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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Stretching the MAC’s Borders

In what appears to be a blatant attempt to beef up my summer workload, the MAC and the University of Massachusetts have decided to join forces, giving the former a far more logical 14-team league and the latter a leap from the F.C.S. to the F.B.S., effective in 2012. Next fall, as the pair will announce tomorrow, the Minutemen will join the league as a pseudo-member: UMass will play league games in 2012 but not be eligible for the conference title or a bowl berth until the following season, 2013. We’ve seen this type of transition in the recent past.

It’s the same blueprint Western Kentucky took to join the Sun Belt — with wildly unsuccessful results. W.K.U. underwent a transition period in 2008, during which time it straddled the line between F.C.S. and F.B.S. independence: that fall saw the Hilltoppers finish 2-10, defeating the two F.C.S. opponents on its schedule but going 0-10 against the type of teams it was due to face on a more permanent basis in 2009 and beyond.

Beginning in 2009, much like UMass in 2013, W.K.U. was eligible for conference titles and bowl berths, even if both have remained far out of the program’s reach. Forget Sun Belt championships; W.K.U. is focused merely on snapping extended losing streaks. Victories have been hard to come by, which has been strange: the Hilltoppers went 1-2 against Sun Belt foes in 2007, its last season as a full-time member of the F.C.S., defeating Middle Tennessee State and losing to Troy and North Texas by a combined five points.

Let Western Kentucky’s lack of immediate success stand as a lesson to UMass, which might very well find itself in the same boat come 2012. This is me raining on the program’s parade. Come on: this should be a very happy day for the university and its football program, the latter of which earns immediate respectability despite spending its time well on the outskirts of college football.

This is Massachusetts we’re talking about — not the university, but the state. It’s not exactly a college football hotbed; in fact, one can very well make the case that the New York area is Tuscaloosa compared to Massachusetts, though I don’t mean to disparage the strong, vocal and loyal fan support for both the Minutemen and Boston College.

Now, onto the big question: Is UMass a good fit for the MAC? Yes, the Minutemen are a good fit. A great fit? Not quite. One positive comes merely from the program’s addition. In joining the conference, UMass gives the MAC 14 teams, which will even out what has been a strange 13-team alignment — seven teams in one division, six in another. That never quite made sense, though it was a better option than having a one-division league.

UMass also allows the MAC to widen its geographic reach, perhaps breaking into the Boston-New England market. This will happen: the Boston Globe will cover games, NESN will pay greater attention and so on, but remember that this is not quite a college football-crazed region. Nevertheless, that UMass can tap into this market is a major draw for the MAC.

The Minutemen have also tasted success, recently and historically, so perhaps it won’t have an overly difficult adjustment period as it enters the F.B.S. and the MAC. Then again, W.K.U. was an F.C.S. powerhouse for the generation prior to its move, so history is a poor indicator of future success.

It’s a marriage of convenience, though if including a team from Philadelphia stretched the Mid-American Conference’s label a tad, pushing the map out to Massachusetts makes calling this conference the MAC as silly as, say, calling a 10-team league the Big 12, or a 12-team league the Big Ten.

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  1. WashingtonDCduck says:

    A say congratulations to UMASS and welcome to the fraternity. Just know that some of the members are not very nice and not very inclusive. When you start making your travel plans, which you no doubt will as your athletic director and others in the program scramble to fill fall dates down the road, I’d suggest avoiding a few cities in your geographic region – on your side of the Mississippi: I wouldn’t make any trips to Happy Valley (you could fit your whole fan base in that stadium, maybe a few times over and don’t go there at night, it’s kind of loud), avoid the temptations of the warmer climates like Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Gainesville, Miami, or Athens (great areas to live, however as a newer member to the club they wont play nice), and finally I’d probably avoid hitting up Chestnut Hill (sure it’s a close drive, but they won’t be friendly neighbors). My suggestion is to make a nice road trip to Jersey and play the Scarlet Knights, maybe head to Orlando and take on the Knights, how about a trip to College Park? Or maybe even Bloomington vs. the Hoosiers or Champaign to take on the Illini? There are ways to play BCS Conference schools, or even non-BCS schools but notable names like CFU, and not visit the likes of Columbus or Death Valley and get clobbered. Just a thought…

    ~Paul~ you know what surprises me, is that MONTANA chose not to join the WAC. They had an opening, as well as the Mountain West I believe, and they decided to be a big fish in their small pond. Missoula is a great college football town, they have a decent sized stadium that regularly sells out, has often been an attractive place for former D-1 guys to transfer to and play immediately (former Oregon QB Justin Roper for example). Look at what Boise St has done, and they were even a community college not all that long ago. It took them decades to arrive where they are, but it shows that it is feasible. Montana I think could be a great addition to say the WAC, not the Sun Belt as the distance doesn’t make sense and Montana (geographically speaking) doesn’t exactly fit that warm Sun Belt, or they could take a stab at the MAAC and be a far outpost. Mountain West I think would be their best fit however.

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