The Mid-American Conference battles WVU in the National Championship Race

by Todd Helmick

February 7, 2006 - Dazed and confused already by who plays who? If so, the best recommendation may be to put this column down and step away, or else you just might continue to become even more befuddled. But with our trusted experience in deciphering the truths about annual football scheduling, we can genuinely say that the real underbelly of how competition in Division I-A comes about might surprise you, to say the least.  

The NCAA has approved a 12-game schedule now for all Division I-A football teams. Finding that extra opponent for many schools like those in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) has proven to be next to impossible. In the process, other BCS schools such as West Virginia have fallen directly in the path of Buffalo. Not in a herd, but that Buffalo team that has compiled a 10-69 record since rejoining I-A football in 1999. Yes, that Buffalo team whose new head coach is former Nebraska starting QB (1981-83) Turner Gill.

Why, you may ask?

Though Buffalo was slated to play West Virginia next season (September 9, 2006 in Morgantown), minds change and so do schedules. Remember, it was only last year that UCF (formerly MAC members, currently in Conference USA) contemplated replacing the Mountaineers on their non-conference schedule. UCF did in fact back out, and WVU had to find out about it indirectly, via a local newspaper article.

Enter 2006, and something strange made our wheels begin to turn on Friday, February 3. Since the website is one of the only public forums for listing and updating all 119 Division I-A football schedules this early, we take great care in being keenly accurate for the insiders who use us. We knew it was no secret that Auburn (SEC) was still in need of another non-conference opponent for 2006, and this past Friday, Auburn’s schedule was finally revealed, with Buffalo listed as a home date. Auburn’s schedule unveiling meant that Buffalo now had five non-conference opponents, one too many.

So we called the Buffalo Sports Information Department.  Upon mentioning this fact, we were told that Auburn had replaced WVU on their schedule. OK, sounds like no problem, right? So then we called the WVU Athletic Directors Office to confirm and to see who would replace Buffalo. The first reaction…”What? No, we still have Buffalo on our [2006] schedule.” Well, no, they are evidently dropping you, huh. “You have to be kidding right?”

But then it gets better (and by that, of course, we mean even more confusing).

We had confirmed Buffalo had a game with Auburn. We knew U of B had a game with Boston College, since the ACC released their full set of official schedules over two weeks ago. We knew they had games listed with Temple at home and with WVU and Rutgers on the road. Ergo, someone had to go.

Enter Temple into the equation as a pivotal player. Yes, Temple…the team the Big East voted out of their conference just two years ago. The Owls are now what’s referred to as an “affiliate” MAC team for 2006. In short, it means 1.) Temple will play six MAC opponents 2.) They will not be available to play for the MAC Championship 3.) Their games will not count in the MAC standings, but 4.) They will still be eligible for one of the MAC’s bowl tie-ins (should a Philadelphia phenomenon happen). It also means that MAC schools who play Temple are still required to play a full allotment of eight other in-conference opponents. So for this campaign, the Owls are still considered a non-con for Buffalo, and this will be the only non-conference home game played at Buffalo Stadium. Temple will become a full-time MAC member in 2007 and will be placed in the East Division according to MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst.

Yet further contacts revealed that new Buffalo Athletic Director Warde Manuel has made it clear that deals signed for their road games were sub par, financially speaking. Now his school was looking to drop both WVU and Rutgers in 2006. These were deals that were made prior to his arrival in August of 2005. Still, it doesn’t take an accountant to understand that making a trip to Morgantown for a guaranteed $300,000 when schools like Auburn are offering a contract worth up to $750,000 is bad for school business.

Word was handed down to the MAC that Buffalo wants out of these old contracts. And who should handle this situation? MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst of course. Confusingly, the MAC has since told WVU that the game with Buffalo is on, while Buffalo’s office will not confirm or (for that matter) even return calls on the topic, not even to the WVU people, let alone to spry journalists.

