In a step up to FBS, UMass to join MAC

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / April 20, 2011

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The first step will come in the fall of 2012, when they begin playing league games in the Mid-American Conference. The next will come the following year, when the University of Massachusetts Minutemen officially become eligible to compete for the MAC title and play in MAC-affiliated bowl games.

After several years of hoping and wishing, and several months of negotiating, UMass is making the jump in football from the FCS to the FBS level.

The move will be announced today at Gillette Stadium, which is significant since that venue will host the majority of UMass’s home games.

“All of this is good,’’ said a UMass source. “It is something we have been working on a long time.’’

UMass officials have flirted with the idea of making the jump from what was formerly Division 1-AA to 1-A for 20 years, since the days when Bob Marcum was athletic director and John Calipari was putting the men’s basketball program on the national map. The obstacle has been finding a conference that would add the Minutemen in football.

Marcum toyed with the idea of joining Conference USA and the MAC, but no agreements could be reached.

When the Big East decided last fall to expand from eight to 10 teams in football, UMass officials, using the Kraft family as contacts, lobbied hard for consideration.

But Big East officials were focusing on conference member Villanova and were reluctant to add two more schools after announcing that TCU would join as a ninth full-time member starting in the fall of 2012. So UMass officials resumed talks with the MAC.

UMass, along with Temple, another Atlantic 10 school, will join the MAC in football only, giving it 14 teams, presumably in two seven-team divisions.

As part of the deal for being accepted in football only, UMass and Temple are obligated to play two home and two road games against MAC teams each year in men’s and women’s basketball.

UMass will play part of its MAC schedule, plus one or two nonconference games, at Gillette Stadium. A natural fit would be to schedule Boston College each season — perhaps on Labor Day weekend to open the season.

BC, which will host UMass this year on Sept. 24, has played the Minutemen as a 1-AA opponent.

Being an FBS team would seem to make UMass more attractive, although for the foreseeable future, UMass probably will have to agree to a 2-1 home date edge for BC.

The same is true for an opponent such as Michigan, which hosted UMass last fall in Ann Arbor. Getting the Wolverines to Amherst was never going to happen, but getting them to Foxborough is a possibility.

UMass is not on the BC schedule beyond this season. But even a road game in Foxborough would seem to be a better option for BC than playing a team such as Stony Brook (scheduled for 2013).

For now, UMass will move toward the next level of college football, with a slate of games in Foxborough. More details will be announced at today’s news conference.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at