Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
Just because that one guy missed them. And because there are a thousand tiny newsbits this week.
Goodbye , Mr. Crankypants. Jim Leavitt is the third coach this season to get the axe for being mean. When was the last time even one coach fired for being a firebreathing monster to his charges? Was it John Makovic? Surely it hasn't been that long. (Gary Moeller doesn't count since his transgression didn't have anything to do with doing something mean and crazy to a student.) Inquiring minds would like to know.
Anyway, while Leavitt's lasting bitterness towards Rich Rodriguez induces a Nelson reaction the cause of that bitterness might come back to bite Michigan. Leavitt tends to react to cheatin' much like Angela Bassett, so I'm pretty sure the animosity stems from Rodriguez's tendency to pirate assistants from USF. Rodriguez yo-ho-ho-ed guys from USF three times (OC Calvin Magee, QB coach Rod Smith, and OL coach Greg Frey) in just a few years.
Now one of those guys might move into the captain's chair in Tampa:
Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville -- who has strong ties in the state from his tenure on Miami's coaching staff -- and Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee are expected to be candidates to replace Leavitt, a source told ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel.
Tuberville and McCarney are both semi-retreads who were well-respected coaches terminated prematurely—McCarney led Iowa State to its only sustained success in forever—and probably have the inside track. But Tuberville might end up at Texas Tech and Magee does have more connections in Tampa than those guys. He's virtually guaranteed to get an interview since there's a lot of pressure on schools these days to informally adopt a collegiate Rooney Rule. He'll be a serious candidate.
Losing Michigan's offensive coordinator going into a critical season would be bad. Obviously.
Well hang on just a minute. That Chuck Heater rumor I dismissed earlier now seems considerably more plausible:
For the second time this week, the Dolphins have lost a key linebackers coach to the college game.
Thursday it was inside linebackers coach George Edwards who, according to a source, has resigned his position. Edwards, who the source stressed was not fired, will become defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.
This means that Heater is not going to be the defensive coordinator at Florida and suggests he might either be on the outs with the new guy—thus prompting the trial balloon rumor from Huntington—or amenable to a move back to his alma mater. FWIW, Heater and new AD David Brandon overlapped on a few teams in the 70s.
If they can add Heater it would be a coup. He's been coaching in college since two years after his Michigan career ended and has been a recruiting coordinator since 1998 (he lost that title for a promotion to assistant DC at Florida two years ago). He's almost always coached the secondary in his tenure, so it's a little bit of an awkward fit that would require Greg Robinson to handle all the linebackers, but Heater's positives seem to far outweigh that small negative. He has vast experience, excellent recruiting ties, and would be coming home. It remains to be seen whether there was any credibility in that newspaper report; here's hoping.
We has him. So I'm bringing this article from the News up with a warning to remember the wholesale politics ban around these parts. I think this guy is pretty conservative and thus inclined to like David Brandon a hell of a lot but still, sign me up for some despondency at his removal from state politics:
The precise reasons that University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman so ardently wooed Brandon -- deep management experience, sound personnel judgment, crisp communication skills and an impressive leadership mien leavened with a knack for building teams -- are precisely why Brandon will be sorely missed from the public arena that matters most in Michigan.
This 57-year-old guy who played for the legendary Bo Schembechler is leaving the field too early, long before he's done delivering his best play and long before the final gun sounds.
May Brandon's reign be long and profitable. John Bacon also has a classic Bo story involving Brandon.
It is happening.
Thank you. Darren Everson is, AFAIK, the first person to acknowledge that the Big Ten might not be a nuclear wasteland full of things that are bad at football:
In fact, the Big Ten does just fine year after year—in the early New Year's Day bowls that no one remembers. (It's the big games that have been the embarrassments.) Over the past dozen seasons, the Big Ten is now 13-11 against the SEC in the Outback and Capital One bowls. That is a winning record over a significant time span against upper-level SEC teams in SEC country. …
Another myth that needs to die: the belief that Big Ten teams are boring and stuck in the Stone Ages strategically. Northwestern put on arguably the most entertaining bowl performance since Boise State's classic Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma following the 2006 season.
It's a delightful novelty when someone actual forms an opinion based on data coming into his senses.
Etc.: Three Penn State blogs consolidate into one borg blog. DocSat with sympathy for Colt McCoy. I would also like to extend sympathy to everyone who watched that eye-bleeding game in which both coaches seemed determine to out-caveman each other after the McCoy injury.
