’s really not that different.” 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, other leagues around the country competed without a conference tournament in softball and baseball. These changes mean softball and baseball will play 30 conference games, versus the 20 conference games the softball team played in the past. 

The wording of the announcement by the MAC left many worried that baseball and softball would play 30 total games a season, something that Oakley said caused MAC coaches to “put out a lot of fires” with people worried the season had been cut in half. 

“At the end of the day, we are going to play more MAC games,” Oakley said. “We are going to play 30 conference games just in the MAC. And then we have other games we are going to play throughout the season, as well. There’s still a chance to be crowned MAC champion and this could even enhance some of the rivalries that we have.” 

The team will be evenly split in the 2021 season when it comes to who went to a MAC tournament, with this year’s freshman class missing out because of the pandemic and next year’s freshman class being the first after the changes. That leaves only the juniors and seniors with tournament experience. Because of this, Oakley expects mixed reactions from the team. 

Junior softball player Brenna Brownfield is one of the players who played in the MAC tournament. 

“We knew about it and [Oakley] had mentioned that it might be coming,” Brownfield said. “Initially, I was definitely sad about it because I always looked forward to the MAC tournament every year, and I only got to experience it twice. I would love to experience it two more times.” 

Despite the disappointment, Brownfield looks forward to playing MAC teams more often. 

“I love getting to play the teams in our conference, because we have good competition,” Brownfield said. “I also have a lot of friends on the other teams, so it’s always good for me to see them and play against them.”

Gina Butkovich is a reporter. You can contact her at [email protected]