Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: UMass football staying in FBS
The news might have been nothing more than a blip on the sports radar screen in a normal week. But when the University of Massachusetts Faculty Senate brought up the idea of dropping football entirely or scaling it back, the discussion caught my eye because of what happened out west.
On Thursday, the University of Idaho announced that it was dropping from the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision back to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, a division many of you may remember was called Division I-AA.
That same day, the UMass Faculty Senate debated a similar measure to either go back to the FCS or to drop football altogether. The measure was roundly defeated. So, Mark Whipple's Minutemen will — for now — continue to play as Division I-FBS independents.
In the eyes of some people I know, this is nothing more than a fool's errand, throwing away good money after bad.
It has been six years (2010) since UMass had a winning record. That was 6-5 in 2010 in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Minutemen under Mark Whipple just wrapped up back-to-back 3-9 seasons and were 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference.
And at the end of the season, the Minutemen were without a home. The MAC gave the school a choice, join the conference for everything or take a hike. UMass chose to leave. That was a good thing, because a move to the MAC might have killed the basketball program.
I was on Fenn Street Friday morning when I saw an attorney friend, who graduated from our state university. He asked me when was UMass going to take the step backwards. I'm not sure how far back he wanted the school to go.
There are two things you have to know. The first is that there is absolutely no way the university is going to drop the sport. The second is, if you read a letter chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote to the Faculty Senate, there is now way that the school will step back into the CAA.
"Due to changes on the national scene, FCS membership is not a sound business model for UMass moving forward as the costs continue to rise but the revenues have a very real ceiling," Subbaswamy wrote in the letter. "Having Independent status has allowed UMass to sell its own television and media rights."
Athletic director Ryan Bamford has put together a full schedule for the next three seasons as an independent, and Subbaswamy wrote that the team is looking to playing most of its home games back on campus instead of at Gillette Stadium.
"The financial data for the past three years which I have made public show there are no 'runaway costs,' and less than a third off the football expenses can be reallocated for other purposes even if we completely got out of football," Subbaswamy wrote.
The differences between UMass and Idaho are many.
Neither team had a suitable FBS landing spot right now. Idaho decided that dropping back to play old FCS rivals was the best course of action. A big part of that is the fact that Idaho's basketball program is not good, and no conference would seem to want Idaho.
While UMass' record hasn't been good the past couple of seasons on the hardwood, the school has history and will be a much more attractive team for a conference when the next round of realignment happens. That would be good for TV in multiple sports.
Take my word for it, realignment will happen again. I just don't know when.
But if you are an FBS conference looking for a school to add to your sports programs, and not just in football, Massachusetts would be scooped up way before Idaho would.
Four years isn't long enough for UMass to sink in the FBS waters. Remember, the Minutemen were not a good team when they made the move up the MAC.
This is only Whipple's second full recruiting class in Amherst. Give him until all the players on the roster are his recruits.
UMass may never succeed at this big time football thing. But that decision isn't ready to be made yet.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253
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