Created:Wednesday, July 25, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT
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Doeren’s door open for Penn St. transfers

By STEVE NITZ - snitz@shawmedia.com

DETROIT – Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren said at Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference media day he would be open to recruiting Penn State players if they decide to depart the Nittany Lions.

The NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State on Monday, which included allowing players to transfer out of the program without having to sit out a year at a new school. In addition, the NCAA stipulated that schools that take on Penn State players will be able to exceed the 85-scholarship limit.

Doeren said he was sympathetic to coach Bill O’Brien and the rest of the team for being in a tough situation.

While Doeren is leaving open the possibility of getting a Penn State transfer, he said the staff wouldn’t “be banging on every door.”

“We’ll kind of see where it goes,” he said. “We are open to recruiting some of their guys if they’re open to leaving.”

Doeren: Butler “totally fine” physically: Doeren hasn’t met with linebacker Devon Butler face to face since Butler was stabbed at an off-campus party over the weekend, but Doeren has talked with Butler and said physically, the linebacker is “totally fine.”

Butler was treated and released from the hospital and worked out Monday while alleged assailant Freddy E. Sparks-Ward was charged with armed violence, aggravated battery, battery and criminal trespass to real property.

Butler’s Twitter account shows tweets about a party Friday-Saturday at his apartment on the 800 block of Regent Drive. When asked if he would speak to Butler about putting that out on Twitter, Doeren said, “There’s going to be a lot of things we talk about.”

Title game stays in Detroit: The big, but not surprising news from MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher on Tuesday was that the conference title game will remain at Ford Field through 2015.

The league signed a four-year contract extension to keep the contest at the indoor facility.

Ford Field has hosted the MAC Championship Game since 2004. From the inaugural title game in 1997 through 2003, the contest was held at the home of the team with the better record.

Doeren prefers having the game in Detroit.

“This is a great place to play a game. I’m really excited about it,” Doeren said. “It’s a central location and it’s easy to get to, whether you’re driving or flying. It’s a great location.”

Attendance has suffered since the league moved the game to Ford Field.

Last season just 13,052 fans watched Northern Illinois’ comeback win over Ohio. Two years ago, 12,031 fans saw the Huskies lose to Miami (Ohio) in the final minute.

Compare that to the final two seasons the MAC hosted the game at campus sites. In 2002, 24,582 fans watched Marshall beat Toledo in Huntington, W.Va. The 2003 game between Miami (Ohio) and Bowling Green was seen by 24,813 in Bowling Green, Ohio.

In seven seasons at on-campus sites, the MAC Championship Game averaged more than 20,000 fans each time. In eight years at Ford Field, the contests have drawn more than 20,000 fans four times, and those games involved either Central Michigan or Toledo, two schools where fans make shorter trips.

Steinbrecher said the league is looking at ways to improve attendance numbers.

“I think it’s an issue I continue to talk about with our staff and our member institutions. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the attendance is driven by the teams within, and what we’ve got to continue to work on is building a culture where, as soon as the season begins you’re thinking about and building towards, we’re heading to Detroit,” Steinbrecher said. “It can’t be something that pops up in the third week of November, you’re going, ‘Oh gosh, we’re going to Detroit.’ You need to be thinking about it, planning about it now.”

No plans for expansion: The upcoming season was supposed see the MAC as a 14-team league, with UMass joining the East Division and Bowling Green heading over to the West Division.

However, Temple’s departure to the Big East scrapped those plans. The Owls were a MAC member from 2007-11.

Steinbrecher said there aren’t any plans for the league to expand in the near future, but did say there’s a possibility the conference could add teams down the road.

The MAC has been fairly stable during the recent conference shuffling. Steinbrecher said that’s because many of the schools have the same philosophy and are similar in other ways, including athletic budgets. That’s something the league will take into consideration should it decide to expand.

“We look an awful lot alike, our athletic programs look an awful lot alike, our budgets are structured very similarly. So, I think we’ll be very, very deliberate in anything we do,” Steinbrecher said. “Could we at some point (expand), perhaps. But, only if it’s someone we think fits philosophically ... and then helps raise the bar. So, we’re in no great hurry.

“Doesn’t mean we won’t somewhere down the road, but we’re going to take our time because it’s important. We don’t want to disrupt the core that we have.”

Bobcats open 2012 in State College: Penn State’s first opponent since the NCAA handed the program massive sanctions Monday will be none other than Ohio. The Bobcats were a unanimous pick to win the MAC East in the league’s preseason poll, and were the favorite to take home the conference title, as well.

Bobcats coach Frank Solich said he has talked to his team about playing in what could be a circus-like atmosphere Sept. 1.

“We’ve addressed it some,” Solich said. “Obviously when we get them all back for the start of fall camp we’ll address what we’re all about and how we always prepare for games, and this will be no exception. There’s some more things to visit with our team about as far as maintaining focus and trying to [win] there.”

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