Is there a space ray of some variety that explains this? Mark my words: sometime in the next couple years Jim Tressel will be revealed as a Bond villain whose nefarious plot was to create and deploy some sort of negative PR black hole in Ann Arbor.
Unlike all other Bond villains, his plan has been wildly successful. It took freshly minted Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon two days to land a tiny cameo on the Colbert Report in the midst of a segment on Domino's ballsy decision to admit that their core product is terrible:
Getting hired as Michigan AD opens the floodgates. By this time next week Brandon will see a real estate deal go sour, various critical members of the athletic department leave for Arkansas, and a pack of velociraptors with digital recorders tear his tasty flesh into long, delicious strips.
Mmmm. Athletic director velociraptor horror bacon.
At least Brandon is well versed in admitting that the core product is a shambolic mess and taking steps towards actual pizza, be it in food or bowl game varieties.
Yes. This is happening.
Time to call Charles Atlas. Yesterday on the Sporting Blog I pointed out that the Big Ten's bowl performance was somewhere between good and outstanding, depending on whether you want to take peripherals like yards into account, and asked anyone else who writes about college football to notice. Whether they will is yet to be seen.
In the course of it I linked to Rutgers blog Bleed Scarlet's sarcastic reaction to the Big Ten expansion hoopla in an effort to prove just how much crap the Big Ten has been fielding since Ohio State faceplanted against Florida three years ago. When a team whose main accomplishment in the 141 years since it played in the first college football game has been not ceasing to exist is talking smack, you have an image problem that goes beyond rational discussion.
And indeed, Bleed Scarlet notes the post and responds with one of its own that ends like so:
Even if Michigan ever does improve to the point that Big Ten football isn’t a national punchline, the conference as a whole can never fairly receive enough ridicule and disrespect.
What the hell? BS's main complaint appears to be that more people watch Big Ten football even if it's Illinois-Purdue (which was on ESPN) instead of USF-Pitt (which was exiled to Somalia), as if this was a choice ESPN had instead of a long-term contract the Big Ten earned by virtue of having teams people like to watch on television. I mean:
That’s why it’s so maddening that even today, Brian celebrates that the Big Ten is on equal financial footing with the SEC – how is that warranted at all on the merits?
What merits? The Big Ten earns a lot of money because they have a ton of alumni, a culture in which football is important, and a history of success that doesn't evaporate because the conference has struggled through some tough years. Nobody votes except with their dollars and eyes. This isn't a democracy. We're not having a recount. Whine about a lack of Big East respect all you want when it comes to automatic BCS bids—not that the Big Ten has ever spit out the dreck the Big East has with its automatic qualifier—but complaining that it's not fair when it comes to money makes you sound like a fake nihilist with a nine-toed woman.
The Big Ten's recent poor run in the bowls have to do with six letters: USC, which the Big Ten has had to play just about every year since the Trojans can't be bothered against one Pac-10 opponent per season, and BCS, which has dragged more Big Ten runners-up into the big time than any other conference and set up unfavorable matchups down the chain. A few years ago 9-3 Texas played a 6-6 Iowa outfit that had gone 2-6 in conference. Texas won by 3, and somehow the Big Ten's reputation took a hit.
A name to ignore. Probably. I don't think this qualifies as actual information about the mysterious assistant coach opening for reasons that will be bolded. It's an article about Marshall's open defensive coordinator spot:
Is it Chuck Heater?
The University of Florida defensive coach seems like a longshot. Yes, he is the father-in-law of new Marshall defensive line coach Rich Cronin, but this is business.
That's why Heater reportedly is interested in Michigan's vacant defensive coordinator job. ... and vice-versa. Besides that, there still are rumbles about the possibility of Heater staying with the Gators as co-defensive coordinator.
Michigan, obviously, does not have a vacant defensive coordinator job. And since Heater is the "assistant defensive coordinator" on a staff that just lost its defensive coordinator, chances are he's in line for a promotion at a school that isn't Marshall or a poor season or two away from a coaching change. Heater has no history with Rodriguez or Greg Robinson—he's bounced around a lot but never to a spot where either happened to be—and wouldn't be getting a promotion at Michigan. At best he could be the assistant defensive coordinator. The only way this happens is if Meyer brings in a new DC who sweeps out some or all of the existing folk in favor of his own guys.
