PONTIAC, Mich. - It won't happen again.
You won't see a 7-5 team like Marshall in the Motor City Bowl next year while Mid-American Conference teams with better records like Toledo and Western Michigan are sitting at home.
That's the prediction of bowl executive director Ken Hoffman.
“No,” Hoffman said when asked if he thought a similar situation would occur again.
“We have nothing against Marshall. We love Marshall. They've been great for this bowl game. But who should be here? That's a good question. 10-1 Toledo? 9-3 Western? I don't know.”
Marshall, the regular season co-champion of the MAC's East Division, made its fourth consecutive appearance in the Pontiac Silverdome by beating Western Michigan, the West Division co-champion, in the MAC championship game.
The Thundering Herd qualified for the Dec. 2 MAC title game on its home field by defeating East co-champ Akron head-to-head during the regular season. Western Michigan played at Marshall by virtue of handing Toledo its only loss of the regular season.
Toledo, which finished No. 25 in both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls, defeated Marshall 42-0 during the regular season.
“In most cases, the conference champion would be (the best choice),” Hoffman said. “Maybe 99 out of 100 times. I don't know if this is the 100th or not, that's up to the fans to decide.”
MAC commissioner Rick Chryst declined comment on the specifics of the contract between the league and the Motor City Bowl, which runs through 2005, but Hoffman confirmed that bowl officials discussed not taking Marshall for the postseason contest against the representative of Conference USA, the Cincinnati Bearcats.
“The answer is, yes, we could have selected Toledo,” Hoffman said. “We could have selected Western Michigan. We talked to (MAC officials) about that. But in the interest of the Mid-American Conference and the integrity of the (MAC) championship game, we agreed with commissioner Chryst that it was in the best interests of the conference to take (the playoff champion).”
Even if it meant that attendance - and bowl profits - would suffer as a result. Hoffman estimated that Marshall fans bought 6,000 to 6,500 tickets for yesterday's game, down from the 15,000 that came from West Virginia last season. Hoffman guessed that Cincinnati brought 7,000 to 8,000 boosters.
“I think under the circumstances (of a fourth consecutive trip to Pontiac), Marshall did pretty well,” Hoffman said.
But not as well as Toledo or Western would likely have done for a first-time appearance in the four-year-old bowl game.
“We hoped Toledo would have drawn 15,000 to 18,000 people,” Hoffman said. “Western might have had 18,000 to 25,000.”
Yesterday's paid attendance was 52,911. The actual number of occupied seats was 26,018.
According to Hoffman, any changes to the format of MAC team selection will start with a minimum required number of victories. A possible total could be eight.
Chryst said any changes to the Motor City Bowl contract would go before university presidents in February.
“The more relevant question in my mind, is that there's got to be a spot for a second (MAC) team within the existing 25 (bowl) games,” Chryst said. “That's really the issue.”
The only postseason contest with an at-large opening is the Las Vegas Bowl. That will change next year when a number of automatic conference bowl berths expire. One such game is in Mobile, Ala.
“I'm reluctant to put any sort of odds on (a second bowl),” Chryst said. “There's no greater priority than that for us.
“What's been most frustrating to me is having a bowl-caliber team like Toledo sitting at home. They had a great year. They should be playing somewhere.”