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After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”

Justin Fields, Chuba Hubbard headline Maxwell Award preseason watch list

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#WatchListSZN continues unabated, with the Maxwell Award next up on the preseason junket.

Friday morning, the Maxwell Award announced its preseason watch list consisting of 90 college football players from across the country.  Presently annually to the Collegiate Player of the Year, the Maxwell Award is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the sport.

None of the three finalists from a year ago, LSU quarterback and 2019 winner Joe Burrow, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, are on this year’s watch list.  Burrow and Young, incidentally, went 1-2 in the 2020 NFL Draft.  There are, however, six semifinalists from a year ago.

The Big Ten leads all conferences with 15 watch listers, followed by the ACC (14) and SEC (13).  The AAC and Mountain West, with nine apiece, have the most for Group of Five leagues.  And the other Power Fives?  The Pac-12 posted eight, the Big 12 seven.

Four individual schools, Alabama, Indiana, Louisville and Memphis, had three players apiece on the preseason watch list.  Another 11 have two each: Auburn, Boise State, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and SMU.

Below is the complete preseason watch list for the 2020 Maxwell Award.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including the NCAA dropping unprecedented sanctions on Penn State

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The sports world, including college football, had essentially screeched to a halt in the spring as countries around the world battled the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there was a dearth of college football news as the sport went into a COVID-induced hibernation.  Slowly, though, the game is coming back to life.  Hopefully.

That being said, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on July 23, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football down-time, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Media picks Ohio to win first MAC title in half-century
THE SYNOPSIS: So, how’d the media do?  Ohio went 7-6, including a Potato Bowl win.  Miami ended up beating Central Michigan in the conference championship game.  Miami was picked to finish second in the MAC East Division.  Central Michigan, meanwhile, was picked to finish last in the West,

2018

THE HEADLINE: Ohio State announces dismissal of WRs coach Zach Smith
THE SYNOPSIS: The dismissal came shortly after details of a third domestic violence incident involving the assistant emerged.

2017

THE HEADLINE: Chad Morris, Derek Dooley among betting favorites to be next Ole Miss head coach
THE SYNOPSIS: Matt Luke, the interim coach who ultimately replaced Hugh Freeze full-time, was in the middle of the wagering pack.  Three seasons later, Luke was fired by the Rebels.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Braxton Miller’s position switch trims Buckeyes’ QB battle to two
THE SYNOPSIS: Miller’s move to wide receiver left the Ohio State quarterback job in the hands of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

2013

THE HEADLINE: South Carolina investigating if Jadeveon Clowney spoke with Jay-Z’s agency
THE SYNOPSIS: The verdict?  No wrongdoing was found.

2012

THE HEADLINE: Penn State gets fined, postseason ban, scholarship reduction
THE SYNOPSIS: The family of Joe Paterno blasted the sanctions.  Penn State said it accepted them to avoid the death penalty.  In the end, a significant portion of the punitive measures were rolled back.

2009

THE HEADLINE: Tim Tebow confirms he doesn’t get his freak on; Cronkite rolls over in his grave
THE SYNOPSIS: The former Florida quarterback was asked if he was still a virgin.  Yep, one reporter went there.  SEC Media Days, y’all!

Virginia lands All-MAC TE transfer Tony Poljan from Central Michigan

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Virginia will apparently be the beneficiary of a very swift football transfer portal turnaround.

On his personal Twitter account Wednesday, Tony Poljan announced that he is entering the NCAA transfer database. “Thank you [Central Michigan] for the past four years,” the tight end wrote. “After [careful] thought, I have decided to enter the transfer portal.”

One day later, Poljan announced on the same social-media service that he has committed to continuing his collegiate career with the Virginia football team.

The fifth-year senior is joining the Virginia football team as a graduate transfer.  The 2020 season with the Cavaliers will be his final year of eligibility.

Poljan was a three-star member of the Central Michigan football Class of 2016.  The Lansing high schooler was rated as the No. 19 recruit in the state of Michigan regardless of position.  He was the highest-rated signee in CMU’s class that year.

Poljan played in 36 games the past three seasons for the Chippewas.  He started all 12 games in 2019, earning second-team All-MAC honors.

In that action, Poljan totaled 718 yards and six touchdowns on 45 receptions.  His statline for his all-conference season read 33-496-6.  He’s also run for another 248 yards and two touchdowns in his career.

Poljan began his time at CMU as a quarterback before moving to tight end full-time in 2019.

Standout Central Michigan TE Tony Poljan moves into transfer portal

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Central Michigan has taken a sizable hit offensively courtesy of the football transfer portal.  Again.

On his personal Twitter account this week, Tony Poljan announced that he is entering the NCAA transfer database. “Thank you CMU for the past four years,” the tight end wrote. “After [careful] thought, I have decided to enter the transfer portal.”

Poljan would be leaving the Central Michigan football team as a graduate transfer.  The 2020 season will be his final year of eligibility.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Poljan was a three-star member of the Central Michigan football Class of 2016.  The Lansing high schooler was rated as the No. 19 recruit in the state of Michigan regardless of position.  He was the highest-rated signee in CMU’s class that year.

Poljan played in 36 games the past three seasons for the Chippewas.  He started all 12 games in 2019, earning second-team All-MAC honors.

In that action, Poljan totaled 718 yards and six touchdowns on 45 receptions.  His statline for his all-conference season read 33-496-6.  He’s also run for another 248 yards and two touchdowns in his career.

Poljan began his time at CMU as a quarterback before moving to tight end full-time in 2019.

Earlier this month, quarterback George Pearson entered the portal.  Pearson was one of the highest-rated signees in the Class of 2018 for the Chippewas.

In 2018, Central Michigan lost a school-record 11 games.  In Jim McElwain‘s first season in 2019, CMU won went 8-6.  Included in the losses was a New Mexico Bowl beatdown at the hands of San Diego State.