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covets greener Big East pastures

By Danny Whitford

• Despite obstacles, UMass thinking big
Wellman: A few 12-team leagues the key
• Cards' Pitino out on limb-o about C-USA

• BCS or bust for East Carolina
• Irish hover over ACC, Miami, Big East
• SEC example proves money no cure-all
• Opposition to ACC scheme gaining steam
• ACC foray for 'crown jewel' advances
• Big East's jilted 5 gang up for future
• Herrion keeps eye on Miami's next move

• 'Sopranos' more benign than ACC syndicate
• Meetings leave big questions hanging
Tranghese sounds like "beaten man"
• Moral compass spins out of control
• Big East boss lashes out
ECU well-situated for upheavals
The Empire Strikes Back?
• Notre Dame ponders Big East role
TV markets based on bogus science
• Brave new world for ECU?
• Muse can't take wait-and-see approach
• Execs move to spawn ACC juggernaut
• Muse eyes saga from 'crow's nest'
• Is ECU prepared to navigate storm?
• Time for C-USA to revisit expansion issue

[ Originally posted 06.06.03. ]

The visions of what the college football landscape might look like when the tremors of the looming earthquake subside are getting more curious by the day.

With the Atlantic Coast Conference poised to conclude its cataclysmic move to annex Big East linchpins Miami, Syracuse and Boston College, officials at the University of Massachusetts have apparently become so mesmerized by the drama that they're considering making a hop, a skip and a leap of faith into the I-A football ranks.

UMass — which happens to be mired in a financial sinkhole in addition to being embroiled in a political brawl of Herculean proportions — is optimistic enough to think big when it comes to its currently I-AA football program.

According to a Thursday report in the Boston Globe, school officials envision joining the gold-rush of Conference USA and other non-BCS schools expected to make a bid to align themselves with Big East holdovers Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Connecticut.

Apparently, it's a make-or-break proposition for Minutemen football.

''The feeling is that if this is going to happen [going to 1-A] this is the last chance to do it,'' a source in the UMass administration told the Boston Globe. ''And if it doesn't fly, the idea will then be to stay at 1-AA, but with no scholarships, or to drop football completely.''

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that the school faces state-ordered budget cuts of up to $40 million and noted that UMass athletics will take the hardest hit of all, with $2.5 million cut from its $5.7 million state appropriation.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, the state's governor, Mitt Romney, has hinted he will continue his efforts to remove UMass system president William Bulger from office, despite stiff opposition in the legislature. Whitey Bulger, the president's brother, is an underworld crime figure and one-time FBI informant who has earned a spot on the bureau's "Ten Most Wanted" list.

Whitey Bulger is sought in connection with 21 murders and, the Associated Press reported, the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform is gearing up to question the UMass president about his knowledge of his brother's whereabouts and what communication he may have had with the fugitive since he fled in 1995.

If the story in the Boston Globe is correct, however, the financial morass and the intrigue about organized crime are not necessarily recognized as insurmountable impediments by the boss of the UMass athletic department.

''There has been considerable conversation about UMass and Division 1-A football over the last decade,'' UMass athletics director Ian McCaw told the newspaper. ''The likelihood of conference realignment in the coming months, coupled with a one-time unique opportunity that would be afforded programs in transition into a Division 1-A conference, creates a narrow window of opportunity for this issue to be considered.''

According to the paper, estimates of elevating Minutemen football to the I-A level range as high as $100 million. Part of that expenditure would go toward expanding 17,000-seat McGuirk Stadium.

How about that. Just when you thought the Big East's Jilted 5 would be left with few practical football survival options other than plundering a few gems from Conference USA to maintain an NCAA-recognized league, here come the Minutemen to offer their services for what the school envisions would be another 12-team super-conference.

On the other hand, noted the Boston paper, C-USA is being viewed by UMass officials as a potential alternative destination if the Big East plan doesn't pan out.

The Minutemen currently compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference in all sports.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

02/23/2007 10:36:34 AM

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