UMass football didn’t bring a whole lot to the Mid-American Conference.
It didn’t fit geographically, for one.
Sure, you bring in the Boston TV market, but how much would that actually help the TV deal the MAC and ESPN are renegotiating?
The Minutemen played home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., during their first two seasons as a Football Bowl Subdivision member. The stadium, home of the New England Patriots, is almost two hours from the school’s campus in Amherst. It’d be like Northern Illinois playing all of its home games at Soldier Field.
UMass home contests were played in front of a large number of empty blue seats. Not exactly a great college football environment.
The program averaged 15,830 fans this past season (and actual attendance certainly wasn’t that high), barely eclipsing the 15,000 mark to avoid NCAA probation. It’s not an ideal situation, although the school is playing three games of its 2014 home schedule at McGuirk Stadium on the school’s campus.
The main thing UMass brought to the MAC when it joined in April 2011 was a coveted 14th team, evening out the league’s divisions, improving scheduling and competitive balance. That became a moot point, however, when Temple left the league to join what is now the American Athletic Conference a year later in March 2012.
Wednesday, the MAC announced that UMass will leave the league after the 2015 season – the league exercised a clause that offered UMass full membership for all of its athletic programs, or remain in the league for just two more seasons as a football-only member.
The university took the latter, which makes sense. Being a full-time MAC member would put too much strain on the nonrevenue sports.
Enough about UMass, let’s talk about what this means for the rest of the league.
While inviting UMass into the league and putting them into an extremely tough situation after the Minutemen’s first two years isn’t exactly a friendly move, it’s the right one for the MAC.
No longer will the conference be forced to deal with the nightmare of scheduling division crossover games in an uneven league. Starting in 2016, the MAC will be able to rotate them through the remaining 12 programs. Teams in the West and East divisions will have the same basic odds of competing in the MAC Championship.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher had said repeatedly that the conference wasn’t going to add a 14th team just for the sake of doing so, it would have to be the right fit. Now, there’s no need.
The MAC is what it is. It isn’t going to get the “Group of Five” bowl spot in the College Football Playoff every year, but it’s had its moments over the past decade, such as NIU’s Orange Bowl berth in 2012. Throughout the recent era of conference realignment, it’s been stable for the most part.
The past two seasons, people have wondered why UMass was even part of this Midwestern league, and who the potential 14th team would be.
The speculation can end.
UMass in the MAC; it just never seemed to be a good fit.
• Steve Nitz is the Daily Chronicle’s NIU athletics beat writer. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.