Who is handling this scheduling issue for WVU? Unfortunately, not Athletic Director Ed Pastilong. Yes, he is the one that has to sign any papers, but Deputy Athletic Director Mike Parsons is handling these negotiations.

"The Mid-American Conference called our conference (Big East) office to say the game was still on, but we have still not heard from Buffalo," said Parsons on Tuesday. "They still haven't returned our calls, and believe me, we have tried to reach them multiple times."

Allow us to answer the question since no one else seems to be able to.

After speaking with the Buffalo Sports Information Department and The Buffalo News, we have concluded that the University of Buffalo will not be coming to Morgantown in 2006 to play football.

The latest scenario from the WVU office is that should Buffalo back out, other MAC teams such as Ball State could replace them. If a MAC opponent cannot be found for WVU, Buffalo can buy out its contract by writing WVU a $200,000 check.

WVU could still be left scrambling for an opponent at the last minute. And a Division I-AA opponent may be all that is left if the MAC hangs WVU out to dry. WVU needs an answer now, not 30 days from now when all the other unfulfilled schools have completed their schedules.

But who has an opening left?

If you wish to catch a glimpse at the inside world of NCAA football scheduling, you have come to the right place. After compiling schedules for over seven years now (and as you can now see through this year’s research), I have come to realize that NCAA football scheduling is extremely behind the times. None of the universities has a system in place (such as ours) that searches out and lists all other I-A schedules (and subsequent openings).

Basically, they have no way of crosschecking other schedules to find other schools with the same need. They merely base their scheduling on luck-of-the-draw contact information. Even more important, why doesn’t the NCAA (as a governing umbrella organization) provide such a tool for its institutions (or a link to our site)? This is not rocket science.  Situations like this could easily be fixed internally by an intern with a few extra hours.

Moreover, over the next seven months, WVU will find itself sitting in the top echelons of most preseason polls. Pat Forde, a writer at has already made a quick jab by putting WVU as his No. 1. isn’t quite on board to that degree, but (by August) we could easily peg WVU as a Top 10 team. The Mountaineers are in a prime position to “run the table” since their current ’06 opponents are not top caliber. Their schedule is light already with non-cons Marshall, Maryland, East Carolina and Mississippi State.

In addition, the Big East is still in transition due to ACC expansion and is still considered a weaker BCS conference. In the end, if WVU is forced to add a Division I-AA opponent to replace Buffalo at the last minute, the sentence could be sure BCS death. We can read the writing on the wall already…it’s big and clear to most of us, but can the WVU braintrust see this eventuality?

Just jump ahead to December 3, 2006, the day the BCS releases its final poll to determine which two teams are No.1 and No.2 and in the title matchup. It is not so-far-fetched that WVU could be sitting perfect, but the cries that their schedule was too weak will ring out and true. Statistically, they will never reach one of those top two spots.  Remember, we told you here back in February how the cards were dealt.

Rest assured, WVU has another option in place for Buffalo should this MAC transaction fail. They would be stupid not to. Exactly what that other option is remains a guarded secret. And why should these issues be put out in the open air, honestly? After all, it’s not like the MAC officials could piece it all together with their communication breakdowns. No one really knows what the other is doing, from top to bottom.


The game between WVU and Maryland has been pushed to a Thursday night ESPN appearance on September 14, making the open date of September 9 tough to fill in terms of having only five days to prepare. Maryland will play Middle Tennessee on September 9.

8-31 South Carolina at Mississippi State
9-14 Maryland at West Virginia
9-21 Virginia at Georgia Tech
9-28 Auburn at South Carolina
10-5 Florida State at North Carolina State
10-12 Virginia Tech at Boston College
10-19 North Carolina at Virginia
10-26 Clemson at Virginia Tech
11-2 West Virginia at Louisville
11-9 Louisville at Rutgers
11-16 West Virginia at Pittsburgh
11-23 Boston College at Miami FL (Thanksgiving Day)


Colorado State
Florida Atlantic
North Texas
New Mexico State