Move to the MAC a relief for Don Brown, UMass football schedule-makers

UMass football head coach Don Brown speaks during a press conference at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center on Thursday regarding the University of Massachusetts joining the Mid-American Conference.

UMass football head coach Don Brown speaks during a press conference at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center on Thursday regarding the University of Massachusetts joining the Mid-American Conference. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 5:58 PM

AMHERST — Don Brown moseyed his way up to the table in front of a packed house inside the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center adjacent McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

The UMass football head coach cracked a smile as he gave his opening remarks about his team finally finding a home in the Mid-American Conference.

“We’re excited, there’s no doubt about that,” Brown said. “We’ve got a group of guys that have been itching for eight years to compete for a conference title. That’s what you’re looking for, for your players to achieve that. It certainly is a big step. It’s nice for our guys to have the opportunity, and we’re certainly excited about it. We’re gonna do our best to represent the university the right way for sure.”

Not only does Brown have to worry about coaching his football team every year, he also has the grueling task of putting together a 12-game schedule that looks entirely different each fall.

As an FBS independent, UMass has zero guaranteed games. To essentially accommodate for every other program (it’s more a matter of if the game fits on their schedule than does it fit UMass’) is even more difficult than it sounds.

Yet now, starting in the fall of 2025, the Minutemen will have eight built-in MAC games as part of their move to the conference. UMass director of athletics Ryan Bamford said those four additional games may vary year-to-year, but he and Brown have a structure for them that they hope to follow for years to come.

“Having eight games built for you every year and not having to do 12, talk about saturation of time,” Bamford said. “We're always gonna try to play UConn every year, we're gonna try to play an FCS institution and we're going to try to play one autonomy Power Five guarantee game. And then figure out what the fourth game will be from a Group of Five perspective.”

The move to the MAC certainly takes away from the amount of “buy games” UMass will be able to play from here on out. The program has scheduled – for the most part – multiple buy games against Power Five opponents each season as one of the largest sources of income throughout the year.

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And although the opportunities for those games decrease, UMass has plenty of avenues for revenue (i.e. the MAC’s huge ESPN television deal) elsewhere.

On top of the time saved for Brown, Bamford and Co. that a conference schedule helps with, it also provides a familiarity with the teams the UMass coaching staff has to prepare for.

Instead of scrapping schemes and game plans for certain teams after each week, Brown can hang on to them knowing he’ll have another crack the following year.

“Scheme is a big part of college football – offensively, defensively, special teams – scheme is a big deal,” Brown said. “It’s nice when you have some continuity and you’re playing eight, nine opponents a year where you’re playing them virtually every year. Your preparation can take hold and it’s not like you’re starting from scratch.”

As conference rumors and speculations circulated, the question wasn’t if UMass would join one (Bamford made it clear that was his intention), it was when and where. Conference USA came up more than any other league.

However, at the end of the day the MAC provided more long-term security than Conference USA. And that’s only going to have a positive impact on the Minutemen’s football schedule moving forward.

“The stability piece of this conference is something I can’t overstate,” Bamford said. “Every year, [Coach Brown] has to prepare for 12 new, different opponents. And two or three of them are Power Five opponents. That’s hard. That is challenging. To build a program when you’re just over a decade old as an FBS program when you’re an independent, those layers that you add in to the dynamic, that structurally is hard to overcome. I don’t know how many of our opponents year-to-year will be the same, we’ll wait to see what the conference organizes, but when you have that familiarity for two-thirds, or three-quarters of your schedule, that’s powerful for [the coaching staff] and for our guys.”