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The View From Pluto: The Big Problem With MAC Football

Kent State University is hiring an offensive coordinator from Syracuse to try and turn around its football program. Sean Lewis, 34, replaces former coach Paul Haynes, who had a 14-45 record in his five seasons.

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says Kent State's struggling team shines a light on a bigger problem with Mid-American Conference football. 

Terry Pluto says Kent State has had just three winning seasons in the last 30 years.

In 1987, they were 7-4; 2001 they were 6-5 and in 2012 they were 11-3 under then-coach Darrell Hazel.

"He went to Purdue after that. I call that the Hailey's Comet season. I don't even know why that happened."

Pluto says he was talking recently with University of Akron coach Terry Bowden, who says coaching in the MAC is all about losses and money games.

He's referring to the games that smaller Division I schools play against powerhouse teams on the road just for the payout. For example, this past season, Kent State got $800,000 to play at Clemson and received $1 million play at Louisville. They lost 56-3 and 42-3, respectively. 

"The MAC wants to play on the big stage, which costs a lot of money. And, they're not bringing in any money."

"They announce they they draw 15,000 fans, but you look out there and it's 7,000. Even, Akron, which went to bowl games in two of the last three years, it's not really helping their attendance much. Most MAC schools are in the bottom 20 percent of all Division I schools in what they draw."

And, Pluto says more MAC schools are playing games on Tuesday and Thursday evenings as part of a deal with ESPN. He says the $10 million deal still doesn't stave off the deficits these teams run and keeps fans away on chilly November nights. 

Pluto says the MAC and other small conference schools need to look at whether playing Division I football is worth the money they spend.

"If you're playing MAC football and your goal is to play for a national title, you're not getting there, because you're considered an outlier anyway. I wish one day MAC school presidents would get together and talk about this in a realistic way. But they seem to be lured by football."

Pluto says it could make more sense for MAC schools to consider dropping to another level, like Division II, where smaller schools like Ashland University have competed for national titles.

Copyright 2021 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

Amanda Rabinowitz
Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. Her days begin before the sun comes up as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition, which airs on WKSU each weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio’s sports scene.