This article from ESPN details the above, but the meat of it is that UMass will no longer be a partial member of the MAC after 2015. This comes shortly after the school declined a full invitation to the MAC – an offer that would have been a coup for the conference and that also had zero chance of success. There’s no way that UMass moves their basketball down to the MAC.
The quick glance would make you think that this is better for the Atlantic 10, that it reduces the chance for UMass to bolt. That the school has failed in the FBS experiment. That quick glance may be wrong.
First, UMass is committed to staying in FBS. They’ve spent plenty of money to get even this far and are past the point of no return. This decision is certainly the result of the Minutemen’s refusal to move everything to the MAC, and that invitation in the first place was likely a move from the conference to force the school’s hand. Anyone could see that the MAC was temporary and that they were only going to be at odds in the future.
It’s true that the Minutemen have struggled in their transition to the big time, going 1-11 this year in the MAC, and its very possible that they will be cognizant of their role and not try to overreach with their next landing spot. Some have indicated the Sunbelt as a possibility. As silly as it seems, that’s already a geographically disparate conference with plans to add Idaho, so why the heck not? This would be impractical for any sport other than football, which is only once a week. This is the option that we should be rooting for.
The other option is a little scarier.
The American Athletic Conference has some significant concerns with schools and has shown that they’ll take just about anyone to keep things going. UMass fits in quite well with basketball and could raise the profile of a conference that is on a high with UConn’s win but is also about to lose Louisville. As far as football goes, well, this was the league that was trying to convince Villanova to make the leap to FBS. They’re obviously willing to be patient.
The one thing that could stand in the way of this is that historically, UConn has wanted to be “the” New England team in the mix. Even so, as the only long-term member of the conference remaining, they’re running out of options and would likely have no choice but to be ok with it.
Time will tell – but this isn’t over. Both sides of the fractured Big East remain a threat.