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Sports

Q and A: MAC Commissioner Chryst shares his thoughts

CLEVELAND - At the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst sat down with the Daily Chronicle to discuss the past year in the MAC and where the future of the conference is headed. Daily Chronicle: When you look back at the last year in the MAC, what are you most proud of? Rick Chryst: I really haven't had time to look back yet (laugh). We're certainly competitive in football and the breadth and depth of our league now, the programs that have been competitive and become competitive. Ball State has become our best bowl team. Buffalo's got energy. Parity, I don't really like that word, but I think we've got a lot of competitive football. Basketball, on the men's side, I was just telling (Akron coach) Keith Dambrot our coaches room is as good as its been in my nine years here. I'm feeling optimistic about that. Women's basketball, we're trying to build on Bowling Green's success from a year ago. Competitively, I feel like its early in the game but there's still work to do. Programmatically, I think the NCAA academics, the APR and the graduation success rate continue to be at the top end of Division-I and that's important. DC: What would you like to see improve in the next year? RC: We need to stabilize our postseason, especially in the bowl world. I feel great about the opportunities we've had but that will keep changing. We need to continue to position ourselves as a multi-bid conference in any of our sports. An at-large selection into the NCAA's is such a defining characteristic of this conference. DC: How do you go about becoming a multi-bid conference? RC: You start with your coaches and having high caliber people in directing your programs. We've dedicated a position in the office just for men's basketball. We're searching for someone to fill that position in women's basketball. That's to facilitate in communication. I don't think there's any one magic, secret formula. But it's got to be all those things coming together. Not that this is a next year goal, but always something we're focused on is all of our programs being confident about how we're going about what we're doing and our play in the intensely competitive environment that is Division-I. DC: What kind of void does Jim Phillips leave at Northern Illinois? RC: I think certainly, personally, his energy and his positiveness and his leadership, you know you're going to miss that. Certainly not what's built but how it's been built. Certainly with (NIU) President John Peters, and there's no one better in the country. I mean that, no one better in the country. It's interesting to see how all the pieces fit together. Everything's so solid at Northern right now. I don't know if you replace Jim, but the next leader of the department is going to be tremendous whoever that is. DC: Looking at the recently released football schedule and all of the Tuesday and Wednesday games on it, is that the main way for this conference to get national recognition? RC: This past year we developed an extremely successful relationship with ESPN and filling in the syndicated package that the Big Ten used to be in. So you can't write about our football schedule without writing about the syndicated football package. There's a strong affiliate in Chicago, 20 percent of the country. Last year I don't think Northern played a midweek game. DC: This year Northern has four. RC: And all of them are in November. That's part of the strategy. DC: Is it fair to ask teams to do that, when they're used to playing on Saturday's and then all of a sudden have to adjust to this? RC: What's the difference? DC: It has to be an adjustment with how teams approach things. RC: You transition. You're not on five days. You don't have a single five-day week (in this schedule). I think it's something that our people continue to look at. I can tell you that if we vacate any of our space it's not going to be there. DC: Because somebody will swallow it up? RC: Not just somebody. ACC, Big East, those conferences. You look at every conference has some games played mid-week. If you look at who is in those midweek games, it's not just the Mid-American Conference. I really strongly believe that our schedule is far more structured for when those mid-week's happen. You've got the league races playing out, the Navy game (for Northern) is an exception but that's a great opportunity. I think we're in a much better place in that regard. There was a time when this league played only on Saturdays. DC: But in order to not only survive, but also even thrive you need those mid-week games? RC: I don't think you can stop the world. You're either in it or your not. Like I said, no five-day turnarounds. We're able to offer some pick-'em selections so our games can play on. In September and October it's really Saturday football. That's not to say you can't stop refining, but that's been a big part of this league's growth. There has to be a lot of flexibility. Starting with your coaches, moving to your administrators and you hope you can keep it in balance. DC: The current format of the women's tournament, can that survive the way it is now? RC: We have to look at it. We absolutely have to look at it. A two-weekend format is hard. Certainly to have the opportunity to bring all 12 men's and women's teams to Cleveland and play in (Quicken Loans Arena) is great. But we don't have it right. We've got to look at it. We'll have our (athletics directors) look at it. When we have our women's position in our office, whoever that is will look at it. Certainly our coaches will look at it. I'm confident that this is a transitional step. We'll do it in a way that doesn't take it backwards. There should be a way to bring families together, play in this great building, but two weekends doesn't work.

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