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UMass Football Changes Course, Will Play in Fall 2020

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After about a month of planning on a spring 2021 season, UMass has decided to play in the fall again.

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UMass announced today that they will be playing a football season in the fall of 2020. This comes after cancelling their season in August. The decision to cancel was seen in August as unavoidable. Now, on the heels of several conferences reexamining playing a spring season, UMass has decided that they can make a fall season work.

Still, even with the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, and even the MAC announcing talks to play a fall season, UMass seemed a program who would have to continue to wait. Being an FBS Independent, they come back to the fall without any immediate partners on their schedule.

There are major financial issues that UMass athletics are facing. They lost 20% of their annual football budget with the cancellation of the Auburn game, and the lack of income from attendance only hurts worse. The cost of travel when putting together an Independent schedule can be massive too.

Add in the simple issue of finding someone to play, as most teams are unable to play conference games. In fact, the challenges of being an Independent in 2020 forced even the proud, traditionalist, Notre Dame into a conference, because it was just too difficult to not be in one.

UMass, as recently as September 17th, announced they’d have to make massive cost-cutting measures due to COVID-19 because of a $5 million budget shortfall. This included furloughing 57 members of their athletic department and reevaluating how they schedule games.

Athletic Director Ryan Bamford was even adamant on Twitter that UMass was committed to a spring football season.

So, what led to the quick turnaround?

UMass needed to get in as many games as possible to make a spring schedule worth it, and when the MAC and Mountain West announced that they were going to talk about a fall 2020 season, it put the Minutemen in a precarious situation. They were about to be left with UConn and New Mexico State on Independent Island. A spring season wouldn’t have drawn fans to games, and wouldn’t have done enough to recoup the massive financial losses the department is experiencing.

Think about it this way: you play in the fall, in the hopes that more teams are available to fill out the schedule. Maybe you get UConn or New Mexico State to move to the fall as well for games, though it does not seem like UConn is interested in playing this season.

The biggest struggle will, of course, be filling out a schedule. Bamford has said that he wants to find 3-5 games to play in the fall. The initial hope will be to find the first three in their fellow Independents. BYU, Army, and Liberty. Liberty and BYU both have slots available and Army will have a slot if they can’t reschedule the BYU game.

From there, UMass will likely have to dip their toe into the Group of Five. The American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt, and Conference-USA all have non-conference games to fill in, and teams will likely need to replace games as the season goes on. Just look at what Houston has been through in the past couple of weeks with multiple games cancelled.

UMass, like anyone else, will also need to play their schedule in an abbreviated period of time because they need time to get ready for the season. It’s just not safe unless they have around five weeks to get ready for games. This means that those games need to be played from late October onward. That, again, limits their ability to schedule.

It may not work out well in terms of wins and losses, but UMass is making a last second go of it for a fall 2020 season. Their coaches are excited. Their players are excited. Their fanbase is excited, and it’s the best move for the program financially.