UMass Upgrades Football: Pitt-Penn State, USC-UCLA ... and BC-UMass?

UMass' recent move to Division I-A and the MAC for football already has the media drawing comparisons to Boston College football. The Minutemen aren't even 48 hours into "big boy" college football status, but that hasn't stopped UMass AD John McCutcheon from talking about an annual BC-UMass series on the gridiron

"They don't have to schedule us," said UMass athletic director John McCutcheon, "but ... it would stimulate fan interest and rivalries within the same households. You can see over the years what happens in rivalries like Pitt-Penn State and USC-UCLA. ... I hope (BC) would look at it the same way."

First off, McCutcheon needs to catch up on his recent college football history. Pitt and Penn State haven't played each other since 2000 as the two programs are locked into a Keystone State Cold War. JoePa is still pissed that Pitt joined the Big East and rebuffed his invite to form an all-sports Eastern conference back in 1982.

Second, USC-UCLA? Let's be serious. What's next? Comparisons to Auburn-Alabama or Florida State-Florida?

When reached for comment, GDF said he's willing to schedule UMass, probably a two-for-one deal with two games at Alumni Stadium. I still question whether BC should fully embracing playing the Minutemen with any sort of regularity.

I know some fans are questioning why BC should be scared of UMass joining Division I-A. They are only joining the MAC, you might argue. Playing 93 miles from campus in an NFL stadium ... All true, but it's the MAC today and who knows tomorrow. If UMass gets serious about this "big boy" college football thing, what happens when Big East football and basketball split? What happens if UMass decides to upgrade McGuirk Stadium?

There's only so much college football talent and media attention to go around in New England. In a sports market that is already saturated with coverage of the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, UMass football is just another sports team that BC will have to share the spotlight with. And at the end of the day, BC is still a small, private Catholic school that isn't fully embraced by the Greater Boston market, while UMass is the state's flagship school with a student body two and a half times the size of BC's and 120,000 alumni in the Boston area alone.

This season, UMass and New Hampshire played in front of a Gillette Stadium crowd of 32,848. And that was against UNH. While UMass is going from one event at Foxborough to 5-7 a season, I doubt the Minutemen will have any problems attracting BCS conference opponents to Gillette. And the school will do much better than draw 32k the first time Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State travel to Foxborough. With those extra fans will come extra media coverage. If these two games were played on the same weekend, which game do you think will get more coverage in the papers? UMass-Michigan or Boston College-Northwestern? (Hint: One of the Herald's main college sports writers is a UMass grad).

As for the "enhancing the college football experience" by having multiple, viable Division I-A outfits in New England, it's kinda hard to generate any rivalries or buzz in the area when one of the three programs (BC) refuses to play one of the other programs (UConn). USC-UCLA works because the programs share a city, have loads of history, their programs are on relatively equal footing and there's Pac-10 implications on the line every time they hook up.

But BC-UMass? UConn-UMass? What's to be gained by either BC or UConn? Do you see Tennessee rushing off to set up a regular series with Middle Tennessee State? The Canes eager to put a beatdown on crosstown Florida International? There's the one-off game here or there, but nothing even close to the likes of an annual series. More than probably any other sport, geographic proximity doesn't necessarily breed rivalry in college sports. There's much more to it than that.   

For those dreaming of an annual football series with UMass and two-for-ones between Alumni Stadium and Gillette, one final word of caution. I'm sure we all thought it was a good idea back in 2000 to set up a rivalry and an annual series with UConn, and look where that has gotten us. The Huskies now share the limited college football spotlight in the Boston media and every few months we are good for a column in the Globe bemoaning the lack of an annual BC-UConn football game. This season, we had to endure all the "first New England team in the BCS" crap in the papers and hear about the wonderful "rags to riches" story of UConn football.

My advice here? Deflect, ignore and schedule a game every 4-5 years with UMass. But no more. Let's not make this an annual thing, ok? 

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