Harumph. This was covered somewhat in the recruiting post yesterday but a follow-up from me: six players, all on offense, enrolled early but safety Marvin Robinson and quarterback Devin Gardner did not. That's unfortunate because if you asked me to pick the two guys I wanted in early most, I would have picked Robinson and Gardner. I'm still hoping that Gardner can find a way to redshirt this fall—this news definitely increases the chances of that—but if Forcier gets injured, having a slightly more experienced Gardner could be the difference between Rich Rodriguez taking root and getting swept out the door.
That's still less likely to have an impact than Robinson's absence. Robinson is either a safety or an OLB (or "spinner"; from now on I'm just calling the two non-spinners MLBs and the spinner and OLB) and would obviously have been in contention for a starting job somewhere if he enrolled.
Still, it is good to have both Stephen Hopkins and Austin White in early; with the seniors out the door and presumed starter Vincent Smith laid up with an ACL tear that may last into the fall, those two, Mike Shaw, Mike Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will go to war to be 1B to Smith's probable 1A.
Boo, but in a yay way. Hockey picked up a big commit for 2012 in forward Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, who the Hockey News interviewed about a month ago. He was the top player at the USA Select 15s and, FWIW, a guy on Hockey's Future relays that one of the OHL draft scouting services ranks him in the top ten. Apparently he has no interest in that route. That can change, obviously. Please allow me to go weep about Jack Campbell over here.
America number one. Weird experience last night: watched a sporting event and had the team I wanted to win the game actually, you know, win it. This was the Orange Bowl, where Iowa beat Georgia Tech to give the league four wins over top 15 opponents, two BCS wins, and a winning bowl record. This will reduce the number of offseason Clay Travis columns that erroneously cite the SEC's big pile of money—the Big Ten's pile is essentially equivalent—as the reason they're fielding teams full of Terminators against the rest of college football's Hello Kitty dolls. There are now 26 scheduled instead of 180.
So thanks for that, Iowa. I'm glad that when From The Rumble Seat asked me for my best Iowa-related smack talk I demurred because the only thing I hate about Iowa is the fact that they lose to Iowa State more than they should. I hate Iowa State with a passion unknown to man.
Also, Ricky Stanzi takes up the banner J Leman first gloriously thrust upon the shores of the blogosphere:
America. #1. Big Ten. Love it or leave it. Photoshop wizards: can a brother get a Leman/Stanzi 2012 poster around here?
So… you're wise. Michigan legend and extremely old guy Red Simmons turned 100 a couple days ago, which means he's seen a considerable amount of things in his day. I wonder if he feels like Windle Poons, who was a 133 year-old magician in a couple of Discworld novels*. Poons felt like he had been old for the vast majority of his life, and that seemed unfair. This random biographical tidbit, even moreso than competing against Jesse Owens or helping Joe Louis get in shape, best sums up just how long Simmons has been around:
When his grades slipped, Simmons was given a second chance after track coach Lloyd Olds and dean of men James "Bingo" Brown - who was also the state boxing commissioner - asked the university's president to give Simmons a second chance.
During the meeting, Bingo—the dean of men!—chewed on a stogie and crankily took a phone call about some Italian kid with a bruised brain. In keeping with the traditions of the time, Bingo—man dean!—suggested the kid be sold for his meat.
There's also transcripts for the video-averse. Other Red, you are on notice:
On men’s hockey Coach Red Berenson’s recent birthday: Well, he’s just 70 or so, what the hell is that? [laughs] I always say, ‘Oh, to be 80 again!’
Braylongate II. So, yeah, Braylon Edwards did this on the Sunday Night Football introductions:
Everyone on the planet immediately interpreted this as a shot at Rich Rodriguez, including yrs truly. But Braylon says it isn't so:
"Last night during my pre-taped introduction, as a way of paying tribute to Coach Carr, I indentified myself as being from 'Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan,'" Edwards said. "I had no intention of showing any disrespect to Coach Rich Rodriguez.
"I love the University of Michigan and will always be loyal to its coaching staff past, present and future."
I believe him; when I had my usual segment on WTKA on Monday Ira Weintraub came in and mentioned that Stan Edwards had called the station up wishing to clarify that. A number of other players, including Tom Brady, have made comments far less ambiguous ("ugly") about the current state of the program and have not rushed to make sure people didn't misinterpret their comments.
