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Welcome to the MAC Thunderdome, UMass

So the move that everyone in the MAC universe has been whispering about for the better part of six months finally came to fruition today as UMass has been invited and subsequently accepted a football-only membership to the MidAmerican Conference beginning in 2012. Minutemen fans shouldn’t go preordering hotel rooms in fabulous Detroit for the MAC Championship in ’12, though, as they won’t be eligible for the conference championship or any of the bowl games until the 2013 season. Of course, if history is any indicator, teams moving from FCS to FBS need not worry about those pesky conference championships or bowl travel plans for a few years anyway.

For the folks who have been constantly grumbling about the awkward scheduling and organization created by an unbalanced divisional structure with the current MAC roster of thirteen teams, this certainly puts an end to that. With the addition of UMass, the MAC moves to fourteen, with seven in each division. Who will be jumping ship from the East and moving to the West hasn’t been announced but most folks are pointing to BGSU as the most likely candidate. Under the new format, teams will play their six divisional counterparts each year and two from the opposite division on a rotating basis. As their on-campus stadium is being upgraded and outfitted to meet FBS regulations, the Minutemen will play their home games in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, so that will be nice for MAC programs making the journey to Amherst, MA. Of course, transporting their team from their midwestern home to Amherst won’t be an inexpensive endeavor. Luckily, the MAC programs will only have to make that trek once a year, if at all. For UMass, hope they’ve been banking their frequent flier miles, because they’ll have to travel at least four times a season. Temple and Buffalo are the closest MAC brethren to UMass, but even then, that’s not like a BSU-Miami proximity.

The celebration of UMass to the MAC has been met with resounding cheers by the Minutemen faithful and lukewarm feedback from the rest of the conference. The reasons behind that are plentiful, most notably because for the folks who wanted a 14th member for balance, it foots the bill. They didn’t necessarily care who the 14th was, as long as they had jerseys and helmets. From all accounts, UMass does have those. For the folks who would have preferred balance through contraction down to twelve, this doesn’t sit well. Then of course, there’s the finances of travel to UMass, which I touched on earlier.

Perhaps a greater concern is the longevity of UMass in the MAC. Assuming they actually field a competitive team and compete for the conference eventually, I can only imagine the foaming at the mouth the Big East would be doing to try to lure them away, especially if they remained football only. As overcrowded as the Big East is in basketball, coupled with their lack of respect nationally for their football performance, a football-only member would be ideal. I can’t imagine that UMass will ever leave the A10 in basketball, so they foot the bill for the Big East if they’re looking at it the same way I am. Incidentally, the same goes for Temple, which could create problems should they both leave, dropping the MAC to 12. Should someone else jump ship, that puts the MAC at 11, losing the conference title game, and bringing back the lack of balance. Obviously that cart is way before the horse and several years away, but it’s a reality. Whether or not UMass is looking for a long-term affiliation for their football program or simply a stop-gap as they transition to FBS is really the major concern about this move.

The positives are there also, though, as it opens the MAC footprint up considerably, into New England. Granted, it’s not a football hotbed, but with the addition of the Boston/Connecticut television markets, that means more eyes on the MAC, and that’s  always a good thing. Whether those new eyes belong to football recruits who may then consider a MAC school isn’t a definite, but it certainly can’t hurt.

So, in the eyes of OTP, the jury is still out on this. UMass is certainly in a different stratosphere than when Western Kentucky began their FBS program, but whether or not UMass can be competitive in the MAC in the near future will ultimately determine whether this move is a practical one.


2 Responses

  1. The addition of UMASS puts the conference at 14 teams. Why would UMASS and Temple leaving sometime in the future drop the conference to 11?

  2. Good catch, Pat. Apparently my typing fingers and my brain were miscommunicating and missed the actual sentiment I wanted to make. It’s fixed now. Appreciate the comment.

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