When Geno Ford left Kent State last week to become the head coach at Bradley University, it dealt another blow to the quality of Mid-American Conference men’s basketball.
I wrote about this a while ago, but I can’t help but come back to the decline of the MAC. The league’s two-time reigning coach of the year left to take another position. I get it. That is not uncommon. But Bradley?
Ford chose a school that finished worst in the Missouri Valley Conference last year and hasn’t placed better than fourth in 10 years, rather than the MAC’s most successful program. Simply put, that is astonishing — and not the good kind.
Gary Waters coached Kent State from 1996-2001, then left for Rutgers of the Big East. He now coaches Cleveland State. Stan Heath took over for Waters and left for Southeastern Conference program Arkansas after one season. He was eventually hired by South Florida — another Big East team. The Flashes’ next coach, Jim Christian, stayed six seasons before he moved on to Texas Christian of the Mountain West Conference.
All three of those coaches went on to schools in some of the top conferences in college basketball. But the MVC? The last-place team in the MVC?
I know, I know. The Braves went to the Sweet 16 in 2006. But one trip to the NCAA Tournament doesn’t automatically make the program good (sorry, Bobcat fans who are still clinging to 2010). It takes consistency, and Bradley has not had any.
With that said, Ford can bring that to the program. I think he is a great coach, and I enjoyed the few interactions I had with him during his time with Kent State.
The problem here is that a low-level MVC team is a better coaching job than the cream of the MAC crop. That would never have been the case 10 years ago.
It appears the conference is putting more emphasis on football, and the coaches have reaped the benefits. This past offseason, three MAC football coaches were hired by BCS schools: Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill (Minnesota), Temple’s Al Golden (University of Miami) and Miami University’s Mike Haywood (Pittsburgh, at least momentarily). The year before that, Central Michigan’s Butch Jones was hired by Cincinnati.
I’ve seen athletic budgets from some of the MAC schools, and they, as many NCAA teams do, spend the most money on football.
I don’t like that strategy for smaller conferences. MAC teams will never have a chance to go to the big-time BCS bowl games (the only ones which generate sizeable revenue) as long as the current system remains the same. If the goal is exposure, basketball should be the focus.
There has never been more parity in college basketball than during the past few years. Two of this year’s Final Four teams were from “mid-major” conferences: Butler and Virginia Commonwealth (neither of which, by the way, has a football program in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division 1-A). For the MAC to be emphatic on improving football is just not a good decision, and basketball is hurting. That’s a shame.
—Vince Nairn is a senior studying journalism and The Post’s sports editor. If you also think the MAC should put its focus back into basketball, email him at email@example.com