Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
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David Briggs

Crash landing: Toledo football deserved more than a 'Dollar'

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    Toledo greets its fans after winning the MAC championship game against Akron at Ford Field in Detroit. The fans turned out in the Motor City to support UT, but a return trip to Alabama is no prize for Rockets supporters, David Briggs writes.

    Blade/Lori King

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Coming off one of the finest seasons in school history, the Toledo football team deserved at least a $2 postseason game.

It got the Dollar General Bowl.

And a rematch against Appalachian State.

In Alabama. Again.

Don’t everyone rush to the box office at once.

Is this really the best the Mid-American Conference could swing?

College football has more bowls than a diner — 39 in all this year — and somehow Toledo is going to Alabama for the third time in four years to play the same four-loss Sun Belt team it faced last December.

Not to second-guess such a first-world problem, but this makes no sense, underscoring a hidebound MAC bowl arrangement that leaves the league little flexibility to best accommodate its schools and fans.

Here’s how it works: The MAC has guaranteed spots in four games — the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, the Bahamas Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho, and the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. — and conditional spots in others. For instance, the Big Ten had more bowl tie-ins than eligible teams (eight), leaving a spot open in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. That gave the MAC five bowls for its seven teams who finished 6-6 or better.

This year, the Dollar General Bowl got the top choice of MAC teams, then ESPN — which owns the rest of the conference’s bowls and, to a degree, the league itself — decided the spots from there. There are a few conditions: The two division champions are guaranteed games, seven-win teams receive priority over six-win teams, and no rematches of regular-season contests or consecutive trips to the same bowl.

Beyond that, there is little rhyme and less reason. Thus, you get the Rockets back in Alabama to play the second pick from the Sun Belt and Akron — the team Toledo fed into a wood chipper in the MAC title game — against Lane Kiffin and Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. (ESPN swapped Akron from the MAC-contracted Camellia Bowl to Boca in exchange for Middle Tennessee.)

This is nothing against Appalachian State, which beat Toledo last year and could do so again, nor the Dollar General Bowl, a first-class operation that pulls out all the stops for the big game, including a Mardi Gras parade through downtown. 

With its pick of MAC teams, Toledo was the no-brainer choice.

“Pretty easy decision,” bowl president Jerry Silverstein told me.

“The politicking is very limited,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said. “People think that we’re on the phone with bowl folks. We are to a point, but in this case, Mobile had the first pick, and Toledo was it. ... This is not the JV bowl. It’s an excellent bowl. The hospitality is off the charts. They do a wonderful job.”

Again, true. Fun city. Good game. Great people.

The problem is the Rockets just played in Mobile after a four-loss regular season in 2014 and up the road in Montgomery against Appalachian State last year.

Sorry if fans — at least those without an Alabama timeshare — wanted more than a recycla-bowl.

This postseason only reinforced where the MAC sits on the college football food chain.

The champions of the other Group of Five leagues can go to Hawaii, New Orleans, and Las Vegas, while their second-tier teams — with one exception — all got opportunities, too. Of the 81 bowl-eligible teams, 78 were invited to games. Two of those left in the cold were from the MAC: Western Michigan and Buffalo. Texas-San Antonio of Conference USA was the third.

Maybe that’s fair. Maybe the league needs to put up before it can change its reality, its schools neither traveling nor performing well this time of year. MAC teams went 0-6 in bowls last year and are 14-39 in the past decade.

Maybe, too, the conference needs to renegotiate its bowl contracts, which are up in two years. One order of business: “We’re trying to move to a place where there is no defined selection order,” league commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.

That would be a good start. 

The Rockets’ first MAC championship team in 13 seasons deserved better than more of the same. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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