On April 18, 1775, minuteman Paul Revere made his celebrated horseback ride through Massachusetts to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were coming. Two days and 236 years later, the Mid-American Conference delivered a different message: The Minutemen are coming.
In an afternoon press conference Wednesday, the MAC officially announced the addition of the University of Massachusetts as a football-only member beginning in fall 2012. The move will give the MAC 14 member schools in football, substantiating its place as the largest of the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences.
UMass is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA. The Minutemen will play in the CAA in 2011 but will not be eligible for the NCAA Championship tournament. They will jump to FBS status and play a MAC schedule the following year but will not be eligible to play in the MAC Championship or a bowl game until 2013, according to a MAC press release.
“There are any number of reasons why we think UMass is an excellent addition to the MAC,” MAC Commissioner Jon A. Steinbrecher said via a teleconference Wednesday. “UMass is one of the nation’s finest universities. The values of the institution match the values of the conference.”
This marks the fourth different conference for UMass in the past 15 years. After 50 years as a member of the Yankee Conference, the Minutemen joined the Atlantic 10 in 1997 and then transferred to the CAA in 2007.
Steinbrecher confirmed teams would still plan an eight-game conference schedule but said the divisional alignment has not been finalized.
“We hope to come out of our spring meetings being able to announce what that would be,” he said. “Anything said on that now would be pure speculation.”
Steinbrecher added that any division realignment for football would be a “separate issue” from the rest of the sports in the conference and that he would look at different attributes when deciding a possible rearrangement.
“I think there will be a number of principles we’ll use at the end of the day among those naturally you’re going to look at — geography or travel, fairness, rivalries,” Steinbrecher said. “There will probably be some others as well. We’ll have to come to grips with that, put them on the board and prioritize them.”
Adding the Minutemen to the MAC extends the geographical reach of the conference. With the expansion, Massachusetts will become the seventh state and the first New England state to have a team in the MAC. Ohio (six) and Michigan (three) are the only states that have multiple conference members.
The MAC now stretches from DeKalb, Ill., to Amherst, Mass. A bus trip from Northern Illinois to UMass covers about 1,000 miles and takes more than 16 hours. Traveling from Athens to Amherst is a 700-mile trek requiring more than 12 hours. All of Ohio’s other MAC road trips are within 500 miles and nine hours by bus.
“If it’s ridiculous, you have to fly,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “It’s all a matter of what division they’re in too. There are people that look at that and make those decisions before they move forward with that decision.”
UMass has played 15 games against four current or former MAC schools. The Minutemen have faced Buffalo most frequently, compiling a 5-4 record against the Bulls. They are a combined 2-4 against Ball State, Marshall and Toledo.
The MAC also had 14 teams from 2002-04, when Central Florida and Marshall were conference members. Bowling Green became a member of the West Division for those three years before returning to the East Division when both teams exited in 2005.
The conference and its member teams have the next year before any changes take effect, but in 2012, it will be time to see how much “mass” the Minutemen will add to the MAC.