After months of speculation and rumors, Massachusetts made it official on Wednesday, announcing the Minutemen football team will be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association of the FCS and movin' on up to the FBS level and the Mid-American Conference. The university and the MAC announced the move together during a press conference at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, and now, the new home of UMass football. Yes, the Minutemen will have their home football games two hours away from campus.
UMass will join the MAC as a football-only member, and will begin play a full FBS and MAC schedule beginning with the 2012 football season. The Minutemen will play a CAA schedule in 2011, but won't be eligible for postseason play, and will be fully eligible in the MAC for the 2013 season, including the conference championship and bowl participation.
Both sides issued a statement as part of Wednesday's announcement:
"We seek greatness in all we do at UMass," said University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub. "We promise national excellence and prominence to the citizens of the Commonwealth, and we deliver on that promise. Moving to the FBS is consistent with our upward trajectory, as Minuteman football becomes part of our overall move toward national prominence."
"The University of Massachusetts will add to the academic stature of the Mid-American Conference and bring a strong tradition and depth to our conference," said Dr. Jon A. Steinbrecher, Commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. "The UMass football program will add quality to our conference's football programs and balance our divisions. In addition, this addition allows our conference to expand our footprint into New England and into the Boston and Hartford/Springfield markets."
UMass will continue to remain a member of the CAA its other 20 sports.
The move will leave the CAA with 10 teams in 2012 (Old Dominion joins this year, and Georgia State joins in 2012), and will give the MAC an even 14 teams. How the two divisions will be split up is not yet known, though our MAC blog, Hustle Belt, offers suggestion, with the final conclusion likely being that UMass will join the MAC East, with Bowling Green will slide to the MAC West.
UMass played its first ever college football game in 1879, as Massachusetts Agricultural College (it defeated cross-town rival Amherst College, 4-0). Massachusetts State College became the University of Massachusetts in 1947, the year after the Yankee Conference was formed, with UMass one of the charter members.
The Yankee Conference eventually was taken over by the Atlantic 10 in 1997 -- UMass won more league titles (17) and games (160) than any other Yankee Conference member. Ten years later, the CAA took over for the A-10. In all, UMass has won 22 league titles, including sharing the 2007 CAA crown with Richmond. The Minutemen won the FCS National Championship in 1998 and lost to Appalachian State in the title game in 2006.