Massachusetts, the little big state school just 90 miles down the Mass Pike, is planning on leaving the I-AA's Colonial Athletic Conference and making the jump to Division I-A football, according to a report in the Boston Herald.
"In a move that would alter the college sports landscape in New England, UMass plans to upgrade its football program to Football Bowl Subdivision status.
Moreover, the Amherst school has had talks with the Patriots [team stats] about playing several home games each season in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium, which in effect would give Greater Boston two competing FBS programs, the other being Boston College.
According to several sources, UMass would take its program, currently in the Football Championship Subdivision, to the Mid-American Conference, whose football schools include Temple, Bowling Green and Miami of Ohio."
Per the report, the Minutemen would play a "provisional" schedule in 2011 and 2012 before completing the move to the FBS in 2013. UMass would be following in the footsteps of other recent programs like Boise State, South Florida and UConn, who all recently made the jump to college football's top division.
This probably wouldn't be big BC news, if not for the Herald's Steve Buckley's article title, "UMass eyes move to join BC in FBS." OK, you have my attention now. Go on ...
"An upgraded UMass program would have the potential to establish a natural in-state rivalry with BC. The schools have played each other in football only twice since 1982, with the Eagles winning 29-7 in 2004 and 24-14 in '07. Both of those games were played at the Eagles' Alumni Stadium.
While the Minutemen would be competing with Boston College for the loyalties of Greater Boston sports fans if they were to play home games at Gillette Stadium, it's possible that a UMass presence in the market would bring about a renaissance in college football in the area. Though the Eagles have had some strong teams over the years and have sent a number of players to the NFL, the area hasn't really been college footballcrazy since the 1981-84 days of Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie."
I'm all for playing UMass every few years, but a natural in-state rivalry developing? A New England college football renaissance? Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
If and when UMass completes a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, while it may be beneficial to general college football interest in New England, it's probably not in BC's best interest.
On the plus side, scheduling a I-A UMass team over, say, a I-AA cream puff will save the school some money and provide the school with a win over a moderately more legitimate outfit than the Weber States, Stony Brooks, Northeasterns, Rhode Islands and Maines of the college football world. Well, at least when it comes to perception.
In reality, though, even if GDF schedules UMass, do you really expect the Minutemen to take the place of BC's annual I-AA opponent? Highly doubtful. The annual I-AA game has become a staple in college football; an easy W to pad the bowl resume of the FBS team, and a healthy paycheck to help fund the lower division's program. So any cost savings realized by scheduling an FBS UMass squad would likely be offset by the guarantee game money BC doles out to whichever I-AA program the school schedules in UMass' place.
On to the downsides, of which there are many. Playing UMass is a lose-lose for BC, much like scheduling a series against UConn would be for the program. Win, and you were supposed to win. Lose, and you instantly legitimize the program in the area in the minds of local recruits.
UMass' stadium size is another issue. UMass' current football digs -- Warren P. McGuirk Stadium -- seats just 17,000 fans, and would need to be upgraded to meet the 30,000 fan minimum required of an FBS program. BC likely wouldn't agree to play even in a renovated 30,000-seat McGuirk stadium, fearing lost revenue. Instead, GDF would probably lobby to play the game at either Alumni or Gillette Stadium. Similarly, the location of BC's 2015 return trip to Buffalo has yet to be set. While I don't have any inside info as to why this is, my guess is the school is angling to play at the larger Ralph Wilson Stadium (UB's current stadium seats just 31,000), or is trying to get more than a home-and-home out of the deal.
It's also not like the Minutemen have been much of a historical rival to the Eagles. The two schools have hooked up only twice in the last 10 years, and BC owns an 18-5 lead in the all-time series (with 3 of those UMass victories coming before World War I). BC is scheduled to host UMass on October 1, 2011, which could very well be the last game in the series should UMass make the jump to the ranks of the FBS.
Why, you may ask? Because there's not much room left on the Eagles' future schedule for the next few years. If you assume that the annual I-AA game will continue going forward, that leaves just three non-conference slots on the Eagles' future schedules. With long-time series scheduled with Syracuse and Notre Dame, combined with home-and-home series with Northwestern, USC and possibly Stanford, suddenly there's no room for another non-conference team on BC's schedule.
While I was all for Villanova's jump to the FBS and for BC scheduling a series with our former Big East rivals, I don't get nearly the same warm-and-fuzzy feeling with UMass' potential jump to FBS. I see a lot of downsides with very little upside for BC.