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Radical Realignment Reconsidered?

Yesterday morning, I mentioned that Around the Oval had offered a thoughtful critique of the portion of my radical realignment proposal that dealt with the Midwestern Conference and the arguments in support of its composition.  

For the most part, A.T.O.'s assessment was positive, but he had this to say about my decision to include Miami (Ohio):  

I just don't agree with Miami.  The RedHawks put together a good team every now and again, but they're [sic.] program would really suffer in a conference like this.  I think looking at stadium size is usually a good idea with this sort of thing, and the Miami football stadium only holds 30,000. . . .  I know the genesis of Dawg Sports idea was geography, but putting a team with a 30,000 seat stadium in with a bunch of 100,000+ seaters is just unfair in a lot of ways, most of them to Miami.  The RedHawks would have a bear of a time recruiting against the Michigans, Notre Dames, and Ohio States of the world.

That struck me as a very valid point, so I did a little digging to see if A.T.O.'s argument held up upon further review.  

On the other hand, P.J. O'Rourke went to Miami (Ohio).  Shouldn't that count for something?

The Oxford campus of Miami University, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 14,710 and an additional 1,260 graduate students, is home to Yager Stadium.  The RedHawks' website boasts of the facility:  

Along with being one of the league's newer stadiums, it is also the seventh-largest in the Mid-American Conference with a capacity of 30,012.

The arena dates back to 1983, when Mike Bellotti's hairstyle and moustache were considered fashionable, and it was expanded from 25,183 seats beginning in 1995.  

That puts Yager Stadium well in back of the Big Ten pack.  Among the 11 current members of the league, none plays its home games in an arena with a capacity below 47,130 and only two host visiting teams in stadiums seating fewer than 64,172 . . . more than double the size of the RedHawks' home field.  As alluded to by A.T.O., three Big Ten stadiums have capacities in excess of 100,000.  

All right, I can see how a recruit might be more impressed with that than with Yager Stadium.

To the extent that fan support is dependent upon a school's alumni base, Miami (Ohio) is unlikely to see the sort of large upswing in the size of its booster base that would enable the RedHawks to compete on an equal footing with their Big Ten neighbors.  Although Northwestern, a private university, has an enrollment roughly half the size of Miami's, no other Big Ten member institution has a student body consisting of fewer than 20,000 students and at least four of those universities have enrollments of over 30,000.  

Under my aforementioned proposal to establish the Midwestern Conference, Northwestern's 47,130-seat Ryan Field, Indiana's 52,180-seat Memorial Stadium, and Penn State's 107,282-seat Beaver Stadium have been replaced with Iowa State's 45,814-seat Jack Trice Stadium, Missouri's 68,349-seat Faurot Field, and Notre Dame's unimaginatively-named 80,795-seat Notre Dame Stadium, in addition to Yager Stadium.  While all three of those newly-affiliated universities have enrollments below 22,000, they also have B.C.S. conference backgrounds or the "subway alumni" of the country's most prominent football independent.  

I understand that, in Oxford, they have a "Touchdown Roethlisberger," but, really, it just isn't the same.

How small an arena is 30,012-seat Yager Stadium?  Let me put it this way:  more than 30,000 fans were present for the first game played in Sanford Stadium . . . in 1929.  

In more current terms, Yager Stadium's capacity is below that of 31,000-seat Cajun Field and 30,427-seat Malone Stadium.  Those are the home fields of Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe, respectively.  A.T.O. is right; if you're going to play major college football, 30,000 fans need to be on hand for your spring scrimmage, not for your homecoming game.  

I still believe in Miami University's ability to be a player in college football at the major conference level, but A.T.O.'s argument is supported by the facts and the realities of the situation must be confronted.  Fortunately, a system already is in place for addressing such problems.  

Whenever Division I-AA teams wish to move up to the Division I-A level, such factors as stadium capacity and attendance are among the criteria considered.  Since my radical realignment proposal would take time to implement, anyway, why not offer Miami (Ohio) the option?  If the RedHawks chose to move up in weight class, Yager Stadium would have to be expanded to a certain size by a certain date.  

If you're going to compete at the major conference level with parentheses in your name, the first step is to make sure you're able to have more people at your home games than schools with hyphens and/or multiple directional indicators in their names.

If Miami declined to accept this challenge to upgrade its facilities, the school could remain in the reorganized Mid-American Conference and the Midwestern Conference could instead take, say, Army . . . which has 38,115-seat Michie Stadium, with its more than 80 years of college football history.  

Another alternative might be to leave the reconstituted M.A.C. as I have designed it, put Miami (Ohio) in the revised Conference U.S.A., and allow Northwestern to remain in the same league with its former Big Ten brethren.  

Neither of these options would be my preference, as I like the manner in which all of my realigned conferences are constituted, including the Midwestern Conference with the RedHawks competing in it.  While I recognize the validity of A.T.O.'s arguments, I believe Miami (Ohio) is up to the challenge, so I would recommend throwing the gauntlet down before the university from Oxford to see if the athletic administration will pick it up.  

I believe the RedHawks would rise to the occasion and use their conference upgrade as a basis for raising the funds necessary to invest in expanded facilities.  Just as Louisville was able to build a 42,000-seat arena (which was designed with the intention of being able to expand it to 80,000 seats when the need arose) by entering into a corporate partnership with Papa John's, so too might the Oxford institution make arrangements for expansion with, say, Smucker's . . . especially since Paul Smucker attended Miami University.  

While I have no doubt that Miami (Ohio) would struggle for its first few years of Midwestern Conference play, it appears clear that the RedHawks' long-term prospects for being consistently competitive with the Michigans and the Ohio States of the region are better than those of the Hoosiers, the Fighting Illini, and possibly the Wildcats.  

Miami (Ohio), much like Helen Hunt, deserves better than a last-place finish, regardless of what anyone thinks.

Is Miami University ready to hit big-league pitching?  At this moment in time, not consistently, no.  If given the opportunity and the incentive, though, the RedHawks likely could outperform the bottom-dwellers of the Big Ten and use their association with major players in college football to bring their facilities into line with those of the institutions that no longer are merely their neighbors but now are their colleagues and their competition.  

Go 'Dawgs!