If you’re a supporter of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and its athletic programs, then the football program’s switch to the Football Bowl Subdivision has been more than just a matter of the new kid on the block taking the bumps, bruises and beatings associated with the move up the ladder in competition.
To date, the switch has been far from pretty — the team has been outscored 209-69 in starting its season 0-5. But what has been just as painful has been the realization that there doesn’t seem to have been much forethought or understanding in what it takes to create not only a winning program on the field at this level but one off the field as well.
Let’s begin with the decision to enter into a five-year agreement with Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots for Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to be the Minutemen’s home. Under the pact, UMass will play all of their home games roughly 2 hours away from campus . This requires students and loc fans to make a full-day commitment to going to a game, thus eliminating any spur of the moment decision to go.
Admittedly, a losing team doesn’t always draw well. But we have to think that a game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium would have drawn more than the 8,321 for the game against Ohio University, a crowd that made the 68,756-seat Gillette more a tomb than the place visiting teams fear to enter.
As for playing games back on campus, the university is planning an upgrade to McGuirk that will add 8,000 seats to the existing 17,000, build a training facility, etc. More than a year ago, it was thought that games might return to Amherst for the 2014 season. But since no actual work has taken place, we suspect that McGuirk won’t be available for much longer.
But there’s another reason for concern and it’s financial. Anyone who has paid attention to the university and its finances has to wonder if the state is willing to make the kind of economic commitment necessary to make this all work. University officials have said that the plan is to have the program get much of its money from other sources that won’t take money from the academic side.
The bottom line isn’t whether UMass should play football with the likes of Boston College, Syracuse or any of the other big-time programs — it’s about university officials creating a foundation to build upon.
Right now, their effort is falling far short of expectations.