The University of Massachusetts Minutemen are making the transition to the highest football subdivision in the NCAA (FBS). They will start playing in the Mid-American Conference next year and will be eligible for bowl games the year after that. They presently play in the Colonial Athletic Association, the top conference in the next tier down. The MAC is one of the two weakest conferences in the FBS division (along with the Sun Belt Conference, and soon to be joined by the WAC) and is arguably worse than the CAA. They should do well.

I find the decision to be quite puzzling. First, UMass is sitting pretty where they are. Their current football conference has them playing like-universities in the University of Maine, University of New Hampshire, and University of Delaware. Their new conference schedule will consist mostly of second-tier schools with directional and city-state schools. They tout the fact that they will be receiving TV money, but the MAC’s TV contract is pretty week in comparison to other non-BCS conferences such as the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA. Further, they don’t have a stadium to play in and will have to be playing 95 minutes away, in Foxborough. Further, it’s going to cost them money in terms of scholarships (an additional 22) and Title IX requirements (they’ll have to add spending to women’s athletics to approximately equal that of men’s, so new sports most likely).

All for a chance to play in the MAC?

They are essentially making the same decision that Temple did*. Temple also plays in the MAC for football and the A-10 for everything else. There really aren’t any other entry-level conferences in the northeast. The only two conferences, the Big East and the ACC, are BCS-level. The Big East has been known to make offers to FCS schools with Connecticut and more recently Villanova**, but it’s a pretty big leap. Presumably, the Big East is what UMass ultimately has in mind. But the MAC is not a comfortable place to be in the interim. One thing I thought that Conference USA, the best of the non-BCS conferences with a presence east of the Mississippi, should consider is expanding northward along the east coast with UMass, Temple, and a couple others (Delaware, New Hampshire, and/or maybe a Virginia school or two). The problem, from the perspective of UMass and Temple, is that they would have to leave the Atlantic 10 for other sports. The A-10 is not an FBS conference (their membership makes up half of CAA football), but it has a sterling basketball reputation that C-USA lacks. It appears likely that the MAC is looking to take over that area and – unlike Conference USA – is willing to accept football-only memberships to do it.

Another puzzling decision is Nebraska-Omaha. They’re moving up from Division II to Division I FCS. They’re doing so at the cost of their very successful football program, which they have to can due to a combination of the increased expenses of Division I and Title IX requirements. I can definitely understand the desire to move up from Division II (particularly after the relatively nearby Dakota schools all made the jump), but the expense of their marquee sport is an awfully high price to pay.

* – A big difference, though, is that Temple was already in FBS and was without a conference after having been kicked out of the Big East. So the MAC decision made more sense to them as the best of a lot of bad options, once they were turned down by Conference USA.

** – Villanova is apparently taking a pass. Like UMass, they lack an acceptable football stadium.


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5 Responses to Movin’ On Up (UNO & UMass)

  1. Peter says:

    Rivalry. One of the University of Massachusetts’ main sports rivals is the not-too-far-away University of Connecticut, which made the switch to major-league football about a decade ago. UMass can’t hope to compete with UConn in basketball, as the latter is a powerhouse, so football’s the only option.

  2. trumwill says:

    Isn’t one of their other main rivals the University of New Hampshire, which they’re leaving behind?

    I can sort of understand the rationale that “If UConn can do it, why the heck can’t we?!” UMass, in many ways, has more going for it than UConn ever did. But UConn also did so due to an invite from the Big East, which UMass doesn’t have, and with an on-campus stadium.

  3. Peter says:

    In terms of stadiums, UMass is actually in better shape for the FBS transition than UConn had been. UMass will play two seasons at Gillette Stadium while its on-campus stadium is being upgraded. Gillette Stadium is quite a ways from campus but obviously meets all FBS standards. UConn had to spend its first three FBS seasons at its inadequate on-campus stadium while Rentschler Field was being built.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    I think it is human nature to want to move up in the world.

    Besides, no one in most of the country cares about FCS football. (or DII or DIII, for that matter)

    Even around here, DE has been pretty successful, but no one cares about them.

    The Ivy League and NESCAC don’t let their teams participate in the tournament, since they find it to be a waste of time.

    If the Big East ever ends up losing another team, UMass would probably be invited. To go beyond 16 teams is lunacy. Then again, I thought going beyond 12 teams to begin with was as well…

    [Villanova] lack[s] an acceptable football stadium

    Well they could play in the Linc. However, Temple also plays there, so you would have to coordinate schedules. With three teams on a natural grass field in a poor climate, it would chew up the grass quickly. There is also Franklin Field on the UPenn campus, which is artificial, but it is an outdated facility. Also, both of them are, by definition, off campus.

    Villanova Stadium, which is on campus, is a nice place to play, but its capacity is too small (12,500).

    Maybe Villanova is smart enough to realize that no one in the northeast cares about college football. Look at UConn. They win the Big East, and what do they get for it? They get to take a bath at the Fiesta Bowl, both on the field and in the wallet.

  5. trumwill says:

    Besides, no one in most of the country cares about FCS football. (or DII or DIII, for that matter)

    Sure, but there’s a smart way and a dumb way to do it. I’m less surprised that they’re wanting to make the jump than that they’re rushing to do it right now. If they got their ducks in a row, they would be as successful as members of the CAA as the MAC.

    If the Big East ever ends up losing another team, UMass would probably be invited. To go beyond 16 teams is lunacy. Then again, I thought going beyond 12 teams to begin with was as well…

    They’ve already decided on a getting a 10th team with or without Villanova and have talked about going to 12. But by most accounts the expansion candidates are in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. It’s a hard league to figure out, though, and getting them to agree on anyone will be tough.

    The Ivy League and NESCAC don’t let their teams participate in the tournament, since they find it to be a waste of time.

    The Ivy League is non-scholarship. So while they’re “Division I”, it’s in name-only, for the most part.

    Well they could play in the Linc. However, Temple also plays there, so you would have to coordinate schedules. With three teams on a natural grass field in a poor climate, it would chew up the grass quickly. There is also Franklin Field on the UPenn campus, which is artificial, but it is an outdated facility. Also, both of them are, by definition, off campus.

    They’ve pursued both options, from what I understand. Nothing seemed to work out for them. At least not on the BE’s timeline.

    They win the Big East, and what do they get for it?

    It’s not what they got, it’s what they lost: the game, their coach. But they got more attention than CAA’s Richmond got when they won the championship.

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