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The Elusive Fourth Tie-Breaker? It is quite possible in the MAC East

This past week, the Toledo Rockets locked up the MAC West and their first trip to Detroit since 2017, thanks to their win over upset-minded Ball State, 28-21. That, coupled with a Northern Illinois victory over slumping Western Michigan on Wednesday secured the division. Naturally, with the West Championship decided, the question remains: Who will win the East? On paper, the Ohio Bobcats have the edge, 5-1 in MAC play after their win at Yager Stadium against Miami in the Battle of the Bricks. Tied for second in the East? Buffalo and Bowling Green are at 4-2 apiece. Buffalo owns the head-to-head against BG, so the Falcons are *technically* third in the East. In a not-so-distant fourth place sits Kent State which is clinging to a slim hope that they can return to Detroit (assuming chaos ensues).


So, what are the scenarios for the MAC East? Three of the teams control their destiny (with a pinch of help from each other), while Kent State needs help from everyone in front of them. But let's say there is a three-way tie for the East. Who makes it to Detroit? What about a four-way tie? (Yes it is a real possibility right now!) With the help of contributor Graham Giles, we look a little closer at the “What If…?” situations in the East.


Let’s first look at the official Mid-American Conference tie-breakers: Divisional Champions


The divisional championship shall be decided on their conference winning percentage. If two or more teams are tied for the championship, they shall be considered divisional co-champions. The following tie-breaking formula shall be used to determine which team will represent that division in the MAC Championship game:


1. Head-to-head competition:

a. In the event of a multiple-team (two or more teams) tie, the team with the best head-to-head record amongst the tied teams wins the tie-breaker.

b. In a two-team tie, head-to-head competition will be the first criteria.

c. If two teams did not play, the second criteria is used to break the tie.


2. Record of tied teams within the division [versus rank order, highest to lowest, of division teams]:

a. The above tie-breaker procedure is used to determine rank order in the division.

b. Team(s) eliminated in the second tie-breaker criteria are not included in further consideration in the tie-breaking formula.

c. Head-to-head competition is again used to break the tie between the remaining tied teams.


3. Comparison of conference winning percentage of cross-over opponents of tied teams:

a. Tie-breaker is awarded to the team whose cross-division opponents had the best cumulative conference winning percentage.

b. Head-to-head competition is used to break the tie between the two tied teams.


4. If multiple teams remain tied, the final tie-breaker is as follows:

a. Record of tied teams versus cross-division opponents in rank order.

b. Head-to-head competition is used to break the tie between the two tied teams.


Got it? Ok, great. So, what does this mean? Basically, that tie-breakers get a little more complex the more teams that are involved, such as what we are potentially looking at in the MAC East. Let’s start with the easy one: the four-way tie for the East. Four-Way Tie: Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, and Ohio

For this scenario, all four teams would need to finish with a 5-3 conference record. This is how it would need to play out:

  • Bowling Green goes 1-1 (Loss to Toledo, Beat Ohio)

  • Buffalo goes 1-1 (Beat Akron, Loss to Kent State)

  • Kent State goes 2-0 (Beat Eastern Michigan and Buffalo)

  • Ohio goes 0-2 (Loss to Ball State and Bowling Green)

In this scenario, Kent State would advance to the MAC Championship game with an overall record of 6-6, 5-3 in MAC play. Despite Ohio having the best overall record in this scenario, (7-5), this one is simple because Kent State would own the head-to-head against all three teams they would be tied with, so tie-breaker number one would be the furthest it goes. A three-way tie is where things get tricky, and frankly, far more realistic.



Three-Way Tie: Bowling Green, Buffalo, Ohio


1. Head-to-head competition


Let’s say that the aforementioned teams finish 5-3 in MAC play, and Kent State is eliminated due to losing to Eastern Michigan. This is how it would need to play out:

  • Bowling Green goes 1-1 (Loss to Toledo, Beat Ohio)

  • Buffalo goes 1-1 (Beat Akron, Loss to Kent State, who would lose to EMU the week before)

  • Ohio goes 0-2 (Loss to Ball State and Bowling Green)

This sets up a unique situation. Each team would have the same conference record, and they would all own a 1-1 record against each other (BG loss to Buffalo, who lost to Ohio, who lost to BG, and it goes round and round). So, tie-breaker one is out. In comes tie-breaker two.



2. “Record of tied teams within the division [versus rank order, highest to lowest, of division teams]”.


