UMass’ NIL Collectives excited about move to the MAC: “If we get this right, we have a bright future”

McGuirk Stadium, home of the UMass football team.

McGuirk Stadium, home of the UMass football team. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-02-2024 5:05 PM

AMHERST — All signs pointed to something happening soon, but Corey Schneider had no idea it would be that soon.

At a Feb. 22 event held at the UMass Club in Boston, nearly the entire UMass Board of Trustees was in attendance – which is fairly unusual, according to Schneider. He was told that night that things had started to move, but he wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.

Schneider’s initial thought? UMass was heading to Conference USA.

The following Monday, he picked up his phone and called UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford to pick his brain about the athletics department’s golf tournament in August. Bamford sounded preoccupied, and, quite frankly, a little overwhelmed. Not really paying attention to the call, Bamford told Schneider he had to go.

So Schneider scrolled on his phone, opening up Twitter/X to poke around. The first post he saw filled him with pure excitement and elation.

The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reported that UMass would be joining the Mid-American Conference following the 2024-25 season.

Schneider, the head of The Midnight Ride Collective – UMass’ donor-driven NIL football collective –finally had the news that he and presumably all of the Minutemen football fanbase had been waiting for.

“I immediately was like, ‘That son of a b****,’ but in a good way,” Schneider said, referring to his talk with Bamford. “I honestly think that people still don't fully grasp how important and impactful this move is for UMass as a whole. Not just for football, but the potential this has for all of our athletics.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Guest columnist Carrie Foley: Public school budgets force private choices
Hampshire Mall sells for fraction of assessed value at $7M
2024 EHS valedictorian Moira Larson in running for national Distinguished Young Women title
Belchertown athletic director Jen Gouvin moving on after 5½ years
A doctor’s boarders: Dr. Jessica Bossie’s mission to help the homeless find the right house
Easthampton’s LaBombard named clerk of the year

The move doesn’t just have an impact on UMass athletics, it’s already had a tremendous influence on both The Midnight Ride and The Massachusetts Collective, UMass’ NIL basketball collective.

Since Monday’s news, both collectives have reached weekly numbers they’ve never seen before. The two groups saw record-breaking 24-hour totals as well as single-week totals, and each have had handfuls of new members join.

“Both collectives are having a great week, and I think that speaks to the alumni base, in general, their appetite and want to win,” Schneider said. “I think that also sends a message to UMass as well, that like people are expecting to win and they want to win.”

While many long-time fans of UMass basketball are upset their team will no longer be competing in the Atlantic 10 for the first time in nearly 50 years, the long-term benefits this move is likely to have can’t be overlooked – and head of the Massachusetts Collective Patrick MacWilliams hopes the polarity it has caused can quickly be patched.

And looking ahead, rumors have circulated that some of the A-10’s top teams have been actively searching for a new home. All told, the school made the decision that it was best to get out sooner rather than later.

“We need to have strong football to have strong and viable basketball,” MacWilliams said. “So this move is a necessity. And I think that at first, the reactions were anger, fear, questioning things, but I think as everybody digests it and kind of sees the landscape, they’ll see that this is a proactive move not a reactive move. It’s tough leaving the A-10, but I think it’s better to be the first ones leaving to set ourselves up for success than being the third or fourth or being desperate later on.”

As for how UMass’ two collectives stack up with the rest of the MAC, well, they feel pretty good about where they fit among their peers.

A few MAC programs don’t have much to offer from an NIL perspective aside from a few gift cards to fast food restaurants, so UMass is going to be positioned at the top of the conference in terms of NIL and should be able to easily compete with its peers – from a basketball standpoint, they’re in the top echelon of the A-10 as it currently stands.

“We're gonna be positioned to have a really strong NIL program, comparatively, in the MAC,” MacWilliams said. “I think we're in the top echelon of A-10 right now too, but in the MAC, I think it'll be a significant game-changer.”

When UMass football competed in the MAC about a decade ago, it turned in a disappointing 8-40 record. With a strong NIL collective in its corner, this time around feels much different. The ceiling for success is much higher than before, according to Schneider.

“There are a couple collectives already in the MAC, but I don't think any of them are really specific to one sport,” Schneider said. “So we have an advantage there and we're going to come in different from the last time. We're going to come in and hit the ground running, competing, because of the resources that we have from an NIL perspective.”

One of the biggest misconceptions with NIL is how institutions use it in recruiting. While it’s tough to speak on the Blue Bloods of the world, UMass doesn’t view it as buying their players.

It’s about finding the right players with the right attitude that fit the coach’s personality and playing style.

That’s why – for basketball – the departure from the Atlantic 10 shouldn’t impact recruiting to the extent some people think.

“Having Frank here, and the all the assistants, all the players that we have now… it’s huge,” MacWilliams said. “We just got to keep that going. And fit is important. NIL is a piece of that, but we don't want to buy players. We want to compensate the right players who fit in with the team and what we’re trying to build.”

Both Schneider and MacWilliams are members of each other’s collectives, and some of the top donors as well. They’re both in it to support UMass athletics, not one side or the other.

And as one of five siblings who have graduated from UMass, Schneider is excited for the opportunity the move to the MAC has provided for his alma mater’s athletic department.

“Taking off the hat of running a collective and just being a UMass alum, this instantly made me want to donate more to the basketball collective,” Schneider said. “We’re one big team. There shouldn’t be people saying they are a football person or basketball person, it should be everyone saying they are a UMass person. If we get this right, we have a bright future. Our best days are ahead.”