UMass will reportedly join the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in all sports in 2025-26

UMass coach Don Brown talks to his team during a game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst this past season. The Minutemen will reportedly be joining the Mid-American Conference (MAC) as part of an all-sports move beginning in 2025-26.

UMass coach Don Brown talks to his team during a game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst this past season. The Minutemen will reportedly be joining the Mid-American Conference (MAC) as part of an all-sports move beginning in 2025-26. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Reports

Published: 02-26-2024 3:33 PM

Modified: 02-27-2024 10:06 AM

According to multiple sources, the University of Massachusetts is set to join the Mid-American Conference (MAC) for an all-sports move beginning the 2025-26 academic year.

The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach and ESPN’s Pete Thamel were among those to break the news on Monday that the school would leave the Atlantic 10 Conference, where it has been a member since the league’s inception in 1976, following the 2024-25 season. After talks swirled around UMass joining Conference USA over the past several months, the institution instead will make a return to a familiar conference.

If this move seems familiar, it’s because UMass joined the MAC in 2012 as a football-only institution, staying in the Atlantic-10 for all other sports. That move ultimately didn’t work, and the school left the conference in 2015 to become a football independent after refusing to join the MAC in all sports. The school has remained an independent since then, but UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford has publicly commented that finding a conference for the program has been a priority. 

Bamford said in December during an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette that “UMass is a proud member of the Atlantic 10 Conference in 19 of our 21 sports. It is very important to the health and ultimate success of our football program that we find a long-term conference home. We recognize that being one of three remaining Independent FBS programs is not sustainable. Accordingly, we are regularly evaluating conference opportunities that ensure both excellence for UMass athletics competitively and in the experience we provide to our student-athletes.”

The Atlantic 10 Conference offices didn’t have a comment when reached by the Gazette on Monday.

UMass’ move to the MAC leaves Notre Dame and UConn as the lone football independents at the FBS level.

Joining the MAC in all sports means that the school will have to find affiliate memberships for sports that the conference does not sponsor, including men’s soccer, men’s lacrosse and men’s ice hockey. The Minutemen should remain in Hockey East, but the men’s lacrosse and soccer programs will likely need to find a new conference. The Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) is a potential landing spot, as the men’s lacrosse team previously competed there prior to the implementation of an Atlantic 10 lacrosse league, though Thamel reported Monday that men’s lacrosse would likely apply to remain in the Atlantic 10.

The decision is likely to have the biggest impact on the basketball programs in Amherst. 

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According to KenPom conference rankings, the Atlantic 10 ranks eighth out of the 33 Division 1 men’s basketball conferences – while the MAC is ranked 24th. Conference USA, for comparison, is 15th. It’s easy to absorb this information and conclude that the move to the MAC hurts Frank Martin’s team, but that’s not necessarily the case.

UMass’ chances of an at-large bid decrease from little to essentially none if it doesn’t win a conference championship. The MAC hasn’t received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament since 1999 (Miami Ohio, who reached the Sweet 16 that year).

Last year the A-10 was a one-bid league, and unless a team other than Dayton wins the conference tournament in March, that’s going to be the case again in 2024. Although it might be more competitive than the MAC from top to bottom, the Atlantic 10 hasn’t been the same league in recent years that it was. The only way the Minutemen had a chance to reach the 68-team NCAA tournament field over the past several years was if they won the A-10 tournament and earned the subsequent automatic bid.

With that, UMass’ path to the big dance doesn’t change — win the conference, and you’re in.

This move to the MAC was unquestionably football-driven, as Bamford stated he wanted a destination that helps the program long-term. Back in 2014, the MAC signed a 13-year television deal with ESPN that runs through 2027. The UMass AD didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday.