MAC Embraces Weekday Football, Commissioner Says
By Clyde Hughes
College football is a Saturday ritual for schools, fans and alumni — tailgating, listening the marching band enter the stadium and the game itself. One football game can be an all-day event.
The Mid-American Conference, though, has found some success — and additional television exposure — playing weekday games, particularly late in the season. Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said his schools and football coaches have seen more pluses than minuses with the arrangement that features MAC teams on ESPN.
The conference will continue to embrace the made-for-TV format for the foreseeable future, Steinbrecher told Football.com. The MAC will play 17 weekday games, 12 of those coming in the heart of conference play in November. The MAC has embraced it, seeing the opportunity to play in front of a national television audience on ESPN as gold for recruiting and exposure.
"As the on-field performance has warranted it, it has raised our national profile," Steinbrecher said. "I hear feedback from our coaches on a fairly regular basis that the exposure has been beneficial in their recruiting efforts."
Northern Illinois became the first MAC team to play in a BCS bowl game, losing to Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl. Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch was able to generate some Heisman attention through the weekday games. Steinbrecher said he knows that's exposure the MAC may struggle to get exposure otherwise.
"There are only a certain amount of time slots available on a Saturday," Steinbrecher said. "Then, there are only so many networks to carry you. If you can latch on and capture a time slot or two on a Saturday, that's great and we want to do that. If you can't do that, then you have to look at some other alternatives."
The Mid-American Conference was one of the first leagues to play games on nontraditional days like Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Other conferences have joined in, seeing the benefit of the exposure, including the likes of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We've done this awhile but it has really taken off in the last five-to-six years," Steinbrecher said. "We've really embraced it and tried to run with it, but it is a balancing act."
Steinbrecher said scheduling weekday games can be a bit complicated. First of all, playing in the middle of the week could force teams to lose playing on the traditional Saturday before and after the midweek game.
"We develop our conference schedule after the nonconference schedule has been developed," Steinbrecher said. "Then, we're wrapping the conference schedule around all of those matrixes. After that, you layer it on top of any facility issues, and then top it off with television needs. That's how you start pulling that jigsaw puzzle together."
Steinbrecher said one of the things that under constant evaluation is attendance. He said there is recognition that weekday games can be problematic for fans, especially the student base. Steinbrecher said the impact on the fans is taken into consideration in all the games.
"There's no doubt that it's easier for the fans in attend a Saturday than weekday," Steinbrecher said. "Saturday is more of a free day. Weekday games can be a challenge and people have to rearrange their schedules accordingly. What we tend to find, by and large, is that the teams that are performing well will draw well, regardless if they play on a weekday or the weekend.
"The teams that are having a tough season, they aren't going to draw as well. That's a factor and we have to be cognizant of that. I'm appreciative of the effort of all of our fans to get to games. We have to balance that we the need to garner national television exposure."
Steinbrecher said while he believes all the MAC schools do a good job at marketing its weekday games to its fan base, Ohio University in Athens seems to have embraced the concept the most.
"They've had some of the highest student attendance turnouts at the weeknight games," Steinbrecher said. "I think it's really all about how they promote it. If you look at our top football programs year in and year out, the Toledos, the Northern Illinois, and you keep going down the list, those folks really do a good job at turning out their fans."
Steinbrecher said the term "MACtion" has taken on a life of its own and can be pretty well traced back to the ESPN football coverage. He said he sees the MAC continuing to take advantage of the weekday game and increasing the exposure of the conference.
2013 MAC Weekday Football Schedule:
Thursday, Aug. 29
Akron at Central Florida
Illinois State at Ball State
Liberty at Kent State
Tulsa at Bowling Green
Wednesday, Nov. 6
Central Michigan at Ball State
Tuesday, Nov. 12
Buffalo at Toledo
Ohio at Bowling Green
Wednesday, Nov. 13
Ball State at Northern Illinois
Miami (Ohio) at Kent State
Tuesday, Nov. 19
Buffalo at Miami (Ohio)
Kent State at Ohio
Wednesday, Nov. 20
Northern Illinois at Toledo
Tuesday, Nov. 26
Western Michigan at Northern Illinois
Friday, Nov. 29
Bowling Green at Buffalo
Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan
UMass at Ohio
Miami (Ohio) at Ball State
Toledo at Akron
Friday, Dec. 6
Marathon MAC Championship Game, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2