Minutemen are FBS-bound, heading to the MAC
The Massachusetts football team will become a member of the Mid-American Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) starting officially in 2012, according to reports from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Months of swirling rumors about the potential upgrade for the Minutemen are finally going to be cleared up Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., when UMass has planned a “major announcement” at Gillette Stadium. According to reports, that announcement will be that the Minutemen are moving to the FBS (formerly Division 1-A).
UMass, which currently competes in the Colonial Athletic Association in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) will reportedly be moving to the Mid-American Conference. The Minutemen were rumored to be in talks with the mid-major conference for months leading up to the press conference.
No representatives from UMass or the MAC would confirm or deny the report. UMass Athletics Director of Media Relations Jason Yellin confirmed only that Wednesday’s press conference was about “the future of UMass football.” However, MAC Director of Communications Jeremy Guy said that the press conference was “between UMass and the MAC.”
Gillette Stadium, which hosted UMass in its first-ever college football game on Oct. 23 in a 39-13 loss to New Hampshire, will likely play a large factor in the announcement. The Minutemen currently play at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. However, the stadium’s current capacity ill-suits the team for a transition to FBS, where UMass would be required to maintain an attendance of 15,000 fans per game in order to keep its status.
This means that, if the Minutemen do indeed make the transition, there will be more games played at the home of the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. McGuirk Alumni Stadium, where UMass currently hosts its football games, has a capacity of 17,000 and has not consistently met that attendance threshold in the past.
For the immediate future, UMass will play its previously announced schedule of 10 FCS teams and FBS opponent Boston College, with the potential for a 12th opponent, according to the Gazette. The Minutemen will not be eligible for postseason play at any level next season.
The following year will be a transitional year in which UMass will play primarily FCS teams, including some members of the MAC, but will not be eligible for an FBS bowl game or the MAC’s conference championship, according to reports. According to ESPNBoston.com, this also marks the season that UMass will move its home games to Gillette Stadium.
The stadium, which lies just under a 100-mile drive away from the University, hosted MAC officials last December when they came to look at the facilities at UMass and at Gillette Stadium as part of talks with the school.
The Minutemen will finally become a full, bowl-eligible member of the conference for the 2013 season. During this two-year transitional phase, UMass will increase its football player scholarships from 63 to 85. The increase in scholarships, in addition to other costs stemming from the jump, is not expected to cost the school any additional revenue, according to UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon. Also, according to Masslive.com, according to gender equality laws, the school would also provide an equivilant increase for women’s athletics.
“From all we have looked at, the program (expansion) would be self-supporting in that way, given the new revenue streams we would be generating,’’ said McCutcheon to the Republican last December.
If the Minutemen do indeed make the jump, they will become the third New England-based FBS program, joining Boston College and Connecticut. The Huskies, who joined the Big East in 2005, showed that an FCS program can be successful at the next level, reaching the program’s first BCS bowl game, a loss to Oklahoma in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.
After the disbanding of both the Northeastern and Hofstra football programs in late 2009, the Minutemen mark the third team to leave to conference in less than two years. And the damage may not be done for the CAA.
Villanova, which is coming off of a national championship in 2009 and a loss in the semi-finals of the NCAA last year to eventual champion Eastern Washington, has been in talks with the Big East Conference about a similar jump. The Wildcats, which have received a formal invitation from the BCS conference, would likely join in 2014 if they accepted.
Additionally, Rhode Island has begun a transition out of the CAA in favor of a less-competitive FCS conference, the Northeast Division.
At the moment, the CAA consists of 10 members. If the worst case scenario, the conference would drop to eight teams, which remains two above the NCAA minimum six teams necessary for a conference. However, the departure of two of the conferences most prominent teams figures to be a big blow.
UMass has not been a member of the highest division in football since the NCAA split Division I football into the two subdivisions in 1978. At the time, UMass had been a member of the Yankee Conference since its inception in 1947.
The MAC marks the fourth conference that the Minutemen have been a part of. After the Yankee Conference was dissolved in 1997, the Minutemen became a member of the Atlantic 10 before, due to a number of conference moves, moving to the new CAA in 2007.
According to the report, UMass will join the MAC as a football-only member, similar to Temple, which joined the MAC in 2007.
The addition of UMass gives the MAC 14 total teams, which are currently broken up into the East and West divisions. Current members of the MAC include Miami (OH), Ohio, Temple, Kent State, Buffalo, Bowling Green and Akron in the East Division and Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan, Ball State, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan in the West Division.
Nick O’Malley can be reached at email@example.com.