Conference realignment: Ryan Bamford searching for home for UMass football

  • University of Massachusetts athletic director Ryan Bamford FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/31/2021 7:34:40 PM

UMass doesn’t want to be the last program left standing in the latest round of college football conference realignment.

After six Conference USA schools bolted for the American Athletic Conference last week, The Athletic’s Chris Vannini reported Thursday that Conference USA is in negotiations with New Mexico State, Liberty and UConn – all independents like the Minutemen. UConn is considering joining as a football only member, while the other two would join the league in all sports.

There are currently just five Conference USA members committed to the league long-term.

With all of the moving pieces, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford has tried to put the Minutemen, an FBS independent since 2016, in the mix.

“I am not resting, I’ve been going 24/7 to attack this thing. I need our fans to know that,” he said Sunday in a video posted on Twitter. “That’s why I haven’t been as visible presence because I’ve been 24/7 attacking this thing the last month or so, and especially last week as this thing has really started to pick up steam.”

UMass was a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) for three years after making the jump to the FBS level in 2013 and is looking for a similar arrangement this time to keep the remainder of its sports in the Atlantic 10 (and Hockey East).

“We’re only going to bring our football program into a conference at this point. We’re very happy with the Atlantic-10 relationship, we’re a charter member. We have deep, deep roots in the Atlantic 10. The fact that our Olympic sports have had success there, winning more championships than anyone else,” Bamford said. “We have to have a partner, we have to have somebody that wants to take us as a football-only member.”

While UMass has existed as an independent for more than a half decade, it’s not sustainable as a permanent plan.

“We’ve been able to make schedules, which has been good, we’ve been able to get some visibility on NESN and FloSports, and we’ve been able to build a roster and recruit to being an independent. But, I’ve said this from the beginning, that was always a short-term process for us. We don’t want to be an independent long-term, that’s not a viable path for us. So, from really Day 1, we’ve been selling the idea of UMass football as a member of a conference,” Bamford said. “We’ve been doing that work behind the scenes to push conference membership. Now with all this realignment, there’s opportunities. So we’re trying to make sure that we’re hitting on all those relationships that we’ve built, on all those seeds that we’ve planted over the last five years to see if they come to fruition.”

Bamford pointed to the monetary investment made in the program since it moved to the FBS level. He said UMass has put $65 million into facilities and infrastructure, $40 million of which went to the football performance center completed in 2014. Bamford added that UMass’ athletics budget has increased from $34 million to $40 million over the past five years, and the football budget has gone from $7.5 million to $10 million, half a million of which is spent on marketing.

“I cannot stress enough, the work didn’t start in the last two or three weeks, we’ve been doing it for months and years, and now all those relationships that I’ve been able to build, our university has been able to build, we’re hoping that we can plant on those to get ourselves into a conference,” Bamford said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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