Miami University football coach Chuck Martin says getting to play for a MAC title should motivate UMass: “That is our big dance”

Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin watches from the sideline during the second half of the Mid-American Conference championship game against Toledo, Dec. 2, 2023, in Detroit.

Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin watches from the sideline during the second half of the Mid-American Conference championship game against Toledo, Dec. 2, 2023, in Detroit. AP FILE


Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 5:59 PM

AMHERST – One of the benefits for the UMass football program’s transition to the MAC will be potential entrance into a conference championship game, something the Minutemen have not been able to play for in eight years as an FBS independent.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette spoke with 2023 MAC champion head coach Chuck Martin of Miami (OH) to learn more about the benefits of playing for a conference title. 

“It means way more than even the bowl games,” Martin said. “When you’re independent, at UMass, you’re probably not playing for it all. You’re probably not playing Michigan for the national title, so what are you playing for? To go to some bowl game? Bowl games are awesome. I love bowl games, but the (MAC) championship game, it’s the intensity, the energy, the stress, the pressure of playing in one of those nine championship games, that is our NCAA championship game. That is our big dance.”

At Thursday’s press conference announcing UMass’ move to the MAC, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford admitted how difficult it has been playing outside of a conference. UMass was an affiliate member of the MAC in football from 2012-2015, but was tied to Temple’s membership in the conference. When Temple decided to leave, the MAC gave UMass an ultimatum – stay for all sports or leave for football. 

UMass decided to stay in the Atlantic 10 and become an FBS independent. Bamford, who took the UMass job in 2015, admitted he would have liked to have kept UMass’ other sports in the Atlantic 10 and found an affiliate home for football, but conferences and their media partners weren’t interested in affiliate membership, only full membership.

“Being an independent was really not a great long term strategy,” Bamford said. “We’ve had young men in the locker room downstairs who haven’t had a chance to fight for a conference championship in eight years. That’s a hard thing, to be with your student athletes and not have that ability.”

UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin weighed in as well.

“All of us coaches in this room, we all belong to a league,” Martin said. “There’s a trophy they put at the end of the season and they say go. (The football team) deserves that opportunity too.”

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UMass Hall of Famer and two-time football All-American Rene Ingoglia told the Daily Hampshire Gazette last week that playing for a conference championship gives a team a more tangible goal to work toward throughout the year.

“As a former player, you want to be able to play for something each and every year,” Ingoglia said.

Chuck Martin coached in the BCS National Championship Game as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator in 2012 prior to his time at Miami. But only one Group of Five school (Cincinnati, 2021) has appearance in the College Football Playoff since its advent in 2013.

“The (MAC championship game) experience alone, it’s what we do it for,” Martin said. “We’d all like to play in the national championship game, but realistically, for most of us, that’s probably not happening….Now, for UMass kids to have a chance to compete for that every year? That’s why I still coach. Because I want to get that game. That game means everything.”

While UMass could have technically reached a bowl game as an independent had they recorded the requisite six wins (its most in a season as an FBS is three), Chuck Martin argued that his team spends the year working toward the conference championship, not a potential bowl game against a nonconference opponent.

“To go into the year thinking we’re going to get to six wins to play in some bowl no one really cares about and no one’s really watching?” Martin said. “OK, that’s cool but (conference championship) weekend, we’re the only 18 teams playing. Everybody else in college football is done, and there’s 18 and the spotlight is on us.”

And for the MAC specifically, there’s an extra benefit waiting at conference championship weekend – Ford Field, which has hosted the title game for the past 20 seasons. Last year, 20,200 people attended the game and 1.29 million people watched it on ESPN as Miami upset Toledo, 23-14.

“That first Saturday in December is pretty damn special,” Martin said. “You work your whole life, and you’re in a championship game, and you’re on ESPN… the venue of Ford Field for us makes it 10 times better. It’s really cool. Really, really cool.”