MAC Commissioner Visits Kalamazoo

Last week the Mid-American Conference Commissioner, Rick Chryst, paid a visit to Kalamazoo. Rick had a lot to say at the weekly press conference about the MAC, the scheduling of teams from BCS, and the importance of games such as the Virginia Tech Hokies upcoming visit to Kalamazoo.

This wasn't his first visit to Kalamazoo however. His first ever visit to Kalamazoo was as a member of the Notre Dame baseball team. He played his in his first ever collegiate baseball game at Hyames field. This time around he came to Kalamazoo to talk about MAC football and how WMU's football team fits into the picture.

His thoughts on how the MAC has fared so far in the early part of the 2002 season.

"Well its still early to make a full assessment, three weeks into the season. I do think it's off to a very good start. Trying to gauge back to the preseason its sort of what our expectations were. I felt we were coming off the strongest season our year has had, in terms of football, finishing the year with two top 25 teams, two bowl games for the first time with both of them, and I think our expectations were high coming into the year. This time of the year is where we are going to, as other conferences develop their reputation, how strong is the league, because really this and the bowl games is how you measure yourself. We got some good stories to tell and some frustrations probably as well. Four wins to this point (as of September 16) over teams from BCS conferences. I think that's going to be sort of the general barometer, for not only the Mid-American Conference, but for any conference that's not in the BCS."

"This marks the 4th consecutive year that we have had at least 4 wins against BCS programs. No other league can say that outside the BCS. I think from a consistency standpoint that's encouraging. Frustration: in seriously listening to Carlos and Antonio, I think if you can be frustrated and encouraged at the same time that's probably how I feel. You take a look at last week, Bowling Green over an undefeated Big Twelve team 51-28, a really convincing win. And yet, probably for the rest of our non-conference results, at least in the higher profile games, frustrating. We had three West Division teams, in Big Ten stadiums, all coming down to the final possession. You know statistics are worth sometimes. We're gaining yards, we're putting yards on the board, and yet I don't think anyone is feeling good walking out of there with a loss. At some level, while we always say you don't believe in moral victories, I do think expectations are changing."

"I think expectations are changing in terms of our own programs, when they go into those stadiums and I think expectations on the other end. I don't think people look at that MAC game on their schedule as a breather anymore. We still have work to do, but I am really encouraged by the basic competitiveness of where our league is at, especially at the top end of our league. The top end of our league in each division is getting deeper. I think we still have a couple of opportunities left in the MAC Conference and certainly one of the big ones is going to be…at Waldo Stadium."

"Just thinking about it, this is why commissioners have good staffs, to cover things that we think of and are to lazy to find the answers to. My guess is that Virginia Tech comes in undefeated it will be the highest ranked team to ever play in a MAC stadium. They will be coming in #5 in the country. I was in Blacksburg last Thursday (September 12). Outstanding team; outstanding program. I was at the Western Michigan/Virginia Tech game a year ago, it's a great football team that's going to be coming into Kalamazoo, a team that played for the National Championship just three years ago, a team that could be playing for it this year. Certainly I think it's established and it sells as a dominant team early in the season. What a great opportunity to be hosting a nationally prominent, nationally caliber team in your own back yard. It's a great setting and the right setting, not just for Western Michigan but for the conference."

"My day-to-day is spent with Presidents and Athletic Directors and otherwise. Elson Floyd is the chair of our Council of Presidents, has been for the last three years in a very active time for the league. I think ultimately, really a significant time for the conference. The leadership that Elson shows, the leadership that this department has shown whether it's on the external side, and you look at our attendance numbers and Western is always a leader in that regard. I'm excited to see the new indoor facility, to get over there and see all the improvements that are occurring here. I think it will be a great chance to show off. I hope that we can be a pied piper a little bit and get people out for what I think will be a historic day."

"Other thoughts as we finish up our non-conference season, we start locking in on our league races. We've had two conference games already (as of September 16) already this year. University of Central Florida opens up its conference play at Marshall. Having UCF, and we made the announcement last October that the University of Central Florida was joining the conference as a football only member. They made a little bit more news this summer and helped some rivalries and the like."

