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Options for More MAC Expansion After UMass

After UMASS, MAC expansion could just be getting started. Currently at 13 tems, it makes sense there would be at least one more team added.
MAC Expansion

Before the crazy conference realignment moves that have rocked college football and the College Football Playoff expansion, the Mid-American Conference said it was not expanding.

That was in 2021.

On February 26th, the conference announced that it would be adding an old friend as a full-time member starting in 2025: UMass. From 2012-2016, the Minutemen were football-only members of the MAC. In that time, UMass went 8-40 (7-25 MAC).

Now, the conference sits at 13 schools. Will it add one more to get to 14? Will it add three to get to 16 just for fun? There are a few semi-realistic options for continued MAC expansion out there ranging from football-only to full-time.

MAC Expansion Candidates After Adding UMass

UConn Huskies (FBS Independent)

Starting with an obvious football-only addition, UConn. In terms of play on the gridiron, the Huskies haven’t been great and would benefit from a MAC schedule.

With the CFP expanding, independent programs will get shafted, for better or for worse. UConn doesn’t have the brand recognition in football that Notre Dame, the lone other independent, has. Again, for better or for worse. The Huskies’ chances as it stands are very thin unless they schedule a video game-esque custom schedule and run through each of the best programs in the country.

Naturally, that won’t happen. So, its chances would improve – albeit minimally – by joining the MAC. If UConn won the conference, it would have an outside shot at being one of the top five conference champions.

The sticking point will be basketball, realistically. Both the men’s and women’s basketball programs are among the elite. There is no way UConn would leave the Big East, a very good basketball conference, for the MAC, a one-bid conference.

Garrett Searight of Saturday Glory had a great idea to bridge the gap. The conference could suggest that three non-conference games have to be against MAC foes. Would UCONN ever lose to a MAC school in basketball? Probably not. However, MAC fans would show out for their teams as they play host to one of the top programs. Imagine Geno Auriemma‘s team traveling to the Stroh Center to take on Bowling Green. The stadium would be filled to the brim.

Not to mention the fact this addition would give UMASS a geographical partner in the new-look conference.

Dayton Flyers (FCS)

It’s an outside shot but Dayton could receive the call. As with UConn, they’d have to be football only because the Atlantic 10 is still significantly better of a league in basketball.

The Flyers currently play at the FCS level in the Pioneer Football League. The PFL is, as the name suggests, a football-only league.

The MAC can get into the fun of adding FCS teams to its ranks, a practice usually reserved for Conference USA.

Dayton was the premier program in the PFL as it started. The Flyers won the league eight times in the first 10 years of existence. In those other two seasons, they were runner-ups. In the Rick Chamberlin era since 2008, Dayton has won the league three times, most recently in 2015 when it also qualified for the FCS Playoffs.

Dayton is located in the heart of MAC country, so travel would be less of a concern. Adding Dayton would make it so that half of the conference resides in Ohio, oddly enough.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (Conference USA)

The most likely full-time addition is Western Kentucky. There have been some rumblings that there is mutual interest between the conference and WKU.

Adding WKU would certainly move the needle. The Hilltoppers have been one of the top Group of 5 programs for the last half-decade with their top-flight offenses. Western Kentucky would jump in and immediately challenge Toledo and Miami (OH) for the crown.

As with Dayton, WKU is in MAC country. The addition would stretch the footprint a tad south as well.

The move would benefit WKU because CUSA could be considered a feeder conference as it has often been picked over. The MAC, meanwhile, has been a beacon of consistency. Moving to the MAC would give WKU a stable home where it can immediately compete.

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (Conference USA)

Often mentioned in the same breath as Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State has been linked to the MAC over the years. Realistically, if MAC expansion includes WKU, it’ll include MTSU.

The Blue Raiders have been a member of Conference USA since 2013 and have a built-in rivalry with the Hilltoppers.

In 2021, the idea of MAC expansion flirted with both programs as CUSA lost six programs to the American Athletic Conference. Three years later, it makes sense the two would want to rekindle an old flame.

Since joining CUSA, the Blue Raiders finished bowl-eligible eight times and never won the conference. They made the CUSA Championship Game in 2018 but fell to Appalachian State. In fact, since jumping to the FBS level, Middle Tennessee State has only ever shared a conference title when it tied Troy in the Sun Belt in 2006.

Youngstown State Penguins (FCS)

The final option could be a stretch but geographically, it makes sense. That option could be the program with the third most FCS titles, Youngstown State.

The Penguins were the cream of the crop in the 1990s as they won four titles in seven seasons under Jim Tressell.

Youngstown State plays in the Missouri Valley Conference and has only won the title twice. It hasn’t won since those back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. In a conference with the likes of North Dakota State and South Dakota State, the Penguins have to spend more on travel all while having to be sacrificed to the FCS’s premier programs week in and week out.

YSU could use a change of scenery. While the program is 1-18 against FBS foes since 1998, most of those were payday games against the likes of Ohio State or Kentucky. Joining a conference like the MAC, Youngstown State could cut down on travel all while having a better opportunity to win. It won’t be immediate like, say, James Madison in the Sun Belt, of course.

Get Some #MACtion

The Mid-American Conference isn’t exactly on the level of the Big 10 or SEC. Despite that, the MAC should continue to work toward sustainability. Adding just UMASS is not a move anyone would look at as increasing competition and raising the floor. To put it plainly, UMASS has been one of, if not the worst programs since jumping to the FBS level. Its best seasons came in 2017 and 2018…when it went 4-7.

MAC expansion is a fun concept to look at. While the Tuesday night games would not be filed under good football, it’s fun football. But fun is not the only thing the conference should strive for.

There is an outside chance the MAC champion could make the College Football Playoff. It should do anything and everything it can to give itself the best chance. By adding a few more programs, it could do just that and not have to worry about getting picked over as Conference USA has been.

The future of college football is now. We may be headed toward a Power 4/Group of 5 divorce in time but as for now, the MAC has to play the game and set itself up for success in the long run.


MAC Expansion
Photo courtesy: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports


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