Andrassy talks MAC expansion and the additions of Missouri, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion
By David Carducci
This week's addition of Missouri, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion as Mid-American Conference affiliate members may vault the conference into a new elite status.
InterMat used the title "Big Mac" to describe the new look of the conference in its headlines on Wednesday after the MAC announced its expansion. The Big Ten may be the only other conference more worthy of using "Big" in its title with regard to wrestling.
"I want to say we could be the second best conference in the country now behind only the Big Ten," said Kent State head coach Jim Andrassy. "There are three teams in the MAC already (ranked) in the top 12 in the country, and that's not counting some of the other schools in our conference who are on the verge of being there."
Kent State was ranked No. 12 last week in Wrestling Insider NewsMagazine's Preseason Tournament Power Index. That list included traditional MAC rival Central Michigan at No. 8 and new MAC rival Missouri at No. 9. Northern Iowa was No. 20.
With the addition of three new programs, MAC wrestling jumps from six teams to a nine-team conference. According to Andrassy, the goal is to add two more programs in the near future.
"The hope is that adding these teams will make us better," said Andrassy. "Before this, if you won the MAC you were the champion of six teams. Now you can be the champion of eight teams. And good teams … So we are very excited to add Missouri, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion. You look at Northern Iowa, and that's a program that won a national championship (in 1949) and Missouri has been ranked in the top three in the nation about five years ago. So these are programs that understand what it takes, and ultimately that is only going to help us."
Andrassy believes the chance to sell the idea of wrestling against even better competition on a regular basis can only help Kent State continue to recruit on a national level. It will also help in scheduling, "which has been difficult for us," he admitted.
It isn't easy to get top-quality wrestling programs to agree to visit the M.A.C. Center. Now in an eight-team league with the potential to add two more teams in the future, "we'll have the opportunity to get into nine dual meets where we will be guaranteed to wrestle throughout the year," Andrassy said. "It's so hard to make out a schedule and get teams to come to our campus. This will help out a lot and add traditionally tough teams to our schedule."
Andrassy and other MAC coaches also hope the additions of Missouri, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion will help the conference get more bids to the national tournament.
"We are only guaranteed 10 (automatic bids) now based on APR and power ratings," said Andrassy. "We as a conference have been lucky because we've done a pretty good job. With the three teams we are bringing in, our power rating is going to go up, which is going to give us more opportunities to qualify kids to the national tournament. That is exciting."
There are a few potential drawbacks to adding to the quality of the MAC, however. Simply wearing down over the course of the season has to become a concern for student athletes wrestling against better competition. It's not unlike wrestling in the Big Ten. Competing in that meat-grinder may be the goal for many young high-school wrestlers, "but I've wondered if wrestling in the Big Ten is as good as everyone thinks because over the course of the year you just get beat up," said Andrassy.
"We are almost to the point where we are going to have to change how we train and how we do things so we can make it through our conference and then worry about the championship and tournament. That's an adjustment our coaches are going to have to figure out."
And then there is the promise of additional travel expenses. At 526 miles, Old Dominion is the shortest trip Kent State will have to make to wrestle at one of the new MAC schools. Northern Iowa is 653 miles away and Missouri is almost a 700-mile drive.
"We are going to have to be more creative with the budgets we have," admitted Andrassy. "But then again it gives us an opportunity to maybe go wrestle an Iowa along with Northern Iowa. And then if we can start doing a home-and-away with an Iowa and Iowa State? If we can get an Iowa into our gym, that would be a great environment for college wrestling. (Expansion) could lead to a lot of interesting opportunities."