With the Big East being raided yet again, and the ACC having a lot to do with this, the Big East could still be looking for new blood. They’ve invited some pretty random schools (Boise State?!), yet a pretty obvious possibility has been overlooked: UMass. Sure, they just lost in the NIT Final Four, and their basketball program hasn’t been a serious power since the Clinton Administration, but stay with me here, folks.
As far as enrollment goes, UMass boasts an undergraduate enrollment of 21,373, comparable to several member institutions. Despite what I said earlier regarding their basketball program, it does have some history of success, including being the alma mater of Rick Pitino, Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, Al Skinner and Marcus Camby; several NCAA Tournament appearances,
reaching the Final Four in 1996, and reaching the NIT Finals in 2008. It’s also where current big-time head coaches John Calipari and Travis Ford got their starts. Moving to a major conference would help the Minutemen acquire better recruits and potentially recapture the glory years of the mid-90s and become a solid contender.
In addition to this, they’ve also developed quite a successful Division I-AA program, with National Championship appearances in 1978 and 2006, and National Title in 1998. This season, they begin their competition in the Mid-Major I-A Mid-American Conference. One issue that many detractors have is their current stadium. Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium only holds 17,000 people, meaning that UMass must play its home games in Gillette Stadium (also known as the House Brady Built, no one denies this). However, plans are in place to renovate the stadium and bring it up to I-A regulations. UConn football was a I-AA joke in the 1990s, but the school invested in the program, and it has seen success since its move to I-A in 2002, and to the Big East in 2005. Granted, UConn Basketball was a founding member of the Big East.
UMass’ main argument for membership in the Big East may be its lacrosse program. While not on par with power programs like Syracuse or Johns Hopkins, the Minutemen still boast a National Championship Game appearance in 2006 and regular tournament appearances.
What I’ve never understood about this whole thing is that UMass is in the heart of Big East country. UConn, Syracuse (for a little while, anyway), Rutgers, St. John’s are all fairly close. A UMass-UConn Rivalry would certainly become a big thing locally, they could call it “The Battle of I-91.” This idea isn’t new. Even Barstool, which is NOT a UMass fansite, has written about it on several occasions. Hell, I’m not even a UMass fan (although I do have a UMass Bar Hat), I just know a good idea when I see one.