UMass leaving CAA after Saturday’s game

By Steve Levine

For the Massachusetts football team, it’s almost time to close the book on its time playing in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Minutemen have been a part of the CAA since its creation in 2007, when UMass captured the conference title. Prior to its creation, the CAA was the Atlantic 10, and before that, the Yankee Conference. Whatever the name, UMass has been a staple in the conference for over 50 years.

That will end on Saturday, when the Minutemen welcome James Madison to McGuirk Stadium for their season finale. Next year, the Minutemen will officially join the Mid-American Conference (MAC) which is a member of college football’s highest level, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

When the announcement to switch conferences was made back in April, UMass chancellor Robert C. Holub said, “We seek greatness in all we do at UMass. We promise national excellence and prominence to the citizens of the Commonwealth, and we deliver on that promise. Moving to the FBS is consistent with our upward trajectory, as Minuteman football becomes part of our overall move toward national prominence.”

UMass coach Kevin Morris, currently in his seventh season as a member of UMass’ coaching staff (five as offensive coordinator, two as head coach), will never forget the competitiveness the CAA had to offer.

“What a great privilege to be in a conference like the CAA,” said Morris in a interview. “The football is unbelievable week-to-week-to-week, you never know what’s going to happen. A team with a 1-8 record can beat a team with an 8-1 record on any given Saturday and that’s the beauty of the league [which has] great traditions and rivalries.”

“We’ll miss all that absolutely and we hope the MAC is up to par with the CAA [with] all those things but the [CAA has done a great job] and UMass has been a proud member of it,” added Morris.

Because of the conference switch, the Minutemen were deemed ineligible for conference play this season, terminating their chance at winning their second CAA title in its six years of existence.

Although UMass couldn’t achieve its goal of finishing this season with the best conference record, Morris said that his team shouldn’t be labeled simply as a playoff spoiler. If the Minutemen defeat James Madison, the Dukes playoff hopes, which also rely on other teams’ fates, will end.

“We wanted to win the league championship without question,” said Morris. “At this point it’s just another playoff game for us and we’re coming out against [James Madison] in the last game for the seniors. We’re home at McGuirk Stadium so we’ll have a lot of hype going on as opposed to playing the spoiler role.”

Saturday’s game will also mark the final time the Minutemen will play at McGuirk Stadium until renovations are completed that will make the stadium eligible for FBS play. In the meantime, UMass will play its home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Following Saturday’s game, the Minutemen will say goodbye to their 10 CAA rivals and say hello to their 13 new MAC rivals, which make up an East and a West division.

Despite all the changes, Morris is prepared to embark on a new journey in the MAC.

“We’re certainly going to miss the CAA and the competitive level there but we’re headed into the MAC conference which is also a very competitive conference,” said Morris. “[The MAC] offers a whole different level with the bowl game atmosphere and the conference championship games that we’ll be involved in.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Levine.