UMASS makes move to MAC

By Andrew Singer

Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and University of Massachusetts Athletic Director John McCutcheon announced the addition of UMass’ football program to the MAC on Wednesday afternoon.

The duo held a teleconference at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. to make the announcement. Steinbrecher said the Minutemen will begin playing games in the MAC in 2012, but will not be eligible for MAC Championships or bowl games until 2013. The Minutemen are likely to be in the MAC’s Eastern Division, while Bowling Green may move to the Western, giving each division seven teams.

UMass joins Temple as the only football-only members of the MAC, as the rest of UMass’ sports will remain in the Atlantic 10. McCutcheon said he has no plans on pursuing membership in the MAC for any other sports.

The Minutemen will call Gillette Stadium home for much of its first five years in the MAC. At least five of UMass’ home games in each of the first two years will be played at Gillette Stadium. At least four games will be played in Foxborough the following three years. The current home of the Minutemen, Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium, will undergo renovations until the 17,000-person stadium is MAC-ready in the eyes of McCutcheon.

“We will be doing some improvements to McGuirk stadium, improving the training facility there, locker rooms, weight rooms, meeting rooms,” McCutcheon said. “We are also going to move forward with a reconstruction of our press box. The initial improvements will not significantly improve our seating capacity. They will simply make things more accustomed to a Division-I level.”

McCutcheon described the financial agreement between Gillette Stadium and the Minutemen as “mutually beneficial,” as the two parties agreed on a revenue-sharing system.

Many questioned the MAC’s motive to add a Football Championship Sub-Division (FCS) team to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Steinbrecher said that adding a 14th team to the conference had been a priority of the conference, and that UMass’ FCS Championship in 1998, and its two finals appearances in 1978 and 2006, put it over the top.

Steinbrecher also believes UMass represents a good opportunity for the MAC to expand its brand.

“The Boston media market was a big factor,” Steinbrecher said. “We will be able to move into the Boston area. We believe the team increases the conference value.”

McCutcheon said UMass’ annual football budget will increase from $4.4 million to $7 million in the following years due to its move to the MAC. The Minutemen had previously been members of the Colonial Athletic Association, and were coming off a 6-5 season in 2010 under head coach Kevin Morris.