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Q&A With The Hustle Belt’s Matt Sussman

Any time you move to a new neighborhood, it’s nice to meet the neighbors.

For the history of the UMass football program, the Minutemen/Redmen/Aggies have played against a similar slate of New England and Northeast schools. Next year the Maroon and White will wade into new waters to meet its Rust Belt colleagues in the Mid-American Conference. That being the case, I decided to reach out and figure out what the Minutemen have gotten themselves into.

I had the chance to speak with Matt Sussman, the man in charge at SB Nation’s Hustle Belt – a blog that covers the ins and outs of the Mid-American Conference. Head over there and read his daily musings, it’s a good way to learn a little bit about our future rivals.

First off, the move to the MAC was the biggest athletic announcement that UMass has ever made. The decision was a long time coming. What was the reaction from MAC fans when they heard about UMass joining the conference?

Well, here was my reaction piece.¬†Basically I think we were happy that we were getting a 14th team, balancing out the divisions. Nothing new to us that a I-AA/FCS team was jumping up. It’s what Buffalo did about 12 years ago, and NIU/Akron before them.

Most UMass fans don’t know too much about MAC schools, yet. What are some of the great rivalries in the conference? What fans travel the best?

Top football rivalries: Ohio/Miami, Toledo/Bowling Green, CMU/EMU/WMU, Akron-Kent State, in that order. NIU doesn’t have a “rivalry” with Toledo but they look forward to that annual game more than others in that it usually decides the division.

For UMass fans that are interested in making some MAC road trips, what are some of the better football/social atmospheres to check out? On that same token, what away trips can we miss without really missing anything?

Ohio seems to have the most fervent fanbase. Nobody likes playing there. I’d say Toledo’s Glass Bowl has the most unique stadium, and Akron’s facility is pretty high class. Ones to not go to? Hard to say, but the teams with struggling attendance: BGSU, Ball State, EMU are a few. This could also be seen as a reason to GO there rather than avoid them. Help the attendance!

As with any athletic conference, there are “inside jokes” about certain schools (Example: Delaware being so big time that they won’t move up to the FBS). I’m sure we will find out more in the coming months/years, but what is an example of that in the MAC? We don’t want to seem like total outsiders.

Well, since most of the schools are in the Great Lakes midwest, they all have the reputation of being located in podunk towns where there’s nothing to do but drink and eat pizza. Actually this is probably true for most of them. But I’ll reserve the stereotypes to you; let’s see what you guys come up with about us that either reinforces or dispels what we think about each other.

As I’m sure you know, UMass and Temple are somewhat contractually bound with their respective MAC football memberships. If Temple actually leaves for the Big East, what are the ramifications for the conference?

We’d probably go back to 13 teams and seek out a 14th, unless someone else snaps up UMass right away because per the agreement Temple would have to shoulder a big buyout ($2mil), but the second of those two teams to leave gets off easy ($500K).

Is there any concern about UMass potentially using the MAC as a “stepping stone”? We have no idea what the future holds, but as we have seen, conference realignment leads to any number of possibilities.

Well, of the last five schools to join football before you: Temple, UCF, Marshall, Buffalo, NIU, two are gone and a third may leave. The other two don’t seem hellbent on going anywhere else but there’s always a danger that an East Coast team with a chance to join the ACC may outgrow a mid-major conference and bolt. Like you said, nobody knows anything. Maybe the MAC joins up with another conference not unlike CUSA/MWC just did.

Some UMass fans have been discussing the future of the school’s athletic department in general. One polarizing topic is whether joining the MAC in all sports would help or hurt – specifically whether a Temple-less Atlantic 10 is still better than the MAC. What are some selling points on the MAC in sports other than football?

A-10 to MAC in basketball is a definite drop because they’re far removed from their 90s glory days, even though they’re getting better. Women’s basketball is pretty top heavy with good teams. Men’s soccer isn’t bad (Akron won the national championship) and women’s volleyball sent four teams to the tournament this past year. But if UMass wants to go whole hog into the MAC I’m sure they’d accept you all the same. Except we’d need a 14th for the other sports…

UMass fans tend to virtually congregate at UMassHoops.com, and we have had outsiders troll the board from time to time. Is there any specific MAC school that, for lack of a better term, produces more internet tough guys?

Can’t really think of any. Each school has their own vocal minority of assholes and I think you’ll see that across the board.

Besides The Hustle Belt, what are some of the other good general MAC blogs/message boards out there?

The front page of my site has the lowdown on which mainstream sites, blogs, message boards, and official Twitter accounts to follow for each team as well as the MAC in general. I try to keep it as updated as possible.

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