MAC announces elimination of divisions for football

NIU to have protected games against Toledo, Bowling Green

Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock talks to his team during their game against Western Michigan Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Huskie Stadium at NIU in DeKalb.

The Mid-American Conference on Thursday announced it will eliminate divisions for football, with the top two teams based on winning percentage competing in the MAC Championship game.

The move will eliminate the current structure, with the MAC East and MAC West being merged into one.

The new model will allow each team to face all MAC opponents home and away at least once during a three-year cycle. The league also said the new format will take into account protected opponents based on geographic locations and rivalries.

NIU will be in a protected partner grouping with Bowling Green and Toledo.

“I think it’s an exciting time for the MAC,” Hammock said. “The goal every year is to get the two best teams in the championship game. This is a great opportunity to try and do that with the pod system.”

The other groupings will be Buffalo, Akron and Kent State; Ohio, Miami and Ball State; and Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. The protected groupings will play each other every year.

The current grouping system will eliminate the Bronze Stalk yearly trophy game between the Huskies and Ball State, instead becoming a non-annual trophy game like the Mallory Cup between the Huskies and Miami.

This year’s MAC title game will take place Saturday at Ford Field between Toledo and Miami. Earlier Thursday the league announced a one-year extension to keep the MAC title game at Ford Field through 2025.

The league will release each team’s future opponents by the end of January, with the full 2024 schedule released a month later.

“After significant study and discussion, our membership has made the decision to eliminate divisions in football,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement. “A primary goal in our discussions centered around ensuring the scheduling methodology utilized facilitated the best opportunity to put the two best teams into the championship game. The new model will protect rivalries while facilitating a more even rotation of teams through each institution’s schedule.”

In a press conference leading into the MAC title game, Steinbrecher said the new schedule will allow every athlete, if they stay at a school for four years, to play a home and away at each member institution, adding he believes the MAC is the only league that can offer that.

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