AMHERST — Starting in the 2025-26 academic year, the University of Massachusetts Amherst will join the Mid-American Conference as a full member for athletics.

The news came from a March 7 press conference in the Hunt Room at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center to announce the news that featured UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes, UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford and MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher. The university had accepted the invitation to join the conference a week prior as a full member beginning July, 1, 2025.

“This is a really special day for our athletics program. It says as much about what we’ve done in our past as it does about where we’re going in our future,” Bamford said. “I will tell you that this transition and this decision was not made without great thought for what’s ahead for our athletics program.”

Bamford said with the rapidly changing world of college athletics it was important now more than ever for the university’s athletics to focus on alignment and access to be in a place where the program can grow and thrive.

“Our decision to go into the Mid-American Conference meets those two objectives,” Bamford said.

Steinbrecher said he was pleased to welcome UMass into the membership and noted it was the first invitation the conference has provided since the late 1990s.

“It should be evident that we don’t open our door to just anyone,” Steinbrecher said. “Among our strengths is the homogeneity of our membership. The Mid-American Conference is an association of public national research institutions. The opportunity to add Massachusetts was simply too great to pass up. It is rare to be able to add a flagship university that is among the finest institutions in the country, along with an athletics program that is broad in its sports offerings and deep in tradition.”

Steinbrecher added the addition of UMass to the MAC allows for the conference to stretch geologically into the northeast as many of the current members are located in the Great Lakes region of the country.

“Today is rightly a celebration of years of efforts to get into a full sports conference. However, the demanding work continues as change is never easy and our membership needs to continue to work together as we seek to fulfill our potential both on the field and in continuing to meet the intellectual and development needs of our student athletes. Welcome to the Mid-American Conference,” Steinbrecher said.

The Minutemen have been independent in football and compete in the Atlantic 10 in most other sports, excluding men’s hockey which is part of Hockey East.

“Being an independent was really not a great long term strategy,” Bamford said. “I really felt like with the changes in the FBS model, the structure of what’s happening to the NCAA, this was a change for us to bring a relatively young FBS football program, allow us to nurture it, to grow it, to invest further in it, but also bring along a portfolio of sports that have had a tremendous amount of success in the Atlantic 10 and I think we’ll have transferable success in the MAC. To be able to invest more throughoughly in those opportunities for our young men and women in those programs, it was a good fit in that respect.”

Bamford added the stability provided from joining the conference would only help UMass programs grow further.

UMass football also had a football-only membership in the MAC when the school first moved up from the Championship Subdivision to FBS from 2012-2015. They won only eight games during that time.

Operating as football independent since, the team has yet to win more than four games in a season and have had three different coaches during that time. The addition of UMass will give the MAC 13 full members with most located in Ohio and Michigan.

Head Football Coach Don Brown just finished his second consecutive season after returning to coach the team for the first time since 2008.

“We’re excited, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve got a group of guys that have been itching for eight years to compete for a conference title,” Brown said. “It certainly is a big step and it’s nice for our guys to have the opportunity.”

When Brown originally coached from 2004-2008 the team competed in the Atlantic 10 and then the Colonial Athletic Association. He won two conference titles and guided the program to two FCS playoff appearances before leaving in 2009. The team is 4-20 the last two seasons.

“It brings stability to our athletics programs across the board,” Reyes said during the conference. “The MAC is not only an athletics conference that we can join, the MAC is also joining a set of universities that are like minded like UMass.”

UMass will complete in the Mid-American Conference in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s indoor/outdoor track and field, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and women’s tennis. The Massachusetts hockey program will remain in the Hockey East Association moving forward.

The full press conference can be viewed at the UMass Athletics YouTube channel.

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