The University of Massachusetts is leaving the Mid-American Conference following the 2015 season, the school announced Wednesday.
Athletic director John McCutcheon gave no indication of UMass’s next move, although he said the school has been studying potential conference alignments for more than four months. The study hasn’t concluded, but McCutcheon said it’s “getting close.”
UMass went 2-22 overall with a 2-14 conference record during its two-year MAC tenure under former coach Charley Molnar, who was fired Dec. 26.
The MAC activated a contract clause that gave UMass the option to become a full member for all 21 varsity teams (10 men, 11 women) or remain a football-only member for only two more years.
Temple, another football-only MAC school, had its membership status linked with UMass. If the Owls left for another conference (they rejoined the Big East in 2013), the MAC could force UMass to join in full or leave after two seasons.
The Atlantic 10, Hockey East (men’s ice hockey), and the Colonial Athletic Association (men’s lacrosse) are the Minutemen’s other athletic conferences. UMass has been a football-only member of the MAC since its jump from the Football Championship Subdivision (the former Division 1-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (the former Division 1) in 2012.
In a statement, McCutcheon cited travel concerns as a factor in not converting to the MAC for all sports, saying the Midwest is a hub for the conference. He also affirmed the school’s commitment to play at the FBS level.
“Many institutions have successfully navigated this challenging period of conference realignment and we will do the same,” McCutcheon said.
“It’s a department-wide decision. Whatever move we make, it isn’t around just one sport, it’s around the entire department. And it comes back to three components: finances, student athlete welfare, and a competitive standpoint.”
Basketball is the only sport affected by the school’s decision to leave the MAC. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams were required to play four games each (home and home) against MAC opponents, but that agreement ends immediately for the men’s team. The women will play MAC opponents for one more season.
UMass has been playing home football games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, but the 2014 season will see a homecoming in Amherst for the first time since 2011. The team will play three games at a refurbished McGuirk Alumni Stadium and play the rest at Gillette.
The scheduling is unrelated to the move from the MAC, which doesn’t affect contractual obligations with Gillette. UMass is still eligible for conference championships and bowl games the next two seasons.
New coach Mark Whipple, who was introduced for his second stint with UMass on Jan. 14, said in a statement he was aware of a possible exit from the MAC when he accepted his position and believes the move is in the program’s best interest.
“My focus is on building a program that we all can be proud of and that provides a great experience for our student-athletes,” he said.Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps