UMass football and the MAC: A shotgun marriage doomed to fail
I want to give UMass the benefit of the doubt mostly because Saturday was their first home game as an FBS (Division 1) football team. The fact that they got embarrassed 45-6 by Indiana (after last week’s season-opener 37-0 loss to UConn) is beside the point that the whole arrangement of the Minutemen in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) does not look promising at all. I realize that this would have been a much better matchup in men’s basketball but it has to be depressing that they could only draw a crowd that looked similar to an MIAA (Massachusetts high school) Super Bowl in December.
It is great that Bob Kraft and the Patriots have allowed UMass to play their home games at beautiful Gillette Stadium this season and next with more planned in the future but current students at UMass have to take a bus ride two hours to get there from Amherst. Good luck getting hungover college kids to do that on Saturday mornings. While the Hoosiers are the dredge of the Big Ten, they still represented by far the most appealing visiting team on the 2012 schedule for UMass. The MAC is actually an underrated football conference that produces good pros (Ben Rothlisberger, Jason Taylor, Josh Cribbs, James Harrison, Michael Turner, Lance Moore and Jason Babin among others) but if fans didn’t show up when it was 80 degrees, how will it be in October against Bowling Green (October 20) or how about in November against Buffalo (November 17) or Central Michigan-season finale (November 23)? Nobody cares about any of those teams outside of the Midwest.
You have to respect UMass’ willingness to take a big risk and get out of the FCS level after many great seasons in the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association). After all, Boston College used to be the only Division 1 college football team in Massachusetts. Northeastern and Boston University’s teams have both folded in the last decade and Harvard competes in the Ivy League. Still, if the Minutemen couldn’t get into the Big East-which is undergoing a complete makeover the next few seasons in football-they should have waited it out longer when undoubtedly more will leave. College basketball and football are all about television deals and money. Even though everybody agrees that the Big East is the worst of the six BCS conferences, they still have a lucrative agreement. The same can’t be said for the MAC, not to mention the travel coasts since UMass is the only team in the Northeast in its new league.
Think of 2012 as a dress rehearsal for first-year head coach Charley Molnar and his squad. The losses will undoubtedly pile up and most of the games probably won’t even be competitive. The real test for UMass is if their program can sustain any sort of buzz; if they can, then things will get better over time. If not, this truly could be a disaster that the University will come to regret in a few short years. Their best chances for notoriety will come in non-conference games. UMass plays Michigan next week at the Big House and at Vanderbilt on October 27. Looking ahead, they have a bunch of intriguing games in the next four years including at Wisconsin and at Kansas State in 2013, hosting BC and Colorado in 2014, going to Notre Dame in 2015 and going to Florida in 2016. Win one of those games or at least come close and people will start paying attention.