Not that any of this matters at all. Rodriguez will either win or he won't. That's basically what Dhani Jones said on Jim Rome…
“Up to this point it really hasn’t been that good of a job at all,” Jones said. “But then you have to look at the perspective of how long it takes for a class to change over to be his class. There’s a lot of different things, but as a Michigan man you expect things to be changed in an instant. Sometimes you have to have a little bit more patience.
“Two years, my patience is running a bit thin. So next year it’s going to be really a qualifying or disqualifying year for his ability as a coach to get the program in the right direction. And I don’t think many people will stand for it if he doesn’t do a good job next year.”
That's one version of everyone's take, isn't it? Everyone basically says real improvement, yardage parity-ish, and something like eight wins from a 13 game schedule, give or take one based on context. He'll either do that or he won't. The rest is noise.
I really, really don't care about whether Rich Rodriguez should be fired or not. Short of a bomb from the NCAA, he'll get a shot to turn things around. So all this stuff about factions and statements from former players and everyone's opinion on the program is the verbal equivalent of Badger Badger Badger. It's mildly diverting noise containing zero information that's turned annoying from overexposure.
A light at the end of the ridiculous tunnel. This has sat in a tab for almost a month now but no one else has taken up this incredibly critical issue so here goes: when Michigan switched over to Coke something horrible happened. All the fountains at Yost and Crisler were replaced by little refrigerators with 20-ounce bottles in them that sell for four dollars each*. The list of things that I would do before paying four dollars for a bottle of Diet Coke includes "cut off own toes" and "attempt to survive ten minutes in a cage with Brandon Graham."
I'll happily pay the same amount for a fountain drink, though. As a result I spend most of one intermission at Yost fighting through the crowds to the one place that will sell me one. This makes no sense but approximately 20% of the population is nodding fervently right now, which is distressing for the people who aren't reading this post and think they're having a stroke.
Anyway, the current regime might get thrust to one side in favor of a different corporation with an equally silly name:
…University of Michigan officials are selecting a concessionaire for that facility, plus Michigan Stadium, Crisler Arena and venues for baseball, softball, soccer and track.
Incumbent V/Gladieux Enterprises of Toledo, Ohio, is competing for a long-term contract against Aramark, Sodexo and Boston Culinary Group, which submitted a bid before it announced its merger with Centerplate in November. …
Michigan expects to select a food provider by February, Winters said.
I emailed Bruce Madej if this meant a return of fountain drinks—this is life and death, people—and his reply was vague and noncommittal. I thought I detected a playful wink-wink nudge-nudge we'll-get-it-fixed but that could be wishful thinking on The Issue of Our Time.
BONUS! The main section of that article is about Notre Dame's new hockey rink and how the design is modeled after Yost.
*(I think they've unplugged it now but for the first few games they did this literally feet from the regular old Yost vending machine that offered the same product for $1.50.)
Increase the pain. At The Sporting Blog I make a case that the NCAA should shoot down USC's proposed basketball sanctions in favor of a tourney ban starting two years from now, a removal of transfer penalties for current players, and long-term scholarship reductions. (Mea culpa: the post exaggerates how bad Michigan was in their tourney-ban year.) Delaying penalties like that would be less harsh on players who did nothing wrong and harsher on the adults that lost control of the program, and who doesn't like that idea?
Etc.: GS riffs on the house divided meme in the aftermath of Braylongate II. There is a book that actually offers up "Five Very Good Reasons To Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth" that I assume BOX will immediately buy many copies of. Crisler is going to get some boring-sounding but necessary renovations before a (currently hypothetical but probable) second round of stuff you can actually perceive.
Michigan Men’s Swimming: A History
After going on a rampage last month and writing ridiculously long posts about swimming related topics, Brian has asked me to try and raise some awareness for the Swim Team through weekly posts. And so I begin on this journey, hoping to foster interest in the sport and create a rabid fan base that packs 110,000 into Canham Natatorium (knowing full well that the fire marshal will be called).
Unbeknownst to many, the Michigan Men’s swimming and diving program is one of the most respected and prestigious varsity sports that the University has to offer. Since it’s inception in 1921, the program has racked up an astonishing 18 National Titles, while only employing 9 different coaches. The 86 seasons of Men’s swimming have produced many outstanding and unparalleled accomplishments, from NCAA individual and team championships to Olympic medalists and world record holders. Of the 9 coaches that have been employed by the University, 6 have coached for less than 5 years. While those 6 briefly tenured coaches certainly did leave their mark on the program, there were 3 coaches who oversaw 75 years of Michigan Swimming History. The fact that those 3 coaches succeeded at such a prominent level for an average of 25 years each, is simply astounding. Now, I don’t want to go too much in detail on the coaches here for hopes of keeping this post a respectable length however, for those interested, expect a full post on Michigan Swimming’s Coaching History to be out soon.
