Akron beat Buffalo, 21-20, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. That was the final MAC game played on a Saturday of the 2017 season. The rest were mid-week games — nine were played on Tuesdays, seven on Wednesdays, four on Thursdays and three on Fridays. Not one game was played on a Saturday after Oct. 28.
The MAC began playing week-day regular-season conference games in 1999, though that was a two-game experiment, one of which — Ohio at Marshall — was a Friday game on Thanksgiving weekend.
"To be honest, when the mid-weeks first started, they were done strictly to give the league more exposure," said MAC commissioner John Steinbrecher, who became commissioner in 2009. "And I think it's fair to say it worked. The MAC went from being a regional conference to being a national conference because of the mid-week exposure."
In 2009, ten years after the first mid-week conference games, the MAC signed an eight-year deal with ESPN that netted the conference about $1 million per year to broadcast, among other events, mid-week MACtion games. In 2014, with three years remaining on the eight-year deal, the two sides negotiated a new deal that included rights for football, men's basketball and women's basketball through 2026-27. ESPN is slated to pay the conference about $100 million over 13 years, almost all of which comes in the final 10 years, which began with a 2017-18 payout of approximately $10 million.
(For the record, MAC purists consider MACtion to be only Tuesday and Wednesday night games.)
While that's pocket change for power conferences, a $10-million, three-sport media deal is a big win for the 10-team MAC. But do the football programs, whose in-season schedules are pounded with a potato masher and shoved into a meat grinder, like it? Is it difficult to transition to mid-week games? Is the money worth it?
"I've been in this league long enough that we've had to deal with it," sixth-year Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey told HERO Sports. "[T]here are positives and there are negatives. It obviously puts us on a platform. For the month of October . . . you don't get much of that platform. You do early with some of your non-conference and you do late with MACtion. The positive is the platform you're put on, the national stage."
"You like the fact that the MAC is only the game in town," seventh-year Akron head coach Terry Bowden said. "We have a captive audience on Tuesday and Wednesday nights during late season. That, we like."
"We love gameday. We absolutely love gameday," fifth-year Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Chris Creighton said. "They tell us Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night or Saturday. We love it. We love when we have seven days to prepare."
"I love the mid-week MACtion games," first-year Kent State head coach Sean Lewis said. "It's a great opportunity for our conference, our team, our kids to get national exposure. I believe it really helps us from a recruiting side of things."
"I do like them," fourth-year Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold said. "In fact, when I coached at other levels of college football and you get a chance sometimes as a college football fan, I love the chance to watch mid-week games. Now going into year four in this conference, I enjoy them."
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Unless the coaches are blowing smoke because they understand the financial windfall of nationally televised games, at least half of the MAC's 10 coaches enjoy MACtion. There are, however, scheduling challenges, as Creighton noted by saying, "We love when we have seven days to prepare."
"The negative is during the week we have classes to deal with. We have schedules," Carey added. "There's been five-day turnarounds, six-day turnarounds, road games, road game. It's been challenging, and I know it's been challenging for the league, too. [Players are] on national TV and they love that. What football player wouldn't love that? I don't think they love that on a home game during the week they have to go to class until noon on a gameday."
"There are times you're working on the short weeks, the five-day, six-day turnarounds," Leipold said. "Those can be tough but I think our conference always does a great job trying to balance those and many times . . . a 10-day break. Sometimes a whole week break can be a lot for a team."
"We have a 10-day bye before we start that Tuesday-Tuesday stretch," Lewis said, referencing Kent State's back-to-back Tuesday road games on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 this season. "You got to be great with your calendar, and we have a great ops guy in Adam Young. He lets you know when you come in, 'Hey coach, even though it's Sunday, it's really a Tuesday practice. We're on a Tuesday schedule.' We've fallen into our routines as players and coaches and you just adjust days. You flow and go. It's really not that big of a deal."
"Once you take us out and get into a mid-week schedule, it's a seven-day schedule just like the regular week and it doesn't really change a lot in your preparation," Bowden added. "You have to have either a Saturday off or a short week to get into that first one. But when you do three in a row, once you get into that schedule routine, it becomes routine."
Each coach has concerns about fan attendance, which has been generally lower for MACtion games because of, among other things, late-night weather and school nights for children.
"No question those have been issues," Steinbrecher said. "We hear sometimes from families, and we hear from fans, too. We're going against tradition here. Very few people like to see traditions change. In an ideal world, all college football games would start at 1 o'clock Saturday or 7 o'clock Saturday. But that's not the world we live in, especially where we're coming from."
"What you don't like is what fans and kids and parents who wanna bring their children to football games in late October and November in northeast Ohio it affects attendance," Bowden said. "[V]ery few people on a school night want to bring their children out to a football game."
"We love it when our season ticket-holders and our community can come and it's easy for them on Saturday . . . it's tougher for kids to come out on a Wednesday night at 8 pm." Creighton added."
This season, beginning with two games on Thursday, Oct. 25, 20 of the conference's final 27 regular-season games are scheduled for non-Saturdays, though four of those are on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, a weekend in which most conferences play one or multiple non-Saturday games. Unlike last year, when zero games were played on Saturdays after the final weekend of October, the MAC has four Saturday games in November.
"Personally, I get to watch football games on Saturday and I enjoy that. Never got to all your whole life. I've been a head coach 25 years in college and our mid-week games, we can watch football on Saturday afternoon a little bit," Bowden said.
So even if MACtion comes with challenges, at least Terry Bowden gets to watch football. Everyone can respect that.