For the first time since 1995, an FBS program is no more.
The University of Alabama-Birmingham announced this week its intention to shutter its football team at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 academic school year. It's the first FBS program to disband since the University of the Pacific and the first Division I program to shut down since both Hofstra and Northeastern made their moves in 2009.
To be perfectly honest, there isn't a whole lot about this actually impacting Boston College. UAB is a member of Conference USA, one of the Group of Five leagues, well outside the reach of the Eagles. It's possible the Blazers are ejected from all other sports as well, since the league stipulates in its bylaws that all member institutions must sponsor an FBS football program. Again, though, that doesn't hit BC.
The links to Boston College aren't direct, but there's a chance the Eagles are hit by some type of downstream impact thanks to UAB ending football.
The Army Factor
Before everyone jumps all over me for saying I'm throwing troll bait at UMass, hear me out. This season, Conference USA played with 13 teams—their 12 regular members and Old Dominion, who was an independent in 2013 as part of a two-year reclassification out of the FCS. While they lose UAB, they'll add UNC-Charlotte. The 49ers played their inaugural season in 2013 as an FCS independent, where they remained this past year before joining C-USA in '15.
The addition of Charlotte intended to rectify the problem of uneven divisions, but instead it's just going to leave the league with one division of seven teams and one of six. That means Conference USA is most likely going to have to answer the question surrounding how they intend to get 14 teams.
To answer that question, the league can look at several teams in precarious positions. NBC Sports floated the idea of expansion through FCS programs like Liberty or James Madison. It also proposed potentially adding ranks through Army or UMass.
Adding FCS programs does nothing to Boston College, but there is an impact by adding Army and/or UMass. Army was once a member of C-USA, departing in 2004 for the independent ranks. Since then, the Eagles played the Black Knights four times, winning three. They were supposed to play a third consecutive game this year at Yankee Stadium, but that ultimately became Army vs. UConn. If Army were to rejoin C-USA, especially given that Air Force is in the Mountain West Conference and Navy is about to join the American, there's a good chance the Eagles and Black Knights would be forced to discontinue their rivalry.
Army is a good draw, a consistently winnable game, and a rivalry dating back historically to some of college football's olden days. It's a relatively easy road trip for both teams, and as long as Army's had football, they've found common ground in playing the Eagles. But Army has to fill a 12-game schedule each season, and independence is becoming harder and harder to live with. After playing two FCS teams this year (including Yale), they'll play both Fordham and Bucknell next year, with a game against Lafayette scheduled for 2016.
Moving to C-USA would give Army eight automatic games but reduce the number of non-conference games to four. Assuming Air Force and Navy have to stay on the schedule, that gives Army two games of which to find opponents, and with scheduling relationships already in place against teams like Connecticut, it's unlikely they'd look to BC.
The UMass Factor
Also the list of potential targets, the Minutemen are a team without a home come 2016. While normally I'd take this opportunity to completely dump on the program, I'll give credit where credit's due: Mark Whipple did a great job reinventing the offense. The defense was brutal in Amherst, but the offense, yardage-wise, made waves throughout the MAC. Despite going 3-9 overall, there were obvious improvements, including three conference wins and back-to-back wins against Kent State and Eastern Michigan. The win over Ball State was one of those bowl-eligibility-denying wins.
UMass sank and is sinking considerable resources into their football program with the hope of "making it" at the FBS level. The last three years proved how long of a road they have to go to become a fully respectable Group of Five team, but since they made strides, they have to avoid going independent unless they want to take major steps in the wrong direction. That's speaking volumes considering their non-conference games next year include a return trip to Colorado for a game at Gillette this year along with a paycheck game at Notre Dame. Their home games are against Temple (with whom they have a basketball rivalry) and FIU (who plays in...C-USA).
The problem for UMass is that they'll have to put in much more legwork than Army to fill an independent schedule. Army can draw based on their name in football; UMass cannot. The 2016 schedule currently has only two games slated for home, and because of their agreement with the Kraft family, they'll have to play those at Gillette Stadium. The two opponents? UConn and Rhode Island (more on that in a bit).
Because of the feasibility (or lack thereof) of playing football without a conference, it makes sense for UMass to stump for C-USA except for one problem—basketball. Conference USA has some pretty solid traditional basketball teams like Memphis, Lousiville, Cincinnati, and Marquette—in its past. There's no reason for UMass to leave the Atlantic-10 for C-USA without mortgaging its basketball program, which is the reason they wouldn't go to the MAC.
So how's this relate back to BC? Well it depends on how much UMass really does want to commit to football. If they end up looking at Conference USA, I don't see them wanting to dump BC. At the same time, though, if some act of higher power takes them to a new conference, there's a chance BC goes bye bye. Their 2016 schedule already has those games against Connecticut and Rhode Island, and those are much more winnable than BC. That's half their non-conference schedule, and the other half could easily be filled by their paycheck game at Florida (larger guarantee than BC) and the home-and-home with Brigham Young. In other words? Adios BC.
Other Teams Factor
The final impact comes from teams already with games scheduled against UAB. Tennessee, Georgia State, South Alabama, and Troy are all looking to fill a non-conference game for next year, while all except for the Vols now have an open date in '16. In addition, Kentucky loses a non-conference game in two years with the shuttering of the program.
The Vols already released a statement that they need a new opponent for their opening game next year, especially since they were supposed to play UAB at LP Field in Nashville. Whereas BC played a Friday night ACC home game to open up September the last two years, that date is currently open, and the Eagles are in need of a fourth non-conference game outside of Northern Illinois, New Mexico State, and Notre Dame. Tennessee went .500 this year at 6-6, bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
As for 2016, Boston College is in need of one, possibly two games, depending on if their second game with NIU ends up in '16 or '17. Kentucky is now open, and it would be a winnable game against an SEC team that went 5-7 this season. Additionally, any of those three other schools could use the guaranteed paycheck. Georgia State has one open date for '15, but they now have two open slots for '16. There's also a built-in storyline with GSU since their offensive coordinator is Jeff Jagodzinski.
As for the other two schools? There's open dates, and guaranteed games are better than open dates.