Ever since the Big Ten Conference announced it was exploring expansion options - one school, three schools, five schools - college sports fans have been speculating on the trickle-down effect.
However many schools the Big Ten pursues, and the smart money seems to be on three, that's how many schools other leagues will have to replace, and then those leagues will have to find replacements, and so forth and so on.
The Big East, Big 12, Southeastern, and Mountain West conferences are all sort of holding their breaths to see what the Big Ten might do. Then Conference-USA schools might be targeted, and then the replacement process might trickle down to the Sun Belt and others, including, just maybe, the Mid-American Conference.
Of course, in these parts, any such speculation includes the University of Toledo. I have the e-mails to prove it. And that leads me to ask this question:
Are you kidding me?
Look, I understand school and civic pride. But shouldn't an athletic program be at least semi-dominant in its own league before it becomes a candidate to "move up" to another? Can a school that averaged 10,000 empty seats per football game last fall in a fairly compact stadium and about half-capacity in men's basketball this past winter be attractive to another conference? The football program has experienced four straight losing seasons. Men's basketball hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1979-80 and the last two seasons have been so horrid that digging out will be anything but easy.
There are a number of coaches doing wonderful jobs at UT - names like Tricia Cullop, Brad Evans, and Lars Jorgensen come immediately to mind - but with all due respect to them and their programs there are only two sports (and one gender) that really matter when another conference comes calling.
As for the MAC as a whole, do you realize that one school out of 13 averaged more than 20,000 fans at home football games in 2009? Western Michigan drew 20,330 per game. Do you realize that one school out of 12 averaged more than 4,000 for men's basketball games? That was Ohio at 5,289 per home contest. Kent and Akron each won 24 games and averaged 3,406 and 2,824 fans, respectively. Central Michigan won the West Division and averaged 1,796.
There are a lot of theories as to why the league's attendance has found such a slippery slope. Mine is that MAC fans are bored by most MAC opponents. There is so much competition for those disposable dollars and so many freebies on television that fans of Northern Illinois could not care less about a home game against Eastern Michigan. And vice versa.
That in mind, a change in conference affiliation could be a boost for any number of MAC schools, Toledo and Bowling Green included.
The Rockets had their chance not too many years ago. During the last big rash of conference jockeying in 2005, C-USA lost five schools - Louisville, Cincinnati, and Marquette among them - to the Big East. Marshall left the MAC at that point to join C-USA and Toledo was quietly tendered the same invitation. But the people at the top would not or could not bring themselves to pull the trigger, finding more comfort in the known than the unknown.
A lot has changed in five years and the decision would be different now. But another opportunity is unlikely.
After all, you have to be able to bring something to the table.
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