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Big East expansion could affect UMass

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  October 10, 2011 03:39 PM

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With rumors swirling on a daily and sometimes hourly basis about the future configuration of the Big East, schools involved wait anxiously for the phone to ring.

Perhaps no school is more nervous about the outcome than the University of Massachusetts, which is set to join the Mid-American Conference as a football-only member starting next fall.

UMass, which is in the transition stage of moving from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision level, also has a large stake in the outcome. According to sources at UMass, the agreement that puts the Minutemen into the MAC is directly linked to Temple, another football-only member.

According to the agreement, if Temple, which is high on the list of potential candidates to move back into the Big East, leaves the MAC, the conference can then use an option that could put a 2-year limit on UMass's membership. Other options include leaving the arrangement as it currently exists, or taking the Minutemen in as a full member.

Of that group, the 2-year limit seems most likely and would cause the greatest uncertainty for UMass, which is trying to morph itself from an FCS level program into the more desirable FBS competition, which includes both bowl games and potential affiliation with the higher paying BCS conferences.

UMass is a long way from being even a middle-of-the-road FBS program and it needs the security -- such as playing its home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough -- of a league affiliation that the MAC provides.

But it seems more and more probable that Temple, which was asked to leave the Big East conference in 2004 for both nonperformance and poor attendance reasons, has had enough of a revival of its program to generate interest in the Big East a member in all sports, something the Owls didn't attain in their first go-around as football-only members of the Big East.

If Temple leaves, UMass's future as an FBS program for any length of time would appear to be in serious jeopardy.

While UMass waited and wondered, the Big East, after a conference call among presidents, was formulating a battle plan that includes expanding to 12 teams in football.

According to sources in the Big East, the focus group of teams would include a group of football-only schools like Boise State, Navy and Air Force, as well as potential full members in Central Florida, Temple, Southern Methodist and Houston, as well as Villanova, which is already a member of the conference in all sports but FBS football.

The idea will be to present the overall plan for consideration among the membership in the next few days, approve it, with the idea of forming a 12-team league in football and a 16- to 18-team league in basketball.

Of the list of candidates, UCF and Temple seem the most likely to immediately accept full membership, while Boise, Air Force and Navy still have some obstacles to overcome.

Houston or SMU would also be part of the package and if Louisville, which has been projected as a target of further expansion by the Big 12, were to leave, both Texas schools would join the conference. Such a move would give the Big East a Western-dominated division consisting of Boise State, Air Force and the two Texas schools

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