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Realignment Tide Lifts the MAC

UMass to join Mid American Conference for 2012:  


                                            Mid-American Conference logo

 

On April 20th the University of Massachusetts (UMass) announced its intentions to become the 14th football member of the Mid-American Conference for the 2012 football season. In 2012 UMass will be a transitional FBS member and a full a member of MAC and FBS standing in 2013. UMass will be playing the majority of its games at Gillette Stadium starting in 2012 while the on campus McQuirk Stadium (under going renovations) will be used for an occasional weeknight contest.

UMass in the MAC balances the MAC evenly at two, 7 team divisions (yet to be announced). The conference will continue to an 8 game football slate (6 divisional/2 cross divisional). Temple as part of the deal to add UMass will now be a full football member to the conference rather than on a short term contract. Not only has the MAC been able to balance its divsions for the first time in 5 years, its added representation in the #5 Boston media market for the conference, and provided more leverage to maintain its relationship with Temple who has been courted as a possible replacement school for CUSA.  A reap of the all the moves made over the 2010-11 year across D1 due to the conference shuffle has been noted below:

Big Ten (1)

-Nebraska

 

PAC-12 (2)

-Colorado

-Utah

 

Mountain West (4)

-Boise State

-Fresno State

-Nevada

-Hawaii (Football Only)

 

West Coast/Independent (1)

-BYU

 

Big East (3)

-TCU

-Villanova (Pending)

-Central Florida (Pending)

 

Northeastern Conference (1)

-Rhode Island (Football Only)

 

Mid American (1)

-Massachusetts 
 

 Western Athletic (5)

-Denver

-Texas State

-UT-San Antonio

-Lamar (Pending)

-Seattle (Pending)

  

Big Sky (4)

-Southern Utah

-North Dakota

-Cal Poly (Football Only)

-UC Davis (Football Only)

 

Summit (2)

-South Dakota

-Nebraska-Omaha


The Big Ten and PAC-12 enriched their TV contracts at the expense of the Big XII and MWC. The Big XII however has responded by signing a major deal through Fox Sports at 9 million dollars per school in addition the deal they previously had before. With the exception of Iowa State which is now isolated out in Big Ten country, most Big XII schools are doing better than ever. The Big East, once a probable target of the Big Ten with TCU in hand and possibly a 10th school (Central Florida or Villanova) is set to cash in with TV partners on a level possibly equal to its nemesis the ACC (which ironically was able to pick up new members from the Big East fearing future viability of the league to TV networks) 

At the non-BCS level the fight for limited TV money and appearances plays on. The MAC's addition of UMassstands in contrast to the losses generally taken by other conferences like the Mountain West and Western Athletics, both taking major hits.The MWC replaced its 3 most reputable football members (Utah, TCU, BYU) with solid but lessor schools from the WAC (Boise, Fresno, Nevada, Hawaii). CUSA has had some of its most valuable schools like Central Florida, Houston, East Carolina and even SMU targeted by other conferences. The replacement options for CUSA are very much not replacements in kind consisting of mostly lower profile Sun Belt Schools.

The MAC at 14 schools has 2 options; move to 16 schools now to reopen the TV contracts, or wait and see what the fallout is going to be in a few years and then make a move. The latter option appears to make the most sense as it is 1) not clear yet if the Big East would move to 12 schools, 2) the MAC has long term contracts with ESPN until 2016. The MAC Commissioner (Jon Steinbrecher) has also stated that he has no desire to remove any current schools from the MAC.

It may be of value however for the MAC to consider a move to 16 prior to the next round of football contracts. By 2015 there will be several changes on the TV landscape for which the MAC could capitalize. Fox by picking up the Big Ten and PAC-12 title games along with second tier rights for the Big XII and CUSAis recommitted to the college football market. NBC now has a platform for college sports with Versus and already has Notre Dame Football and the MWC second tier games. If ESPN were to lose Big East basketball to another competitor that would be a huge blow to its market dominance in College Sports. There are a lot of unknowns out there in TV programming that will be settled in the next few years. Fortunately, the MAC is in a position where it can sit back and wait right now until everything settles out.

Should the MAC continue to look at FCS upgrades like UMass or could it pillage from another conference in trouble? When TV negotiations come around the MAC will be in an excellent position to sell its second tier rights for a larger fee to NBC/CBS.

Scenario 1

CUSA implodes. The Big East adds UCF, Houston, and Memphis to go to 12 members. The MWC adds SMU and Rice. What is left of CUSA is a mess, UTEP, Tulsa, Tulane, USM, UAB, Marshall, ECU. Let's say WKU, MTSU, and North Texas all join to get membership up to 10, however SBC membership now drops down to 7 making it vulnerable. The MAC could attempt to pull in East Carolina and an upgraded Old Dominion offering both schools stability.

Scenario 2

The Big East takes UCF from the Big East. CUSA in turn takes in Florida Atlantic as a replacement school. Florida International is left hanging in the SBC. The MAC could take FIU from the SBC and upgrade Stony Brook from the FCS ranks. That would give the MAC presence in 2 more top 10 media markets in NYC and Miami which would be very appealing to TV audiences.

Scenario 3

The BCS rules are changed giving every non-BCS conference an automatic bid to a second tier game while Army and Navy are left in the cold. Army and Navy are compelled to join the MAC as football only members, adding 2 additional bowl games to the conference. The MAC Championship is moved back one week to accommodate the Army/Navy game. Here again would be another very nice TV situation for the MAC. 

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