UMass is talking I-A yet again


Reading the Sports Briefs section of Thursday morning's Eagle, I had the feeling I was heading back to Yogi Berra Land.

After all, it was "deja vu all over again."

The sense of deja vu hit me because one of the items in the package of news briefs reported that the University of Massachusetts is conducting a study to determine if the UMass-Amherst football team should move from Division I-AA (or the Football Championship Subdivision), to the Division I-A Bowl Championship Subdivision.

And with the Minutemen giving 12th-ranked Boston College all it could handle yesterday before falling 24-14, the buzz about UMass moving up is probably going to be louder.

According to the University, trustee Kenneth McAfee is leading a study group that will take six months to determine if UMass should jump. McAfee is a former All-America tight end from Notre Dame, and is a Boston-area dentist.

"The Division I-A question has been out there for many years, and we would like to provide a conclusive answer," said Matthew E. Carlin, chairman of the Board of Trustees' athletics panel. "We enter this process with open minds and with no predefined outcome in mind."

Good news? Not when you realize that this is the third time in this century that UMass has studied the move to Division I-A football. And this is the third separate time it's been written about here.

In this space back on Sept. 2000, then-athletic director Bob Marcum discussed the prospect of UMass becoming a D-I program.

"We don't want the biggest college football game in New England to be Boston College vs. UConn," Marcum said at the time. "We'd like it to be Boston College vs. UMass. We'd like to be in the mix."

Marcum, whose tenure at UMass was marked — not in a good way — by the hiring of Steve Lappas to replace Bruiser Flint as basketball coach, was a football guy. He is now the athletic director at Marshall, where football is king.

But he was someone who understood what was happening in college sports, and much of what he told me in 2000 has come true.

Article Continues After These Ads

"I think you're going to see another reshuffling of conferences," he said. "I think you're going to see a conference realignment in the next few years. A lot of conferences are fair game."

That was all before BC moved to the ACC with Miami and Virginia Tech, and before Louisville, South Florida, Notre Dame and Marquette moved into the Big East for basketball.

Three years later, in the season before former football coach Mark Whipple joined Bill Cowher's staff with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the UMass mentor talked about a former Yankee Conference/Atlantic 10 rival making the move.

"Everyone, when (Connecticut) walked out of (McGuirk Alumni) stadium five years ago said 'Can you believe they're going I-A?" Whipple recalled at the time. UMass beat UConn by 40 points on the day mentioned.

Today, UConn is 5-0 and has one of the best records in the Big East. The Huskies have been to a bowl game, have a state-of-the-art stadium, and good crowds.

Which all comes back around to the third study in less than a decade. Let's talk about it again.

The pros: More alumni and fan support, potentially more television appearances, possible bowl games and more excitement on campus.

The cons: The cost of more scholarships, expanding McGuirk from its current 20,000-ish seats to at least 36,000, finding a conference, improving access to the campus, and did I say finding a conference?

If this committee comes back with a positive recommendation, the conversion to I-A should start immediately.

However, if the committee says to wait, throw the report in the garbage can. Football fans in the commonwealth have been waiting seven years. It's time to decide.

To reach Howard Herman:, (413) 496-6253.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions