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McCutcheon Monitoring Conference Shifts
University of Massachusetts athletic director John McCutcheon is keeping an eye on the impending Division I conference shifts, which could potentially create drastic changes to the college landscape.
The expected shifts stem from the Big Ten’s announcement that it is considering an expansion, and to a lesser extent similar consideration by the Pacific-10. The Big Ten currently has 11 teams, while the Pac-10 has 10.
Expanding to 12 would allow both not only to host lucrative conference championship football games, but also to improve their television and other sponsorship revenue.
While the Pac-10 is not likely to grow beyond 12 teams, the Big Ten is considering a move to as many as 14 or 16, which would almost certainly prompt further expansion for other Bowl Championship football leagues.
There were reports Monday that the Big Ten had offered membership to four teams - Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers and Notre Dame.
Should a massive shift occur, almost all of Division I figures to be affected directly or indirectly.
“It’s on everybody’s radar,” McCutcheon said. “The conversation was turned up a couple notches with everything coming out of the Big Ten initially. After that, reactions from the Southeast Conference and others as to what might make the dominos start falling and things start shifting around.
“These things cause a great deal of angst and none of us really has a lot of control over these things, other than to keep your ears open and consider options,” he added. “We’ll look at our own situation and what things may or may not happen.
“I think everybody is keenly aware that there’s the potential for some fairly significant shifting going on. As to how significant and when it’s going to take place, I’m not sure how many are in the know.”
At the Atlantic 10 softball tournament Thursday, commissioner Bernadette McGlade said the conference is paying close attention as well.
“We are monitoring. I think every commissioner at the Division I level is,” she said. “We certainly have to make sure our members are solid in the league. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re playing defense in this type of a game.”
During the last shift in conference affiliations, the Atlantic 10 added Charlotte and Saint Louis to its ranks. McGlade said in the right situation, she would consider expanding again.
“If what we’ve been hearing that the future is the mega-conferences, we’re positioned well to go from 14 to 16,” she said. “It would have to be the right combinations of institutions.”
While football is the driving force behind much of the potential movement, McCutcheon believes a scenario that would open the door for UMass to upgrade its football program to Bowl Subdivision status remains very unlikely.
Proponents of a football upgrade at UMass have long looked at conference shifting as one of the most promising paths for the Minutemen to get an invitation to a conference - presumably some collection of schools currently in the Big East - that would make a move up to the Bowl Subdivision more likely.
“The football thing has come up several times over the past 20 years,” McCutcheon said. “Each time the university has done a study, it comes back to three major components: a proper conference; adequate facilities to support that kind of initiative at a competitive level and operating budgets and how you make that all work in the context of Title IX. It’s not an issue that’s just contained to one sport.”
McCutcheon said even if UMass was ready to upgrade to Bowl Subdivision-level football, he is not sure if a conference would want the school.
“I think conferences that are at the FBS level that are in position to need to add additional institutions with FBS-level football, the natural thinking would be that they’re trying to strengthen their position with new members,” McCutcheon said. “Would they be looking for ones in the transition phase? I don’t know.
“Even if there was a conference opportunity, there are still major questions about what it would take to be in position to even consider that,” he added. “Certainly the current economic climate in the state and the nation is not a really good one when you’re looking at that kind of thing.
“The issue is out there and will always be looked at but I don’t want that to be construed as something that’s on the table at this point. The same challenges that existed before exist right now.”
McCutcheon said the Atlantic 10 remains a good fit for most UMass sports.
“We’re very content with the A-10. It’s a great conference for us. (The A-10 has) multiple teams in the men’s basketball tournament and it provides a great platform for the majority of our sports. Where we are now is not a bad thing,” said McCutcheon.
“I don’t think even in the worst-case scenario there’s something that would be totally devastating for us,” he said. “There are some that are better and some that are not as good. I don’t think there’s a doomsday that would leave us out in the cold.”
McCutcheon monitoring conference shifts
By MATT VAUTOUR, The Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA)