When the MAC Expelled Eastern Michigan and the Revenge Tour That Followed

With Eastern Michigan (EMU) playing in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl I would like to take this opportunity to examine the last time EMU went to a bowl back in 1987. The 1987 Eastern Michigan football season is a fascinating story as it symbolized a complete reversal of fortune for a program that had struggled in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their 1987 season is also one of the best “revenge tour” stories that I have ever come across.

The story starts in 1984 with the MAC in the middle of a crisis. Two years earlier in 1982 the NCAA had revoked the Ivy League Amendment which allowed schools to circumvent the attendance/stadium capacity requirements of FBS. The result was that the MAC now had to come into compliance with the tough standards of FBS status. Out of ten members only two were able to meet the criteria. The result was the MAC being relegated down to FCS status with Central Michigan and Toledo being FBS members who belonged to an FCS conference.

After spending one year at the FCS level the MAC was able to become an FBS conference again. This was thanks to a combination of leeway from the NCAA and non-compliant conference members meeting the FBS requirements. The MAC didn’t need every member to meet FBS requirements, only a majority of the conference. The MAC played the 1983 season as an FBS conference thanks to six of its ten members meeting the FBS requirements. Those schools were Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Toledo, Miami (OH), Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan.

During the summer of 1984 the MAC had a problem. It looked highly unlikely that Western Michigan would meet FBS requirements. This meant the MAC was once again about to be relegated down to FCS. However the idea started to emerge that rather than do that, why not just kick out one of the non-compliant members? The MAC as a nine-team conference would have a majority of its members meeting FBS standards and thus the entire conference would retain FBS status.

At the time Eastern Michigan had a dumpster fire of a program. EMU had won only three games in the previous four years. The MAC decided EMU should be the sacrificial lamb and gave Eastern Michigan an ultimatum. They were told to drop football entirely or withdraw from the conference entirely. The MAC didn’t have the authority to do this as expulsion for a school in good standing was specifically barred in the MAC’s constitution. The expulsion of EMU needed a change to the MAC’s constitution. This meant seven members would have to vote in favor of it.

Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan voted against it. Central Michigan (CMU) was sympathetic to their fellow Michigan school, but they were in a tough position. The MAC was incredibly unstable and rumors swirled of an impending exodus of the MAC schools who met FBS standards. As one of the five schools who could meet FBS requirements CMU had conference realignment options. If CMU were to vote in favor of EMU, they would alienate the very schools whose support they would need to find a new home if the MAC imploded. With every other MAC school voting against EMU it didn’t matter which way CMU voted, the result would be the same. CMU decided to abstain to avoid offending either side for a final tally of 7-2-1. Eastern Michigan had just been expelled from its conference six weeks before the college football season started.

The NCAA was not pleased with the result. The rule allowing for an entire conference to qualify for FBS if a majority of their members met FBS standards was intended to discourage conference realignment and stabilize conferences. In the case of EMU it had done the exact opposite. The NCAA decided to “reinterpret” the rule that dictated Western Michigan would not be in compliance with FBS standards. The “reinterpretation” called for the status of Western Michigan to be determined after the 1984 season and thus a ten team MAC would be fully FBS eligible for 1984.

Eastern Michigan’s expulsion was reversed and they won two games in 1984. But the crisis was averted as Western Michigan met FBS standards for 1985 and the whole fiasco became a rather awkward moment that the MAC preferred everyone forgot about. Yet in spite of the embarrassment Eastern Michigan’s football started improving.

In 1987 EMU went 10-2, won a bowl game, and defeated every program who had voted to expel them from the MAC. EMU won six games in 1986 and 1988. In 1989 EMU won seven games. While these may not seem like impressive accomplishments, for EMU that was the best their football program has ever been. The only other time EMU had compiled winning seasons while a member of the MAC was in 1973 (6 wins), 1977 (8 wins), 1995 (6 wins), and 2016.

Eastern Michigan had their strongest era of football in the immediate aftermath of their expulsion from the MAC. But 1987 will always be their memorable year they enacted revenge on every program who tried to kick them out of the MAC. It is the ultimate example of a “revenge tour.”

Miami (OH): Won three straight games from 1987-1989. These were EMU’s first wins ever over Miami (OH).

Kent State: Won three straight games from 1987-1989. EMU had beaten Kent State only three times in the previous 12 years.

Northern Illinois: First win in ten years. EMU had only beaten Northern Illinois once in the previous 28 years. This matchup would not be played again until 1997 due to Northern Illinois withdrawing from the MAC.

Ball State: EMU won four straight games from 1985-1988. This snapped a ten game losing streak from 1975-1984.

Ohio: EMU won three straight games from 1985-1987. This snapped a seven game losing streak from 1978-1984. EMU has only a single victory against Ohio prior to 1985.

Toledo: Won by a score of 38-9. EMU defeated Toledo four times in the five-year period from 1985-1989. Their 1985 victory snapped a six game losing streak from 1979-1985.

Bowling Green: Won three straight games from 1987-1989. Prior to 1987 EMU last defeated Bowling Green in 1980, 1977, and 1937.

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© sportspolitico™ December 23, 2016

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