Times are rough for the college football independents, unless you happen to be Notre Dame. With BYU finding out the hard way the evolving world of college football will not be looking upon the program in a very positive light, the Cougars have been tied to the seemingly annual discussion about joining a conference (Big 12? Mountain West Conference?) to find stability as a football program. But even BYU’s perceived troubles may be something a program like UMass would dream of having. Entering the final season as a football associate member of the MAC, the Minutemen are now bracing for the realistic possibility of playing as a football independent until a more permanent solution can be concocted.
UMass athletic director John McCutcheon addressed the possibility of moving forward as an independent, but the long-term goal remains to find a suitable conference home.
“There will come a point fairly soon where we feel like if we don’t have a conference we have to build an independent schedule for a couple of years and we’ll have to get on top of doing that,” McCutcheon said in a report by Daily Hampshire Gazette. “It’s an option. It’s not something you want to do indefinitely, but it may be a necessity just in terms of timing to make sure we don’t get caught short. … I know people want answers and guarantees, but you just can’t give them all the time. It may be necessary for us to get an independent schedule for a few years and show that growth in the program to open some doors. The conference shift has never ended. It never will end. Somewhere an opportunity will emerge for us. It’s just where and when and that I feel confident about.”
The biggest problem for UMass is the realistic or worthwhile options for a conference home just are not to be found at the FBS level. The ACC and Big Ten have no interest in a program like UMass and despite the idea floating around before, the Sun Belt just makes no sense from a fiscal standpoint for the UMass football program. The best option the school may be hoping for at some point may be the American Athletic Conference, but that does not appear to be in the fold either. The AAC will be adding Navy as a football member in 2015, when the conference will have 12 football-playing members. That means the conference has no need to expand just for the sake of expansion (to start a championship game).
The move up to the FBS for UMass is looking more and more like a misguided one, but would the school actually contemplate dropping back down to the FCS? If it can swallow the pride, UMass should at least consider it as an option. It may be the best option left standing.