DETROIT: Late Thursday night, Mid-American Conference officials reacted angrily to news that the NCAA granted a waiver for bowl eligibility to Georgia Tech, a move that could keep a MAC school such as Central Michigan from getting into a bowl game this season.
Georgia Tech (6-6) plays Florida State today in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. But even if the Rambling Wreck loses, the waiver clears the way for them to play in a bowl despite a sub-.500 record. The NCAA approved a measure in August to prevent this scenario.
Georgia Tech taking one of the coveted bowl slots likely prevents one or more of the seven MAC teams that finished the season with at least six wins from going to a bowl.
As of Friday, there were 71 bowl-eligible teams available for 70 slots, but that could increase to 73 by the end of the weekend.
Division champions Kent State (11-1) and Northern Illinois (11-1) aren’t affected by the move, but MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher is concerned that Bowling Green (8-4) and Ohio (8-4) and Central Michigan (6-6) will be passed over for more nationally well-known schools when bids are announced late Sunday evening.
Following a late-night meeting Thursday in Detroit while preparing for Friday’s MAC Championship Game, Steinbrecher issued the following statement:
“I am disappointed in the NCAA’s decision to issue a waiver. I could not disagree more with the rationale provided. One of the reasons for the development of the policy covering this matter was to clearly create a selection order to manage just this situation.
“These selection orders were developed with NCAA staff input and approved unanimously by the NCAA Board of Directors last July. To suggest that the NCAA staff or task force working on bowl policy did not contemplate such a circumstance, when this same situation occurred last year, is incorrect. The policy is clear and understandable.
“What is lacking is the willingness to enforce NCAA policy and that is regrettable. All the Mid-American Conference asks is that the rules that have been approved by the member institutions of the NCAA be enforced. That did not occur in this instance.”
Participants in the MAC Championship Game touted the league’s level of play during Thursday’s pregame news conferences.
Players from both teams are aware the MAC isn’t well known across the country and both teams being nationally ranked is helping to spread the word as the bowl season approaches.
“It’s definitely not as looked down upon as it might have been in previous years,” KSU linebacker Luke Batton said. “There’s a thing trending around talking about how the Big East shouldn’t schedule MAC teams in September. We’ve been working so hard and obviously, the MAC isn’t something to look down upon any more. It’s such a great feeling to be part of that.”
Flashes kick returner/running back/receiver Dri Archer agreed.
“In the past, teams have looked down on the MAC, but we’re a powerful conference,” he said. “This year we’ve got six-plus teams that are bowl eligible. A lot more teams are afraid to play us.”
Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was asked whether the believed the top MAC schools could compete with some Big Ten schools.
“I think we’re very competitive,” he said. “I’d like to play a bunch of them, then I could answer that question. But we didn’t get to do that this year, so I can’t really give you a fair answer.”
Kent State coach Darrell Hazell thinks MAC teams might not be able to hang with bigger conferences for an entire season, but believes they’re dangerous in one-game scenarios.
“MAC teams have a lot of talent, a lot of good coaching and any time you can play a team outside in a BCS conference and you play them once or twice a year, you’ve got a chance to win,” he said. “Would you want to line up with them 12 weeks in a row? Probably not. But if you go head-to-head once or twice in a season, you’ve got a chance.”
There was a lot riding on Friday’s MAC Championship Game for Kent State. A lot of money, that is. According to Collegefootballpoll.com, teams playing in the Dec. 26 Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit get $750,000 payout per team, which would be divided among the conference teams. According to Yahoo Sports, the MAC would receive about $8 millon more for an Orange Bowl bid.