Even before UMass’ 41-0 national TV loss to Georgia Southern, many wondered why UMass reversed course and decided to play this season. The decision is a curious one, given the absence of several Power 5 guarantee games for the program to generate revenue with.
The ability for the Minutemen to load with their schedule with this type of game was one of the few advantages UMass had as an independent. Despite the skepticism that exists, UMass has four games scheduled thus far, with the possibility of more.
Georgia Southern (October 17: Lost 41-0)
Yes this game already happened, but it’s still is worth analyzing the impact for the program. UMass got television exposure on ESPN2 thanks to some COVID cancellations. Competing mostly with Memphis-UCF on ABC, Texas A&M-Mississippi State on ESPN, and Louisville-Notre Dame on NBC, the game didn’t end well, but did garner 130,000 viewers according to SportsMediaWatch.com.
That’s certainly a high number for the Minutemen, whose typical deal with Flosports.com and NESN meant only three road games on linear TV in 2019, two on the Big Ten Network and their game against Army on CBSSN. Perhaps they could have played better given all the work towards gaining such a spotlight, and Twitter tended to agree.
The money portion may cause more to question the Minutemen’s decision to play a limited schedule this year. A lack of paycheck games for Group of Five schools hurts them significantly, so any school like UMass traveling across the country for a non-conference game is bound to make people wonder. Especially when both the payout and payoff are so minimal.
Marshall (November 7):
UMass also added a game against Marshall on November 7. The bright side: UMass gets a good chance to play a ranked team if this article doesn’t jinx the Thundering Herd. Marshall currently holds the #18 ranking in the Coaches Poll, and the #19 ranking in the AP Poll. The downside: if last Saturday was any indication of the Minutemen’s level of play, they could be in for a long day.
The trip is also much shorter and they’re getting paid at least enough to achieve the near-break-even that athletic director Ryan Bamford mentions in that tweet. They’ll also have another chance to get on linear TV.
Additionally, it also has a chance to be a signature win for UMass if they can find a way to pull it off, though even a competitive showing against the Thundering Herd has a chance to be a boost for the Minutemen and get them some spotlight while knocking Marshall out of New Year’s Six contention.
Liberty (November 27):
A game against an independent counterpart is the most logical of the small slate just due to the program’s similarities and geographic proximity. UMass has a chance to be competitive in this one as Liberty has been inconsistent at times despite starting 6-0.
While they did win a signature game against Syracuse, the Flames only beat C-USA cellar-dwellars FIU and WKU by one score each and got off to a slow start against North Alabama. The Flames have momentum and a favorable schedule on their side, with opportunities for resume-building wins against NC State, Virginia Tech, and Coastal Carolina, all ranked (2020, folks).
An appearance on Black Friday also helps make this an attractive game for the UMass program. The Black Friday slate is heavier than usual with this year’s schedule featuring 14 games, though that number is liable to diminish with cancellations due to COVID-19. As a result, it is not far-fetched this game ultimately bumps to ESPNU or even ESPN2. The Minutemen could have a chance to increase the profile of their program with a win on Black Friday against a solid Liberty squad.
It appears that UMass will get no money for this game, which is surprising considering Liberty’s willingness to pay other Group of Five teams large sums for one-off games, like the $1 million payday they’re giving Texas State in 2024.
The last game is yet to be announced but seems inevitable against FAU on November 21. Like Georgia Southern and Marshall, FAU is a quality program, and depending on how the Owls play, it could be a quality win for Walt Bell’s team. Few programs have felt the effects of COVID-19 more than FAU, who have only played two games, having to cancel their games against Georgia Southern and USF, while splitting games against Charlotte and Marshall.
Despite the obvious rust, FAU developed a reputation as a quality program under Lane Kiffin, winning two conference championships and hoping to continue that tradition under Willie Taggart. A win for UMass against an FAU team still breaking in a new coach could be a good brand name win for UMass.
Largely due to the ongoing pandemic, a visit to South Florida won’t be the same recruiting opportunity that it would normally be thanks to the absence of any in-person visits. They still get the chance to play and potentially be competitive against a quality program in the Group of Five, which could still be worthwhile.
You can see the benefits UMass gets from playing this limited schedule, but it hardly outweighs the risks and costs the Minutemen face in playing it. Furthermore, there does not appear to be an attainable reward at the end for the program.
With the NCAA changing the regulations for bowl eligibility, UMass is bowl eligible for the first time as an FBS school. Yet, only one bowl seems like a logical destination for them, the Fenway Bowl, and that bowl is already contracted to take an ACC and an AAC school. In the end, the question of whether UMass benefits from this limited slate will linger until the season’s completion.