UMass Hall of Famer, ESPN broadcaster Rene Ingoglia on move to MAC: “for some years now, there’s a bus, and football drives the bus”

ESPN’s Rene Ingoglia, left, here along with Mike Corey, said of the move of his alma mater UMass to the MAC: “put your foot down on the pedal and you go forward.”

ESPN’s Rene Ingoglia, left, here along with Mike Corey, said of the move of his alma mater UMass to the MAC: “put your foot down on the pedal and you go forward.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 03-01-2024 9:43 PM

Modified: 03-04-2024 4:36 PM


UMass Hall of Famer and ESPN college football analyst Rene Ingoglia spoke with the Daily Hampshire Gazette to share his thoughts on UMass’ move to the MAC for the 2025-26 academic year, ending its short-lived and unsuccessful experiment as an FBS football independent.

Ingoglia played running back for UMass when it played in Division I-AA (now called FCS) and was named an All-American in 1994 and 1995. He graduated as the all-time leading rusher for both UMass and the Yankee Conference.

Ingoglia has witnessed the evolution of the sport through several different lenses, given his playing experience and work as a TV analyst, where he often broadcasts Group of 5 college football, including the MAC.

“It’s not 1996 anymore. The landscape of college athletics has changed,” Ingoglia said. “Obviously I’m a former football player, I’m an analyst for ESPN, but for some years now, there’s a bus, and football drives the bus.”

Now that UMass has made its move, Ingoglia would like to see increased investment in the program’s facilities. He wants to see the athletic program dress up the stadium more and possibly build a new student section in the open end zone. With the potential to enter the MAC with one of the highest – if not the highest – budgets in the conference, Ingoglia wants to see increased support for athletics.

“If it’s me, you put your foot down on the pedal and you go forward,” Ingoglia said. “I say I’m putting my athletic department and my athletic programs into that conference and I’m doubling down. I’m going to push forward, I’m going to invest more, I’m going to increase and we’re going to really have something unbelievable here. If they go there and there is a pullback on the budget, that speaks volumes for what the legislature thinks and the people giving money to the school think, because I think that’s the wrong message to send.”

UMass football spent many years at the FCS level, winning the national championship in 1998 and appearing in the national final in 1978 and 2006. The Minutemen made the move up to FBS in 2012 and joined the MAC as a football-only school, before leaving in 2016 to become an independent after declining an invitation from the MAC to join the conference in all sports. UMass went 8-40 during its four years in the MAC, but hasn’t improved since leaving the conference, holding a 16-72 record in eight seasons as an independent.

One of the primary barriers to success in football without a conference is scheduling. Next season, UMass will play a “feast or famine” schedule, as Ingoglia put it. 

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The Minutemen play against three SEC schools – Missouri, Mississippi State and Georgia – while also facing two FCS opponents in Central Connecticut State and Wagner. In between, they play five MAC programs and Conference USA defending champion Liberty, which ended last year with a 12-1 record.

“The schedule is just death for an independent team,” Ingoglia said. “UMass to go 6-6 with that schedule next year? That’s like most teams going 12-0. Let’s be honest, you can’t live like that. The athletic department knows that – it’s not fair to the student-athletes.”

UMass joining the MAC will not only allow the football team to have a much less varied schedule but it will also provide the Minutemen with an opportunity to play for a conference championship and make a bowl game if they reach six wins.

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

Ingoglia pointed to the MAC’s stability as “Mr. Reliable” – the conference hasn’t added a school since Buffalo in 1998 – and its geography as reasons why UMass may have chosen it over Conference USA, which has experienced extreme turnover in recent years and doesn’t include any schools above the Mason-Dixon line.

Ingoglia frequently calls MAC games – often referred to as ‘MACtion’ – for ESPN, and called some UMass games when they competed in the MAC a decade ago. He thinks the Minutemen are a good fit.

“MAC football is exciting, it’s tough-nosed, it’s usually high-scoring, especially in November,” Ingoglia said. “And it’s a national brand that people know… I think UMass fits right in and brings a national brand name to that conference.”

While NIL and the transfer portal have turned recruiting on its head in recent years, Ingoglia thinks UMass’ conference move is a boon for its football recruiting. UMass will hold a geographic advantage to Northeast recruits that other MAC schools can’t offer, while also offering a big-time state school education to recruits from the Midwest.

“I think UMass and [athletic director] Ryan Bamford did the best thing they could do for the entire athletic department,” Ingoglia said. “Obviously you’re going to ruffle some feathers, but from [men’s basketball coach] Frank Martin, I thought it was great where he said change is good, let’s embrace it. I agree with him and I think it’s a great step forward for the entire athletic department.”