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The wheels of FBS conference realignment, as of right this second, are slowing down. With the MAC announcing last week that they planned to remain at 12 teams, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State will remain in Conference USA. C-USA now sits at nine programs, and one conference AD believes the league is likely to remain at nine, at least for the moment. That's also what I've been hearing as well.
But should Conference USA decide they want to add additional teams, there will be plenty of interested parties. Several other FCS programs, like McNeese State and Tarleton State, have indicated they hope to eventually be FBS programs, and could be C-USA targets again.
Some FBS programs also engaged with Conference USA. One program that has openly campaigned for an invitation? UMass. Here's a video from two weeks ago, where the school talks about their options, their desire to eventually join a conference, and more:
If you look carefully, at around the 2:00 mark, UMass AD Ryan Bamford holds up a few booklets with information about UMass that he says were sent to several ADs.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we've obtained a copy of the one they sent to officials at Conference USA schools. You can read the whole thing here, if you'd like, (or read this story from Underdog Dynasty, who I believe got the document first) but I thought we could share some highlights.
UMass: We have good food!
When I went to the UConn/UMass game a few weeks ago, I was a little surprised to see so many students at the game. After all, this was a game between two lousy teams, leading into a three-day weekend when many students had left campus. I wandered into the stands and asked folks why they were still going, and one of the answers I heard, time and time again?
The food was awesome. Apparently, UMass has one of the best campus dining services in the country, and students could swipe their meal cards to get into a special catered tailgate. It looked a lot better than what we got in the press box, that's for sure.
And right there on page three of the deck, UMass wanted to make sure other administrators knew that their undergrads weren't blowing smoke about the food.
We've beaten some teams you've heard of!
Trying to sell the athletic excellence of UMass football...is a tough sell. Since moving up to FBS, the team has yet to win five games in a season, let alone qualify for a bowl.
So instead, the school is trying to highlight some of their best wins at the FBS level:
Were these big wins? Well, two of them were. 2018 Liberty finished 6-6, and 2017 App State finished 9-4 and clobbered Toledo in a bowl game, making it a legitimately impressive win. But the Buffalo game (which actually happened in 2015, not 2016), was over a 5-7 squad that was lucky to have won five games. The combined 2017 records of Georgia Southern and BYU? 6-19. But hey, those wins still count!
We're spending money to get better!
To me, this was the most compelling information in the whole packet. Like UConn, UMass wants to clearly communicate that they are financially committed to FBS football, and are making the facility and infrastructure improvements needed to remain competitive at that level. The school points to "nearly $65 million invested over the last seven years" in facility improvements, from a 55,000 square ft football performance center, to a new press box, to stadium improvements, to a 96,000 square ft indoor practice facility.
I can confirm, those are pretty nice improvements! The press box at McGuirk was as nice as any other I've seen at the G5 level, the performance center looks great, and there are P5 programs that don't have indoor practice facilities.
McGuirk Alumni Stadium is small, no doubt about it. In many ways, and I do not mean this as an insult, it feels like a very impressive high school football stadium. But that doesn't mean it is a bad stadium, or one that wouldn't be capable of hosting Conference USA opponents. It's not like UMass is applying to join the AFC North here or anything.
People watch us on TV! *
The packet happily points out that UMass athletic events are the third highest rated sports programs on NESN, the New England Sports Network:
That sounds impressive! But remember, the slide says UMass "athletic events", which would include basketball, or perhaps their defending national-champion men's hockey program. It doesn't say "UMass football", and the Minutemen were only interested in football-only arrangements with Conference USA.
Also, is it that impressive for an FBS program to run third on NESN? The network isn't broadcasting Patriots or Celtics games, as far as I'm aware. Outside of the Red Sox and Bruins, you're looking at college hockey, overflow ACC Network programming, Boston University basketball, Harvard basketball, and like, kickboxing. UMass should finish third!
And here's where we spent our football money:
UMass reported $10.5 million in football spending in FY22:
The document didn't specify how this compares to Conference USA schools, but we can come up with a good guess.
Thanks to the Sportico College Athletic Departments Financial Database, we can see that Florida International, for example, reported $14.4 million in football spending in 2019-2020. That's more than new C-USA member New Mexico State ($9.2M), current C-USA program Western Kentucky ($9.9M) or Louisiana Tech ($7.8M).
It's easy to imagine UMass needing to spend more money on team travel should they join Conference USA (El Paso is a bit of a commute from western Massachusetts, after all), but a quick back of the napkin look at the data shows that UMass's total department spending is at least in the ballpark of what other conference schools are doing.
Well Matt, you've read a ton of these things. How do you think this one stacks up?
If you look back at the various pitch documents half the G5 put together for the Big 12, or even what Eastern Kentucky produced for the Sun Belt, I think this particular document doesn't stack up as well. There was nothing in this PDF that looked like it was crafted specifically for Conference USA (or any other league), and much of the information, like the roster or staff bios, wasn't really necessary.
And look, take it from me. Typos happen. It could have been much, much worse.
Let's not kid ourselves here and pretend that UMass was going to get into Conference USA based on the strength of a really compelling PDF. That's not how this stuff works.
The argument, as I understand it here, is that UMass makes a compelling conference addition because it's a big school, with a strong academic reputation, that is financially committed at a similar level to conference peers, and they're willing to make other financial investments.
Right now, for good or for ill, that argument wasn't enough for Conference USA. But even as this particular round of realignment is slowing down, it's a safe bet that there will be other rounds in the future.
And perhaps next time, the next UMass pitch may find a more receptive audience.
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