While success at Michigan is synonymous with the storied football program, Michigan swimming is the epitome of domination, never finishing less than fourth in the conference (excluding the first year of “conferences” when Michigan finished 6th). Over its history, the Men’s team has achieved a record of 613-118-6 for an 83.6% winning percentage. In addition to this overall record, Michigan has gone 404-57-4 in Conference for an 87.3% clip. Now take a second to comprehend that. Michigan has won more than 80% of its meets. If you had bet money on Michigan winning the conference every year, you would have been right nearly 40% of the time, an astounding number especially given the consummate depth of the Big Ten. Michigan has, on average, won a national championship every five years, although most of this success was achieved during the Matt Mann coaching era (this includes unofficial national titles which Michigan won prior to the inception of the NCAA Championship Meet), resulting in 18 national titles, a record that no other varsity sport can claim. (Note: In addition, Michigan is the only school that can boast three coaches who have won NCAA championships in Swimming)
In an era where rankings mean everything, to both player and fans alike, the swim team’s unmatched success has gone unnoticed by the majority of the alumni, except for the brief moments during which the team walks across the football field to honor their accomplishments (a tradition that I was able to take part in before the Illinois game). The swim team’s worst NCAA performance was 25th with the second worst performance being 17th. The team has finished in the top 5 an astounding 48 times. Now all you football fans out there, think about that. How excited would you be if the worst the football program ever finished was 25th? What if that was a year that they went 9-0 overall and won the Big Ten? That is how successful Michigan swimming is; success that unfortunately and unrightfully goes all but unnoticed, buried beneath a magnanimous group of high-profile, high-revenue programs.
Much of the allure of the more high-profile sports (football, basketball, hockey) has been generated through the emergence of hated rivals. The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry pushed both programs into the main stream, with the rivalry growing to be arguably the best in all of sports. The Swimming program is not without its own notable adversaries. Unlike many of the traditional varsity sports, though, Michigan’s main rival has been Indiana, who we have managed a respectable 41-29-2 (58.3%) record against. Another of our main rivals, one you might recognize, is Ohio State, who finished 2nd in the NCAA Championships five of the eleven times Michigan won. Despite their reputable history, the record that they compiled while competing against Michigan was anything but illustrious. To date, Michigan has compiled a 63-11-2 (84.2%) record against Ohio State. While they may have been good, we were better.
As for the rest of our big ten rivals:
Indiana: 41-29-2 (58.3%)
Iowa: 28-2-0 (93.3%)
Minnesota: 36-2-0 (94.7%)
Northwestern: 38-4-0 (90.5%)
Ohio State: 63-11-2 (84.2%)
Penn State: 6-0-0 (100%)
Purdue: 54-0-0 (100%)
Wisconsin: 43-4-0 (91.5%)
*(Our last meet against Illinois was in 1989 before their team was cut from the budget)
Now those are some good numbers, against quality opponents. I say this only because I intentionally left out Michigan State until this point. If you’re a Sparty you might want to look away, you probably won’t take kindly to this part:
Michigan State: 79-5-0 (94%)
The first meet between the two instate rivals was held during Michigan’s inaugural year and from that point on Michigan achieved a dominance that Mike Hart would have been proud of. In doing research on State’s swim team (I wanted to have stats to back up my statement of their ineptitude) I was unable to locate a team history. I think that is a statement in and of itself that MSU hadn’t even compiled a history for a team that has been competing since 1922. The following is slightly biased and is targeted towards a very recent timeframe (due to my affiliation with Michigan sports and my age), however, Michigan State swimming has managed to flounder, despite the popularity of swimming in the Midwest. To put it simply, despite a lot of fast swimmers coming out of Michigan, there have only been handfuls that have attended State… over 86 years. Some of this is due to inferior facilities which can severely damper a recruits interest, although Michigan’s doesn’t rival the modern aspect that some, such as Tennessee have recently achieved. More importantly, if you are a fast swimmer you go to Michigan. It’s as simple as that.
