On a beautiful day in Detroit, the Mid-American Conference kicked off its 2021 football season with the official Media Day at Ford Field. Representatives from the 12 members of the conference and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher were all in attendance. The MAC looks forward to welcoming back many elements of its football experience that were absent during the 2020 season, including fans in the stands, non-conference games, a full schedule, and numerous players who were all granted an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MAC media poll has predicted a Kent State vs. Ball State 2021 MAC Foortball Championship Game with 112 points going Kent State's way and 114 points going Ball State's way. The media has also predicted Ball State to repeat as champions, as they were the recipient of seven votes from the media.
Both preseason predicted division winners have more than ten points over the second closest vote — Ohio has 96 points from the East and Toledo has 104 points from the West. Bowling Green received the least amount of votes with 28 in the East, while the least amount of votes in the West went to Northern Illinois with 29.
The beautiful part about these polls is that come September 2, they're not going to matter. MAC football features parity every year and I would expect more of the same this season. In 2020, Ball State defeated preseason (+200) and title game favorite (-13) Buffalo in an upset for the ages at Ford Field.
Takeaways from Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher's Press Conference
For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, Mid-American Conference comissioner Jon Steinbrecher addressed a full media room. The primary topics Steinbrecher addressed included the new NIL (name, image, and likeness) laws, College Football Playoff expansion, the transfer portal, and ongoing COVID-19 protocols.
Updated MAC COVID-19 Policies
Regarding COVID protocols, Steinbrecher has not mandated vaccines. However, if a player or staff member is not vaccinated, they will undergo testing protocols similar to last season. Additionally, if a team is not able to field a full roster for a conference game, the contest will then be counted as a forfeit. There will be no postponements of games due to COVID-related reasons in 2021. Last athletic season, over 36,000 COVID-19 tests were administered to MAC athletes with a 0.5% positivity rate. Those are exceptional figures recorded by a conference that has always put its athletes first.
NIL Law Changes and the Impact
While Steinbrecher does support the new NIL laws, he did seem a bit frustrated with the lack of direction from the NCAA in regards to NIL, stating, "It's a challenge to run championships without direction." Steinbrecher also added that he views the new NIL laws as a "multi-disciplinary learning opportunity" for athletes, as it will give them a chance to work on branding, marketing, communication as well as taxes.
Potential College Football Playoff Expansion
Regarding a possible College Football Playoff expansion to 12 teams, Steinbrecher is fully on board. Given the direction college football is trending, there are several reasons why such an expansion makes sense. Last season saw Cincinnati, an American Athletic Conference team, run the table and take SEC powerhouse Georgia down to the final snap in a New Year's 6 Bowl. The expansion of the CFP would bode well for a smaller conference like the MAC, which has seen teams like Western Michigan (2018) and Northern Illinois (2012) play in high-profile BCS or New Year's 6 Bowl games in the past ten seasons.
When discussing the transfer portal, Steinbrecher wants to see new rules put in place to hold players accountable. "There are too many players that have entered the portal with no real plan on what their next step is," the commissioner stated.
I support most situations in which a player wants to transfer out, but Steinbrecher does raise a valid concern in the sense that too many scenarios do not result in players seeing the results they expect upon entering the portal. While the transfer portal provides opportunities for schools to find players and for players to identify better fits, new rules and regulations could certainly improve its functionality.
I was also able to spend time with several members of the Northen Illinois football program. Interviews with Huskies' offensive lineman Brayden Patton, running back Clint Ratkovich, and head coach Thomas Hammock will all be featured in the next episode of Huskies On Tap, which will be available on July 21.
On a personal note, this was my first in-person media day, as last year's event was conducted in a virtual format. Thank you to the great people of the MAC Conference and those at Ford Field for their hospitality. Football season is all the way back, so make sure to stay tuned for future NIU and MAC football coverage.