UMass officially confirmed reports of a scheduling agreement between the three FBS New England schools on Thursday, setting the stage for a series of games between the only schools in the region that compete at the sport's highest levels.
In a story pasted on the university's website, athletic director Ryan Bamford confirmed considerable change to his team's 2016 schedule, along with the addition of Boston College and UConn. The Minutemen and Huskies wil play a four-game series with games in East Hartford in 2018 and 2020 and return matchups at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. in 2019 and 2021.
The games will open flexibility for UConn to schedule games against Boston College in 2016 and 2017. The Huskies will play at Alumni Stadium on November 19, 2016 with a return match at Rentschler Field on November 18, 2017. They will then play again in 2022 and 2023, with the '22 game being played at BC and the '23 game being played in Connecticut.
BC and UMass will play at Gillette Stadium in a rematch of their 2014 "UMass home game" on September 10, 2016 - this upcoming season. UMass will return the favor by coming to Alumni Stadium in 2018, with another home-and-home slated for Foxboro and Chestnut Hill in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The news confirms the reports that the Eagles are going to enter into a scheduling arrangement with UMass and UConn in an effort to fill out game needs while strengthening local ties. The only three FBS teams in New England, BC needs to fill out its home schedule with marketable local games. UMass enters the '16 season as an Independent after opening its FBS tenure as a member of the Mid-American Conference.
UConn, the third member, provides a logical fit with the needs of the other teams. The Huskies can schedule BC as a power conference non-conference opponent with a home-and-home, and UMass provides winnable games against a marketable opponent.
I've long been a proponent of the scheduling arrangement between UConn and UMass with the Eagles. As a power conference team, BC has a much deeper conference schedule than G5 teams, necessitating a scheduling requirement of winnable non-conference games. While it would be great to see games annually against Texas or Alabama, the eight game ACC schedule is brutal enough without having to play uphill struggles worth of games. After all, Virginia drew Notre Dame in '15 as part of the ACC scheduling arrangement, meaning they played the Fighting Irish along with UCLA (on the road) and Boise State. The Cavaliers finished 4-8.
At the same time, though, the Eagles can't just schedule three to four unknown cupcakes without alienating its fan base, especially in the wake of a 3-9 season featuring two FCS victories. Local rivalries are good for ticket sales and for promoting the game; when UMass hosted Boston College, they drew nearly 31,000 fans to Gillette Stadium. Fans of both the Minutemen and Huskies are going to be charged up to have a shot at the Eagles, and with BC going 3-9 this past season, the 2016 season and beyond is a chance to really score for them along the recruiting trail.
But back to BC. The non-conference schedule has gotten more and more out of whack in the past few seasons. In 2013, BC played Villanova, Southern California, Army, and New Mexico State. Villanova wound up on the BC schedule after the ACC scheduled Pittsburgh's ACC debut on national television against Florida State, and New Mexico State was a road game late in the season at a then-Independent.
In 2014, BC had a more stable non-conference schedule but found itself playing a one-off game against Colorado State - which they lost. That led to 2015's disaster where New Mexico State bailed out of their contract when joining the Sun Belt Conference and the late addition of a second FCS team (Howard) for a game that was beyond non-competitive.
Scheduling a series with UMass and UConn for the future is a good idea to set those competitive, winnable games against teams with local ties. UConn is secure in the AAC, and even though UMass is looking for a conference, they're unlikely to replace BC given the cost of playing being substantially less expensive than New Mexico State (distance, travel costs, etc.). In the event that UMass find a conference and can't juggle their schedule, UConn, now with a scheduling tie precedent established with the Eagles, could easily bail the Minutemen out and transfer some of those games to the Eagles.
Then there's the asterisk unknown aspect. UMass is absolutely playing their home games in these games at Gillette Stadium because of its capacity. If they're likely to sell 30,000 tickets (a precedent set by the BC game), they aren't going to play those games at the 17,000-seat McGuirk Stadium. With UMass claiming the games in Foxboro via their contract and scheduling agreement, it's possible BC could capitalize and find another stadium to move their home game to - Fenway Park.
There's miles of discussion left to go on this, but it's clear Brad Bates is moving forward with a couple of clear marketing victories. For someone who is New England born and bred, I've craved good, local rivalries. I found it two seasons ago with the game against UMass, which was huge for us at BC Interruption and on social media with the angry, virulent reactions from both sides. If we can find that moxie and mojo again, with both teams, it can be something that can strengthen the ties and continue to help raise college football's profile in the area.
Ed. note: This has been edited to reflect future games in 2022 and 2023 between BC and UConn)