What is #MACtion? Well simply put, it’s a high-scoring, action-packed, nationally-televised mid-week game played in November between two Mid-American Conference (MAC) teams that don’t much care for defense. But in the past few years, as Twitter has become more prevalent, it’s created a cult following among college football fans who are always looking to watch more football.That's the kind of argument I had to talk capstone paper students out of. Look how many of my friends go to sporting events. Stadium subsidies must be a great policy. Ad popularum is not welfare-maximization.
“There’s no doubt our conference’s divisional races the past three or four years have clearly played out on national TV in November,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.Perhaps, to the entertainment of people watching at distant sports-bars or from their homes. Whenever the camera panned around the stands, the viewer saw mainly empty seats. And the Orange Bowl run only meant the conference universities lost less money on football that year.
That’s certainly true against this year. MAC West favorites Northern Illinois and Toledo will face off on November 11, while Northern Illinois and Western Michigan — currently tied for second in the division — will play on November 28. In the MAC East, division leader Bowling Green will play at second place Akron on November 4. If history is any indicator, the games will be exciting.
The 2012 MAC race is the one that created that perception. Northern Illinois and Toledo captivated the nation with a thrilling 31-24 NIU win in late November that put the Huskies in position to go to a major bowl game and essentially ended up being the MAC title game. Two weeks later, 19th-ranked NIU took down 18th-ranked Kent State 44-37 in double overtime to win the MAC Championships. That win vaulted Northern Illinois into the top 14 of the BCS ratings and earned the Huskies a berth in the Orange Bowl. Without their run being so highly publicized, Steinbrecher said he isn’t sure the Huskies would have gotten high enough in the rankings to earn an Orange Bowl berth.
“We were the first non-AQ (non-automatic qualifying) conference to determine who gets to go to a BCS bowl game,” Steinbrecher said of the MAC Championship that year. “Both of them (Northern Illinois and Kent State) had largely played through the month of November on national TV.”
The cult following grew thanks to that year, and according to MAC spokesman Ken Mather, last year’s MAC Championship took home higher ratings than the Pac-12 Championship Game that same year. The payoff has been obvious in recruiting, as more recruits are attracted to the conference because they get to watch it, and eventually play, on national TV.There are limits to how well these conference tournaments bring in positive net revenues ... these also apply to the basketball tournament, come March.
That kind of money and exposure has opened the eyes of big and small conferences, alike. According to Steinbrecher, nine of the 10 conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision play weekday games, and Thursday’s Florida State-Louisville game was the latest example of a conference moving a high profile game to the middle of the week.And thus, Mr Trahan's hopes to the contrary, the Southeastern or the Big Ten will crowd out the mid-majors.
For other small conferences, it’s provided exposure they never thought they’d get. The Sun Belt Conference now plays two Tuesday games per year on ESPN and has branded the games — usually between two of the conference’s better teams — as #FunBelt. It’s not organically grown like #MACtion (which the MAC has now trademarked), but it’s still captivated college football fans better than a weekend Sun Belt game ever would.
“(Fun Belt) fits with the atmosphere that we’re trying to create,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said.
“ESPN has very few windows left. There’s ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU exposure. “As football has saturated, the opportunity (arose) to carve out a time that the Sun Belt could grab national exposure.”
For this year, though, Northern Illinois defeated Ball State in Muncie, before lots of empty seats, and then held on against Toledo in DeKalb, in front of a majority of empty seats. And next week's tilt with Ohio in Athens has been relegated to ESPN3, title and bowl implications not-withstanding.