UMass football program jumping to Division I's highest level

Wednesday April 20, 2011

It has taken more than a decade of discussion and 127 years of playing the sport, but the University of Massachusetts is poised to make the leap into the highest level of Division I football.

The university's athletic department has announced that "The University of Massachusetts will be holding a press conference regarding the future of the UMass football program" today. The notice was on the school's website and was also announced via Twitter. It is expected that UMass will finally make its entrance into Division I-FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) play effective in 2012.

The news conference will not be held on the Amherst campus, but will take place in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough at 3:30 p.m.

Multiple media sources report that UMass will be joining the Mid-American Conference as the 14th football-playing member. The announcement of today's press conference was also made on the Mid-American Conference website.

The conference confirmed in a news release that it will co-host the announcement and that MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher would speak.

It has been reported on multiple occasions that since UMass' home field, McGuirk Alumni Stadium, is inadequate for Division I-FBS play, the Minutemen would play a majority of their games at Gillette Stadium. If Gillette were not in the mix for UMass, the press conference likely would have been scheduled for Amherst.

The Minutemen drew 34,000 at Gillette last year when they played the University of New Hampshire. Those two New England rivals will play in Foxborough on Oct. 22.

UMass would become the 14th football-playing member of the MAC, joining Temple as a football-only member. Temple joined the MAC to play football in 2007.

If UMass follows Temple's lead in the MAC, the Minutemen will also have to play a couple of MAC basketball games every year, two home and two away. That is currently what the Owls do. UMass and Temple are members of the Atlantic 10 Conference and Temple has continued its A-10 membership.

The 13-member MAC football league stretches from Philadelphia in the East to Northern Illinois University in the Midwest. The MAC is not a BCS league, so its teams are not automatically eligible to play in BCS bowls. The league does have three bowl tie-ins: The Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit, the Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

UMass would become the third FBS team in New England, joining Boston College and Connecticut.

Both teams have UMass on their schedule in the next two years. The Minutemen will travel to Chestnut Hill on Sept. 24 and will open the 2012 season at Connecticut.

According to the NCAA, a FBS school must average 15,000 fans in paid or actual attendance once every two years. Massachusetts is close to that figure already.

The 2010 NCAA football attendance statistics have the average UMass home attendance as 13,005 fans. While that would put the Minutemen near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference attendance statistics, it is not that far off from being competitive within the league.

The league's attendance is led by Temple at 20,515. Toledo is second at 19,333 and Ohio University is third at 19,046.

The potential move to Gillette would give the MAC two NFL-caliber stadiums for its teams. Temple plays in Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles.

By making this move up, UMass football coach Kevin Morris will have additional scholarships for which to find Division I-BCS players. According to the NCAA, D-I FBS teams get 85 scholarships while D-I FCS schools can award 63 football scholarships.

UMass has played in three national championships as a FCS school, winning the title in 2006. The Minutemen finished last season 6-5, 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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