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In the FCS Huddle: FCS-to-FBS race tightens

<p>The University of Massachusetts' decision to leave Mid-American Conference football is being felt all the way down in Sun Belt country.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The University of Massachusetts' decision to leave Mid-American Conference football is being felt all the way down in Sun Belt country.

As a result, some other decisions about getting to the dance, if going from the upper level of the FCS to anonymity in the FBS is just that, might have been hastened on Wednesday.

UMass has hardly done anything to warrant being coveted by any FBS conference - going a combined 2-22 in its first two seasons on the big-boy level of Division I - but the Minutemen's struggling football program will become a free agent after the 2015 season.

UMass might be forced to keep that status, and become an FBS independent, but the Sun Belt Conference will surely kick some tires because the Minutemen don't plan to go back to the FCS.

They don't want to leave the Atlantic-10, either, but have to find a landing spot for their football program. The A-10 doesn't sponsor football.

The Sun Belt wants to go from 11 teams to 12 to create two six-team divisions and then stage a lucrative conference championship game. UMass, obviously, is a worse match geographically for the Sun Belt than it is with the MAC, but that hasn't stopped anything with conference realignment, and the Boston market could be attractive to the Sun Belt.

Ironically, the school that hasn't quite wanted to make the Sun Belt its dance partner may start to look a little closer. James Madison held out for an invitation to Conference USA, which didn't come, while the Sun Belt was showing interest.

The Sun Belt wants to find its 12th football member by June 1 and have it join for the 2015 season. With the additional threat of UMass, a former conference rival of James Madison in CAA Football, the Dukes are going to have to work faster toward their decision.

Liberty has been the school that desperately wants to be asked to the dance by the Sun Belt, only to be held at arm's length. The Rev. Jerry Falwell's university, a Big South Conference member, seems to be the fall back, yet has been developing FBS-level facilities like JMU and UMass, whose struggles are compounded by the fact it plays home games two hours away from campus at Gillette Stadium (of course, access to an NFL stadium would be attractive to the Sun Belt).

James Madison and Liberty, two Virginia schools, are more the geographical fit for the Sun Belt, whose commissioner, Karl Benson, has stated the conference wants to have an East Coast program come aboard to help shape a more stable alignment.

FCS programs Jacksonville State, Alabama State, Eastern Kentucky, Missouri State and Sam Houston State have been bandied about as other possibilities for the Sun Belt, but really the favorites (JMU and Liberty) have been there all along.

Until that is, UMass made the situation more interesting on Wednesday.

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