Normally I'm not a big fan of ESPN's Pat Forde- he's a little too arch for my tastes- but he does bring up an interesting and not-very-commented on trend in his latest: the decline of Mid-American Conference basketball. The MAC sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament three times in the late '90s and from 1995-2003 had seven teams advance to the second round and beyond.
No more. From Forde:
"From 2000 to '05, the MAC average was No. 11 in Sagarin's ratings. From 2006 to the present, that rank is No. 16. And this season, it's all the way down to 18 -- just behind the Summit League and just ahead of the Big West (not to be confused in the slightest with the Big East)."
Meanwhile the MAC hasn't sent multiple squads to the Big Dance since 1999, when Wally World's Miami Red Hawks and Gary Waters's first Kent champion repped the league twice over. Forde goes on to some thumbnail reasons for the league's decline:
"Maybe the general population decline in the industrial centers of the upper Midwest has had an impact on recruiting. Maybe schools have felt the budgetary crunch of playing football at the highest classification and it has affected the basketball bottom line. Maybe there are too many aging facilities, mismanaged athletic departments and uninspiring coaches."
I've long felt that the MAC should drop down to the FBS level in football and put more resources in becoming a top mid-major along the lines of the Missouri Valley, which left I-A football a quarter-century ago. Whatever the reason, the league that once boasted Earl Boykins, Wally Szczerbiak, Antonio Gates, Chris Kamen has struggled lately on the national stage. Here's hoping that Ohio U's breakthrough against Georgetown in last season's Tournament was a harbinger of better times for the league Dick Vitale used to call "the most underrated in America."
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