April 19, 2011
While Villanova football continues to drag its feet on its ascension to the Big East, its fellow basketball-loving, Colonial Athletic Association rival doesn't need to be asked twice: Massachusetts will make a "major announcement" Wednesday to officially accept an offer to join the Mid-American Conference as a football-only addition beginning in 2012. The promotion makes UMass the 14th member of the MAC and the 121st member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, née Division I-A.
Unlike 'Nova, there's no hangup with the venue: Minutemen will play their home games in front of many empty seats in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, soulless corporate home of the NFL's New England Patriots, which holds roughly four times the capacity of 17,000-seat Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on the UMass campus in Amherst. (Not that the larger venue isn't occasionally worth it: The annual rivalry game with New Hampshire drew more than 32,000 to Gillette last October for a lopsided UNH win.) Even on campus, the Minutemen ranked 20th in the Championship Subdivision last year in average attendance despite the trials of a 6-5 season, and outdrew three MAC teams — Buffalo, Akron and Ball State — at 13,000 per game.
By FCS/I-AA standards, UMass is a power: The Minutemen have made eight playoff appearances since 1978 with three trips to the national championship game (most recently in 2006) and a national title in 1998. The MAC promises tougher sledding, but Boise State and UConn are living proof that the brass ring is out there, eventually, and it bears the inscription: Christmas in Detroit for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Welcome to the big time, guys.
Thank you, citizens of Massachusetts, for your attention to this important announcement. You may now return to brawling over who shoveled out the good parking space and pretending amateur sports — outside of BU-BC hockey and the gambling lines on the first round of March Madness — do not exist.*
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* No one denies this.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.