Stretching the MAC’s Borders
By Paul Myerberg // Apr 19, 2011
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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Tags: MAC, Massachusetts, Western Kentucky
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