"I am really excited about, not just evening ourselves at 14 because I can tell you doing schedules at 14 is a lot better than doing schedules at 13. I think what UCF could mean in terms of helping extend our reach. Antonio, one of your players here, from the State of Florida. The State of Florida is college football crazy, and the coverage were getting in Orlando and otherwise as a part of UCF now being a conference member, I think its really exciting. I think it nationalizes us. I think you see that reflected in how our programs are recruiting, how they have been recruiting."

"I think anyone who has a vision of the MAC somehow of old dingy stadiums, three yards, and a cloud of mud or whatever it might be is. They're not seeing what we're seeing. We've got great talent in this league, great offensive talent, the quarterbacks are something special. You look at almost everyone and they're running some sophisticated stuff, the spread offenses and otherwise. I think the football in this conference is healthy. Certainly I can see the last 4 years, it's healthy as I've ever seen it. It's as strong nationally as it's been in a long, long time."

"Excited about our league races. I think each division is going to be a war week in and week out. The football championship game this year moves to the site of our East Division Champion. For the second consecutive year, we have two bowl games guaranteed. The Motor City Bowl, which has hosted our champion in each of the first five years, it's a whole new look this year. Moving to a new field, a new stadium, Ford Field in downtown Detroit. While we will miss those extra 20,000, upper level, seats in the Silverdome, I think it will be a great setting. It's a state of the art facility, that combined with the Big Ten coming in to the Motor City Bowl I think puts that game, all credit to George Perles and Ken Hoffman and the folks that do such a great job there. I think it's a great opportunity for whatever Mid-American Conference team earns it's way to Detroit."

"Were at the second year of a really positive and I think a significant relationship with the GMAC Bowl in Mobile Alabama. Had a great game down there last year. Marshall ended up a double overtime 64-61 winner. Having multiple bowl games gives you so much flexibility and I think that proved itself out last year. We're thrilled to be maintaining that relationship and I really think that when all is said and done we're going to be looking at a third team that's highly competitive for a bowl game. We've got a deal with the Western Athletic Conference, so that with the game in Boise, Idaho the Humanitarian Bowl, if there is not a team from a BCS league available, then our #3 team will be heading to Boise. I know that we will have a competitive #3 team there and just hoping everything falls in line as well."

"All-in-all, I think it's a great time to be part of football in this conference. I salute what our coaches are doing, the investments that our presidents and our athletic departments are making in terms of facilities, in terms of support services, in terms of all that comes with the territory Division 1-A football. I feel really confident, not just about where the league's at but where it's going."

Commissioner Chryst talks about the MAC's television package.

"Certainly at the national level, we have a more accepted national coverage than we have ever had. There's rights fees that comes to the league as part of that. We're not going to be comparing balance sheets with the Big Ten anytime soon. But it's a good solid thing. We then found a regional television package that will start the first week of November. For the first time ever, we are going to be 19 days selected for those games. We're really going to try to have the top games as they play out. We got the broadest clearance for that package we have ever had, Fox Detroit, Fox Ohio, the Sunshine Network plus the six million homes in the State of Florid is picking up the conference package. Fox Pitt, Fox Chicago on a couple days and Fox Midwest. That package goes to sixteen million homes on the Fox RSN's. I think the way it plays out, you've got great coverage on the Virginia Tech game for example. I think September, in terms of our television caliber of non-742. conference games were getting a lot of TV coverage in September, probably just a little bit in the first part of October, and then as the league race picks up, we pick up with our own package as well as the balance of our national schedule."

Thoughts on the competitiveness of the MAC

"We all know how to keep score, and ultimately it is either a win or a loss. The quick answer is there is only so much probably that you can position a 5 point loss, or 3 point loss. Some of this is probably some to quantify, but what's encouraging to me is frustrating. I didn't go anywhere on Saturday, I come back from Blacksburg and had the great fortune or misfortune of tracking all the games online; Northern/Wisconsin, Toledo/Minnesota, Western/Purdue like in this 40 minute span it's just bam, bam you get really frustrated by it. If there is encouragement, it's that I think expectations have changed. We might have said that we don't believe in moral victories before, but maybe part of you will say we kept it close. I don't see that at all, and I think our programs are going into these places knowing that they got to play well, but if they play well, expecting to win. I think that type of competitiveness is really representative of what is happening nationally. Sometimes it takes the general public a while, maybe the media a while to acknowledge a little bit of the competitor ship and the brand names are always going to be the brand names, but scholarship limitations are making it more competitive across the board. What people are doing with facilities, the support that I think all 117 programs are making, I think college football has never been more competitive in my judgment."