This one is fun. Basically, this is the record of the tied programs in the division. In the model we have listed (and because we really want to showcase some absolute chaos), all three have three divisional wins:

  • BGSU - Akron, Miami, Ohio

  • Buffalo: Akron, BG, Miami

  • Ohio: Akron, Buffalo, Miami

So, they all have wins against each other, Akron and Miami, with losses to Kent State and each other, sitting at 3-2 in their own division. No ranking is applicable here as their losses to each other cancel each other out, and their loss to Kent State is from fourth place, while their common wins are all either in a tie for first or fifth and sixth in the division. This tie-breaker leaves us tied yet again. Time for tie-breaker number three.


3. “Comparison of conference winning percentage of cross-over opponents of tied teams.”


The first line here basically states that the cross-division opponents who had the best conference-winning percentage would decide the tie. So, each team has three West Division opponents.

  • Bowling Green (Central Michigan, Toledo, Western Michigan)

  • Buffalo (Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Toledo)

  • Ohio (Ball State, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan)

… Of course, there are no fully common opponents. BG and Buffalo share Toledo and BG and Ohio have WMU (and they both DID defeat WMU). Buffalo and Ohio share no opponents. Can’t make anything easy, can we? Keeping with that theme, let’s use the wildest possible scenario allowed with a three-way tie in this cross-division tie-breaker purely for speculation.


From our model, here’s how all six MAC West teams would be ranked 1-6. The tie-breaker suggests it's done by the winning percentage of the cross-divisional opponent, but we felt showing wins is a little easier to understand (the math is the exact same). Assuming our model holds up, the MAC West would be ranked as follows:

  1. Toledo 6-2

  2. Ball State 5-3

  3. NIU 4-4

  4. EMU 4-4

  5. WMU 4-4

  6. CMU 3-5

Yes, there is a path for NIU to finish third in the MAC West. There is also a path for WMU to finish 4-4 in the MAC West. We are truly picking a wild scenario here. While we won’t dive into how that can happen, rest assured our model shows there is a legitimate path here. Copying the teams from above and adding the wins per the opponent, our three-way tie in the East breaks down like this:

  • BGSU (13 Wins - 6 Toledo, 4 WMU, 3 CMU, or .541666%)

  • Buffalo (13 Wins - 6 Toledo, 4 EMU, 3 CMU, or .541666%)

  • Ohio (13 Wins - 5 Ball State, 4 NIU, 4 WMU, or .541666%)

This would once again leave the division in a tie, and thus, we move on to the fourth and final tie-breaker.



4.a. Record of tied teams versus cross-division opponents in rank order.


This is where it finally breaks down. Here is the order:

  • BGSU 2-1 (Beat CMU, Beat WMU, Lose to Toledo)

  • Buffalo 2-1 (Beat EMU, Beat Toledo, Lose to CMU)

  • Ohio 2-1 (Beat WMU, Beat NIU, lose to Ball State)


We ranked the West 1-6 and assigned their rank to the value of the wins/losses for the MAC East ties. We awarded points for wins based on their position (1st place worth 6 points) and only awarded points IF the East team beat the West team.


Here’s how the West looks with their assigned points values:

  1. Toledo 6-2 (6 points)

  2. Ball State 5-3 (5 points)

  3. NIU 4-4 (4 points)

  4. EMU 4-4 (3 points)

  5. WMU 4-4 (2 points)

  6. CMU 3-5 (1 point)

And here’s how the tie-breaker plays out:

  • BGSU 2-1, 3 Points (1 pt for CMU, 2 pt for WMU, 0 pt for LOSS to Toledo)

  • Buffalo 2-1, 9 Points (3 pt for EMU, 6 pt for Toledo, 0 pt for LOSS to CMU)

  • Ohio 2-1, 6 Points (2 pt for WMU, 4 pt for NIU, 0 pt for LOSS to Ball State)

As labeled, the wins are quality-based here, and Buffalo would advance to Detroit. The loss to CMU would hurt Buffalo the least as it was only worth one point, while the BGSU loss to Toledo and the Ohio loss to Ball State would hurt them enough to keep them out of the MAC Championship Game.


In a three-way, four-tie-breaker scenario, aka a perfect storm of #MACtion chaos, the Buffalo Bulls would advance to Detroit, eliminating BGSU and Ohio on the fourth tie-breaker possible. Now, this is a highly unrealistic scenario, however, never say never in the MAC. Anything can happen, and frankly, we wouldn’t be surprised if it does. A big shout out to contributor Graham Giles again for helping me break down the scenarios and figuring out the tie-breakers to get to the very last tie-breaker.

What do you think? Does your head hurt as much as ours does?

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