Midweek football games are the No. 1 topic of conversation any time scheduling in the Mid-American Conference is discussed.
The MAC has played midweek games on ESPN since 1999. The conference's current contract with the network pays each school roughly $830,000 a year for the next 10 years, running through the 2026 football season. That's a big upside. The downside is fans don't like to attend midweek night games. They draw mostly poor attendance.
“The typical Tuesday-Wednesday game generates $6 million of exposure value," said MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher at a one-day scheduling seminar with media in June. "That’s a pretty good infomercial for our member institutions.”
“Yes, if we had our preference," Steinbrecher acknowledged, "we’d rather kickoff at 1 on Saturday. But if we want to generate significant revenue and we want to be a national conference not a regional conference, then we have to make accommodations.”
The MAC has college football all to itself on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in November. Transitioning each team's schedule from Saturdays to midweek games is just one of the challenges of making the MAC football slate.
Here are some other scheduling parameters the MAC adheres to:
* A school can play no more than two straight road conference games.
* Each school gets to designate one protected Saturday as a home or road game. For instance, if UB wants homecoming to be on Oct. 7, it can make that date its priority request with the MAC office. Most protected dates are honored. On occasion, too many teams ask for the same date at home and a school is asked for a second "priority request." Why would a school ask to be on the road? Maybe students are on break.
* Short weeks are inevitable due to the shift from weekend to midweek games in November. A school can play on five days rest no more than once in a season. A school can play on six days no more than twice. And a school can have only two "short weeks" in one season.
* Schools generally prefer not to host on Thanksgiving week, the final week of the season, because students are off. So a team can't host on Thanksgiving back-to-back years.
Other schedule items of note:
* ESPN likes having two games on at roughly the same time (on ESPN2 and ESPNU). “If one game is a blowout, we like the ability to switch to the other game," said Kurt Dargis, director of college football programming for ESPN. "And it gives us the flexibility to put the game with more meaning on ESPN2.”
* Last year UB's midweek game vs. Akron was only on ESPN3. That was an aberration that should rarely occur. "We had to do it for spacing of the schedule," Steinbrecher said.
* ESPN2 has 85 million households. ESPNU has 75 million. CBS Sports Network has 60 million.
* Protected dates: It would be a lot easier to make the schedule if there were no protected dates, but they are important to the schools. The most popular ask by far is to be home the first Saturday in October.
* Short weeks: When Labor Day falls on Sept. 1 or 2, conferences get 14 weeks to play 12 games, and it’s easier to give every team a well-timed bye week. But that only happens in 2014, 2019 and 2024. The other years, it's 13 weeks to play 12 games.
* In 2017, four teams have five-day turnarounds (Saturday to Thursday). If a school gets all its non-conference games into the first four weeks (without an early bye), it pretty much guarantees it won’t get a five-day turnaround.
* Rivalries: East team Bowling Green must play the West's Toledo every year, due to their long-standing rivalry. Having just one East-West "permanent crossover" was causing too many schedule problems. So the MAC created a second permanent crossover last year, Miami vs. Ball State (which are 90 miles apart).
Story topics: MAC football