Commisioner Chryst's thoughts on the closing of the gap between the MAC and the Big Ten

"I think it's a little bit like we were talking about here just previously. I think that college football generally has gotten much more competitive. I think you can point to a lot of factors. Number one, and Gary's the best one to see this stuff, he's seen it for a little bit longer than I have and at a lot of different places. I think that the fact that the scholarships are evening out is a big thing. I think facility investment. I think the fact that television is a little bit more broadly distributed, you don't just have to go to 2 or 3 places to be on TV. I think Bowl opportunities. I think that all feeds into a couple things; 1. You can go to a lot of places now and have a great experience and compete at the highest level its not just 10 or 20 or 30 programs. I think our programs are probably getting into the door of a few more places that we might have before. We're probably changing, I think Gary's been a part of it. A lot of this is just personal opinion, but I think the league is nationalizing itself a little bit more. We're not restricted our recruiting to just a couple of Midwestern states, not forgetting about where we live, but we're not limiting ourselves either. It's true for the MAC, but I think its true across the board. I grew up in Madison Wisconsin and since Penn State joined the Big Ten, Northwestern has been to a Rose Bowl, Wisconsin has won three of them. If you would have said that 25 years ago you would have went "What, your crazy." I think there's a lot of places that the kids can look at to get a great experience to play at the highest level. I think were benefiting from that."

Thoughts on the frustration of attracting "major" schools to come to play at MAC stadiums.

"It's great that you got a program like Virginia Tech coming in. There's so many layers to that. There was a time when people wouldn't play Virginia Tech, "why would you play Virginia Tech," crazy to play them. This game will be viewed as a bad loss. I think Virginia Tech has been on both sides of that. Virginia Tech is one of four teams from BCS conferences in our stadiums this year. Next year we have seven, really working hard on 05 and 06 and 07 to try to find those opportunities, not just against same opponents but in your own building. At one level as we get more competitive, it gets tougher to schedule those games. There's probably an appropriate parallel with what happened for us this year in basketball. As Kent State was making it's run to the final eight, people are saying its great. It's got to help you next year for the selection committee. I don't know what Kent State did is going to help get us a 2nd team in the tournament, I do know that each one they add made it that much tougher for the other twelve and Kent State to schedule games for this year. Marshall is only 1 of 2 teams in the country that is playing 12 regular season games this year, and its not because Marshall turned down any games, I can tell you that. I think we keep work on the scheduling fees. When I got here, as we looked at future schedules I think there was a little bit of a tendency for us to play two really big guaranteed games on the road and then maybe a 1-AA program at home. I'm hoping we balance that out a little bit. We try to benchmark ourselves a little bit more directly in our AD meetings and even with our Presidents about Conference USA, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, because that's a whole big slice of Division-1A that sometimes people in our geography don't get as much of a look at. I like how our future schedules are playing out, still got a lot of work to due, but the enhancements that are happening in our facilities I think will help us get some of these programs back in hear."

Thoughts on scheduling games with other "mid-majors".

"I think, probably at one level and scheduling becomes a very individual process for programs. I know it's important from a league perspective. I really wanted to focus on building relationships with the Big Ten, because I think someone's always saying "hey, what's it like, it's got to be awful being in the shadow of the Big Ten." I really haven't felt that. I think it's great to be in the neighborhood. I think if we schedule ourselves intelligently with the Big Ten, I think our relationship with those schools have certainly helped bought the Big Ten coming into the Motor City Bowl. I think games like Western Michigan and Michigan are great. Central Michigan next year goes down to Ann Arbor for the first time since 1931 that they've played Michigan. I like that relationship. I think the relationship with the Western Athletic Conference can lead to some direct scheduling benefits. Conference USA, we probably been banging heads a little bit more directly. We got a couple, Cincinnati and Miami always play every year. Louisville's schedule I think has tended to take care of itself because they got that Kentucky rivalry otherwise. But, I think there are some programs probably in Conference USA, that if we go about it the right way we could develop some good scheduling relationships with. I think it's in all our interests. You're starting to see there's so much talk about BCS and BCS conferences and your starting to see a little bit more coordinated work between ourselves, the WAC, Conference USA, and the Mountain West. I hope it does lead to some practically to some scheduling cooperation."

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