UMass expected to move to FBS

School would join MAC in football

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / December 17, 2010

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Although all parties are remaining vague about a date, indications are that the University of Massachusetts will announce its intention to move from the Championship Subdivision to the Bowl Subdivision, joining Temple as a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference, perhaps as early as next month.

According to several sources at UMass and in the MAC, conference officials took a preliminary visit to the UMass campus this week, and also visited Gillette Stadium, which looms as a potential site for some UMass home games.

Nothing can be made official until September, when a moratorium ends preventing FCS schools from jumping to the FBS. After that, UMass would need to go through a two-year transition period before it could be officially admitted to the MAC for the 2013 season.

“We’re not going to comment on anything regarding that,’’ said UMass athletic director John McCutcheon. “But our discussions involve football only and we are still talking about making a decision sooner rather than later.’’

Ideally, the MAC would like to have UMass and Temple join the conference in all sports. But Temple balked at leaving the Atlantic 10, which is a much higher-profile basketball league than the MAC, and UMass agrees. As a compromise for joining in football only, UMass, like Temple, will be required to schedule a certain number of nonconference games against MAC schools in other sports over the next several years.

Having Temple and UMass as part of an “Eastern bloc’’ along with Buffalo would increase the footprint of the MAC in this part of the country, which conference officials view as favorable.

UMass officials will view the scheduling of MAC teams in basketball as a cheap price to pay for the more lucrative payout of being an FBS school. To offset the cost of elevating the football program, UMass officials have sought out the Kraft family to use Gillette Stadium as a venue against MAC schools, as well as other FBS schools searching for a midlevel FBS opponent to fill out their nonconference schedules. While UMass couldn’t expect to get a home-and-home arrangement with a top FBS program such as Michigan (which the Minutemen visited this season), it could work out two-for-one arrangements, with the UMass home game being played in Foxborough.

Team president Jonathan Kraft said yesterday that the Patriots would offer all the support they could. “From our perspective, the more high-quality Division 1 programs you can bring here is a great thing for growing the sport at the grass-roots level,’’ he said. “To the extent that we can be a venue and to help in assisting in any way, is something that we’d be happy to do, whether it’s in high school with the Super Bowl, in events like the Colonial Clash [UMass vs. New Hampshire in football] or in other big-time events. Clearly, there is a demand.’’

Increased revenue could also come simply from being an FBS school. UMass received a $550,000 guarantee from Michigan to play in Ann Arbor in September. As an FBS opponent, the Minutemen could very well double that. If they do that for one or two games per season, the financial gain could overcome any potential loss on the field, although UMass nearly pulled off an upset of Michigan this season.

Such payouts are routine. Ohio State, for example, which can bring in as much as $4 million for a home game, paid Navy $1 million to play the Midshipmen to open the 2009 season. Arkansas State got $1 million to play Auburn this season.

UMass could command similar payouts by traveling to Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; or Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Minutemen could also set up games in Foxborough against the other New England FBS schools, Boston College and Connecticut.

The prospect of bigger paydays, as well as making the transition at a lower-profile conference such as the MAC, are enticements UMass officials could not resist. And barring a last-minute snag — always a possibility when dealing with a conference with school presidents with different agendas — the Minutemen should take the first step next month.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at