Nov. 29, 2004
In college basketball, we talk a lot about the power conferences, and rightfully so. Leagues like the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, Conference USA and Pac-10 dominate the sport's headlines.
So when will a conference like the Mid-American get some respect?
Year in and year out, the MAC puts forth blue-chip talent, both on the court and on the sidelines. The MAC features outstanding athletes and coaches, and MAC teams factor in many upsets in the regular season and at NCAA Tournament time.
Over the years, the MAC has accounted itself well in the NCAAs.
For example, Miami-Ohio already has wins over Purdue and over Xavier on the road. Northern Illinois sent some shock waves through Chicago by beating DePaul by 15. Kent State knocked off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi shortly after the Islanders stunned ACC member Florida State. Bowling Green took care of Illinois-Chicago just after coach Jimmy Collins' team came within a point of top-10 standout Georgia Tech.
Over the years, the MAC has accounted itself well in the NCAAs. Two years ago, Central Michigan gave Duke a scare in the second round. In 2002, Kent State made a magical run to the Elite Eight, beating Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh before losing to Indiana. In 2001, Kent State knocked off the Hoosiers in the first round.
Miami-Ohio made the Sweet 16 in 1999 before falling to Kentucky. Western Michigan upset Clemson in 1998. Eastern Michigan beat Duke by 15 in 1996. Miami-Ohio stunned Arizona and took Virginia to overtime in 1995. Eastern Michigan made the Sweet 16 in 1991, while Ball State made it to the Sweet 16 in 1990 before losing by two to eventual national champion UNLV.
Think about MAC guys who have played in the NBA -- names like Ron Harper, Dan Majerle, Bonzi Wells, Wally Szczerbiak and Chris Kaman -- and you understand that the MAC has had some top talent.
My friends, the MAC doesn't take a back seat to anyone. Teams from the power conferences often try to dodge them in the regular season but can't come tournament time.
The MAC has been built by coaches who know how to get the maximum out of their people -- guys like Charlie Coles of Miami-Ohio, Dan Dakich of Bowling Green and Tim Buckley of Ball State.
MAC players understand how to play the game. MAC schools don't have to worry too much about kids leaving early for the NBA, and that longevity leads to efficiency on offense and a rhythm and familiarity among teammates. That is so essential in forming a good team.
Outside the basketball realm, the MAC has produced a great athlete like Antonio Gates of Kent State. Gates has developed into one of the premier tight ends in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers.
The MAC is a conference that deserves respect with a capital R, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.