The Mid-American conference announced Tuesday that it was going to a 20-game conference basketball schedule. It also is eliminating the first round of the MAC tournament, which had been played on campus sites.
The league had been playing an 18-game schedules in men’s and women’s basketball. At the end of the regular season, the top four teams got byes to the quarterfinals of the league tournaments. The other eight teams played first-round games on the home floor of the lower seed. (The 12th seed played at the fifth seed, 11th seed at the sixth seed. etc.)
Other changes announced by the MAC included elimination of postseason tournaments in eight sports. Postseason events would be reduced in seven other sports.
The new schedules would go into effect in the 2020-21 seasons and would last for at least four years. The league said that could change based on changes in school and league finances.
The changes, a MAC press release said, were designed to save money lost because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost every MAC school has announced cuts in athletic budgets, ranging from 10% to 20%. Other than salary reductions, few teams have released details of the cuts.
The new plan was created by a working group including athletic directors, other sports administrators, faculty and students. League athletic directors approved the final version.
The first report of the changes, based on an interview with MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher with Toledo television statement WTOL, also said the conference was eliminating divisions in men’s and women’s basketball. But the MAC press release made no mention of that.
The MAC was the last conference in the country to have divisions in basketball. Its divisions were for scheduling convenience as much as anything.
MAC basketball had been split into East and West divisions of six teams, based on geography. Teams played two games against divisional opponents, one game against four teams in the other division, and two games against two teams in the other division. The home-and-home cross-division opponents were based on team’s previous year’s conference record.
Details of a 20-game schedule weren’t released. If saving on travel is the main purpose, it’s logical that teams on the edges of the conference — Buffalo, Kent State, Akron and Ohio in the East and Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Ball State in the West — would play less.
Elimination of divisions won’t have much practical effect on conference standings. Except in rare instances, divisional records mean nothing in seedings for the conference tournament, which are based on overall conference record.
Two more league games means that non-conference games played at a greater distance — like Ohio’s two-game road trip to Texas last season — could be eliminated. So might holiday tournaments like Kent State and Toledo’s trip to Las Vegas last Christmas and Bowling Green’s trip to a California tournament.
Teams had been playing 10 or 11 non-conference games. Now that will be nine or 10.
The conference schedule is usually is announced in early fall. Non-conference games usually were announced in mid-to-late summer.
This is all assuming universities and sports go ahead with relatively normal seasons next year. Most universities hope to reopen in fall. A major second wave of Covid-19 in summer or fall could shut down campuses again. And most schools have said that if the full student body isn’t on campus, there will be no sports.
Changes in other sports
The MAC said that postseason tournaments in baseball, softball field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis and women’s lacrosse would be eliminated for up to four years, depending on finances. Regular-season champions would advance to NCAA tournaments.
Baseball and softball teams would play a 30-game schedules. They had been playing 26.
The league volleyball tournament would be cut from eight to four teams. The length of postseason tournaments and meets in swimming, track and golf would be cut, mostly by one day.
Wrestling and gymnastics will continue to hold postseason championships. The MAC football championship, which matches divisional winners, won’t change.
“It’s a lot to unpack,” KSU athletics director Joel Nielsen said in an interview with the Record-Courier’s Allen Moff. “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.”