NCAA v. House, Part 2: How would UMass athletics be affected by landmark settlement proposal?

UMass Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford speaks during a press conference  earlier this year regarding the University of Massachusetts joining the Mid-American Conference.

UMass Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford speaks during a press conference earlier this year regarding the University of Massachusetts joining the Mid-American Conference. STAFF FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 3:42 PM

The landscape of college athletics is changing. And it’s changing fast. 

In February, UMass became the latest FBS Division I school to announce a conference move, leaving its home of nearly 50 years in the Atlantic 10 for the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Finding a conference home for football – which has never been a full-time member of an FBS conference in its 12 years since moving up from FCS – spearheaded the decision. The Atlantic 10 is a basketball-centric league without FBS football.

Four months later, joining the MAC may have been a lifeboat for UMass. As part of the new NCAA v. House settlement, UMass will lose about $400,000-500,000 per year over the next 10 years in withheld shared revenues from the NCAA and the MAC. These shared revenues mostly come from ticket sales and the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament media rights deal. The settlement proposal is slated to begin in 2025-26, the same year UMass will join the MAC, so its payments are tied to the MAC, not the A-10. 

If the $2.8 billion settlement between the NCAA’s Board of Governors and the Power 5 conferences, which compensates college athletes from 2016 on, is approved by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, it will reshape college athletics. The settlement also eliminates scholarship limits and is a first step toward direct revenue-sharing with players.

“We’re also going to have to be thoughtful about the way we do business,” UMass athletics director Ryan Bamford said. “We can’t just keep doing business the same way and expect different results from an expense or a revenue standpoint.”

While UMass’ revenues will take a hit, it’ll also see a large increase in TV revenue because of the MAC’s football media rights deal with ESPN, which will pay the school about $1.5-2.5 million per year. This is several times what UMass would expect to earn from Atlantic 10 revenues, which come primarily from men’s basketball. The Minutemen will receive 75% of a share of MAC distributions in 2025-26 (expected to be between $1.5-2 million) and a full share every year thereafter (expected to be between $2-2.5 million).

Every Division I school has to pay into the settlement, which means a revenue hit for every MAC school. UMass joining the conference further dilutes each member’s revenue share from 1/12 to 1/13. Because of these two factors, the invitation UMass received from the conference in February may not still have been available in June.

As a result of UMass’ move from the A-10 to the MAC, it will earn more (thanks to the MAC’s TV deal) and also pay less into the settlement than if they had stayed in the A-10. Because the A-10 is a stronger basketball league with a stronger NIL presence than the MAC, its schools will have to pay more into the settlement.

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So, where is this $400,000-500,000 coming from? UMass will have to cut expenses or make up the revenue through other sources. Athletic facilities projects – though usually almost fully sourced by philanthropic donations – will most likely take a pause.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to meet those needs in other ways,” Bamford said. “Either that, or we’re going to have to figure out how to cut $400-500,000 out of our budget, which we don’t want to do.”

Bamford said that everything is being reviewed, from the ways UMass fundraises to how it sets up its third party agreements, media rights deals and corporate sponsorships.

Many schools may decide to cut Olympic sports to compensate for lost revenue paid into the settlement. Payments to athletes are another expense line, if a school chooses to opt in to the revenue-sharing model. Like many other ADs across the country, Bamford said cutting sports programs altogether is a last resort. Ultimately though, the money has to come from somewhere. There are only so many athlete services, athletic department positions and coaching salaries that can be cut.

Another part of the settlement is a revenue-sharing proposal for payments to athletes. FBS schools will be able to share as much as $20-22 million of their revenue with their players. While schools in the Big Ten and the SEC may easily reach that cap, UMass will not hit that ceiling.

The NCAA has also proposed doing away with scholarship limits in favor of roster limits. In this model, teams would be limited to a certain number of roster spots, but could decide how they want to split up as many scholarships as they want to offer. This will most likely result in more money and scholarships going to starters and backups and less money and scholarships going to players at the end of the roster.