By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
PHILADELPHIA The announcement expected on Wednesday will not come as a particularly great surprise to anyone who had followed the situation, but it looks like Massachusetts, the 1998 I-AA national champion will be moving to the Football Championship Subdivision and playing in the Mid-American Conference for football in 2012.
Sources say the Minutemen will give the league two associate members (Temple is the other), and will allow the MAC to expand the league to 14 members.
As an added bonus, UMass will be required to play two home and two road basketball games with MAC men's and women's teams every season, Elton Alexander of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported.
It's not an earth-shattering deal in the world of FBS football, for those declining number of people who care about FBS football beyond the BCS conferences that actually have a chance at making money.
Where it is an earth-shattering deal, however, is in the world of the Football Championship Subdivision, where their departure leaves a yawning gap between the northern and southern tips of the Colonial Athletic Association.
"While the merits of UMass/Ball State, UMass/Buffalo or UMass/Temple games in football to the campus thoroughly escape me given the costs of moving up and maintaining FBS membership not to mention no realistic shot at a BCS bowl or championship nonetheless, it seems like an announcement is due very soon that UMass will be leaving the CAA as an affiliate member," I reported just last month.
That's not to say that UMass is a disaster for the MAC football conference, far from it. *To the Minutemen, the benefits of joining are much greater than the costs.
At 14 members, they get added insurance for football viability if, say, Conference USA or the Big East come and poach UMass, Temple, or Northern Illinois. They now have even scheduling for both divisions.
Plus, if football ever takes off in western Massachusetts, they'll own that television market. Low-risk, high reward.
If you're employed by the MAC conference, what's not to love?
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
It's on the UMass side where folks should be asking questions on what good this does for their program.
It's clearly been the dream of folks like Robert Holub, chancellor of the UMass system, to play FBS football.
That's where we want to be, and I believe that's what our students and alumni want from us as well. Holub stated just last month in what has to be the closest thing to a conformation there can be without actually announcing it.
But is playing FBS football in the MAC where UMass fans want to be, or Big East football?
Folks talk a lot about the possible synergies of an Atlantic 10 basketball rivalry heading to football the strange, twisted rivalry that was UMass (John Calipari) vs. Temple (John Chaney).
Too bad UMass and Temple have never ever faced off as football teams in their century-old history.
If you are just looking at football history, the Minutemen's "rivals" all came from the old Yankee Conference of the 1970s, of which UMass was a founding member.
Unfortunately, all those teams either are in the Big East (UConn, whom they've played 71 times) no longer sponsor football (Boston University, 43 times), or are playing in FCS from now for the forseeable future (New Hampshire, 73 times, Maine, 57 times, and Rhode Island, 85 times).
(Heck, just last year UMass called New Hampshire a "rival" before playing the inaugural "Colonial Clash" in Gillette Stadium.)
If regional rivalries define football teams and I have consistently said that they do it's hard to see how permanent residence in the MAC will provide any of value to UMass.
Membership to the Big East, yes, the Minutemen would have UConn.
Membership to the Atlantic Coast Conference (a rather preposterous idea), yes, while they've only played each other 23 times in their history, they would have Boston College.
But membership to the MAC will promise season-ending games against Temple or Buffalo - those are the only two conference mates anywhere close to Amherst.
Charitably, it's hard to see how that it going to get the writers around Amherst animated about either matchup come November.
What is also certain is that their on-campus stadium, 17,000 seat McGuirk Stadium, is not part of UMass' calculus for FBS football.
As a requirement for playing in the MAC, they're going to have to rent out Gillette Stadium for the entirety of their 2012 schedule and beyond, until they can build what they consider a FBS-quality stadium on campus.
For a school that has consistently billed scholarship money as "football expenses" to show "losses" in their FCS football program, it will be interesting the contortions they will be twisting themselves into to justify, potentially, a nine-figure stadium construction cost and a hefty fee to rent out Gillette Stadium.
And that's not even including the expenses that are a given when it comes to upgrading to the FBS level of football.
The move will require more scholarship money for 25 more young men (and an equal amount of young women, thanks to Title IX), as well as increasing the size of the academic compliance departments, lockers and weight training facilities.
Rather than add scholarships, UMass might take the route of other schools and kill off long-established men's athletic programs instead.
Is UMass ready to spend that much money to play FBS football against Temple and Buffalo?
Again, for Big East games against UConn, I can see it. *
But the MAC?
A BAD IDEA
It's no secret; I think the MAC is a bad idea for the Minutemen.
If UMass fans are outrageously happy with UMass playing the directional Michigan's for the next two decades, I'd wish the Minutemen well in FBS, even if the Minutemen have no shot in Hades at their athletics program turning a "profit" on the deal.
But I think it's almost always a bad idea for a team to join a conference as a "temporary solution" until the "real solution" comes along.
Temporary solutions have a funny way of becoming permanent solutions. (Ask Stony Brook when it will be leaving the Big South.)
If what they really want is Big East membership, why don't they just go to John Mariantto of the Big East with a Powerpoint presentation?
It's not as if the Big East is outrageously happy with 17 basketball teams and nine football teams; you have to think that the Big East would seriously think about UMass as a full member right away.
When you add UMass' basketball history and the fact it weakens the Atlantic 10, you'd think that would have Marinatto's attention.
When you add to that the deal they already have with Gillette Stadium, that has to make Marinatto and the presidents of the Big East doubly interested.
Instead, though, UMass will transition to FBS, with the inevitable spin the fact that it will "save" their program from the loss of money in FCS and that the MAC will only be a waystation from their permanent dreams of forcing their way into Big East membership.
I don't think most UMass fans want the MAC to be their permanent home.
They want games with UConn, not Eastern Michigan.
My prediction is that the Minutemen will be in the MAC for the long haul and they'll spend a hell of a lot more money.
Will they see some of that return in TV, attendance, or event money? *
I don't think so even though it will be spun as, somehow, a net financial gain for the university to spend hundreds of millions on a new stadium, millions more per year in men's and women's scholarship costs, and an undisclosed number of other, significant costs. *
And that's just for starters.
Goodbye, UMass, from the world of "cost containment" football.