Now that I’ve gone on my Sparty rant, I have realized how long this post is getting. For that reason I will cut it short, with a few ideas fresh in my mind for future posts (Coaches, Olympic tradition/famous swimmers & divers, Recruiting, and a Current update of the swim team). If there’s anything in particular you guys want me to write about just let me know. I understand that Swimming and Diving is not one of the sports that everyone follows, however I hope that by sharing my enthusiasm for the sport and our program in my continued posts, I may be able make fans out of you.
I've spent the morning a little freaked out because Big Ten Media days, despite having zero items of actual interest, certainly feels like something I should be covering the crap out of. And then you flip on the Big Ten Network and Mike Hall says "Michigan will get into a bowl because it's Michigan" at 6-6 when there are rules stating any eligible 7-5 team has to be picked ahead of a 6-6 team and, well… it's not so great.
But here it is if you want to marvel at… it. Enjoy the debt reduction and Michael J Fox Parkinson's commercials, and try not to pass out when Tressel takes the mic.
UPDATE: Whoever the analyst guy is just said Tate Forcier was an "unguided missile," which is… what? And now Greg Robinson is a "beautiful mind." Aaaaargh? I'm so confused.
UPDATE II: I'm done with this now except for a quote from Danny Hope: "having a winning season in 2009 would be one way for this year to be special."
Amateur Barwis Porn. MGoBoard denizens are ahead of the curve on this, but Jeremy Gallon has a number of videos up that document parts of his Michigan official visit, and they're pretty cool. Here's the legendary "you can't do this" Barwis pushup we've heard so much about:
Not that you didn't know this already. Michael Spath talked to Red about the ficky-ficking against Ohio State on Saturday:
He also took about five minutes to rip the hell out of the replay system and the CCHA officials. He's very aware of what the two games (ND and OSU) could end up costing his team in the long run. But while he wants to see wholesale changes to the replay system he doesn't know that it will change because enough programs (ones that don't get TV often) probably wouldn't benefit from introducing new technology.
The other main topic of Red's press conference was the availability of Mark Mitera. Michigan's captain appears to be a go this weekend:
"I'm expecting that he'll play this weekend, but we're going to go day-to-day now that we're down to the last week," Berenson said after practice. "I'm looking at it as if he'll play. Gonna put him in a defensive rotation (Tuesday), and we'll see how he looks as the week goes on."
Also, Brian Lebler was injured Saturday—it's a shoulder thing—but is practicing and is day-to-day for the Ferris series.
A pairwise note. the Hoover Street Rag caught something I didn't when I surveyed the situation:
Miami has a better record, but since they haven't reached the 10-win threshold (when the head-to-head series is taken out) it isn't counted. This weekend, they play OSU. A team under consideration. If they sweep, they win the category and the comparison, even if we sweep Ferris State.
Michigan would have an opportunity to take the comparison back by doing better than Miami in the CCHA tournament, as unless Michigan and Miami are upset they're schedule to meet in the semifinal.
Er, really? The topic of a ninth Big Ten game will not die:
"That was a discussion that may move forward," Alvarez said. "We've discussed nine games. That will be something we'll probably take to the coaches."
The ADs are aware that 9 X 11 = 99 and 99 can't be divided by two; one team would only play eight Big Ten games. This would be absolute chaos if one of those teams was locked into the Big Ten title race, though. If one team is 8-0 and the other is 9-0, who's the champ? If one team is 8-1 and the other is 7-1, who's the champ? I just can't see that working out.
My best effort to a workable system: All league schedules are set just like they are now with the exception of one particular week. This week is kept clear until the previous season ends. The last place team in the league gets matched with a pre-arranged MAC opponent. They probably wouldn't mind, as they would have an easier path to bowl eligibility.
At this point you have ten teams in two groups:
- 2 teams not scheduled to play the last-place team.
- 8 teams with the last place team on the schedule.
The group of two have one and only one available option for their ninth game and get matched up with that option. The other six (or eight) teams get randomly matched up with one of the two teams they miss, with an emphasis on 1) variety and 2) fairly balancing home and away. I don't think it would work out exactly right every year, but the differences would be pretty small.
You are then hoping there are no worst-to-first miracle seasons, or you're putting in some sort of emergency championship game in the event that happens, or you're actually counting this MAC game in the conference standings, or you're just fine with making a mockery of the championship. I'd love to see a ninth conference game—I'd love to see anything other than Wisconsin-Cal Poly, really—but it just doesn't work.