New Hampshire Athletic Director Marty Scarano was skeptical at first when Associate Athletic Director Steve Metcalf first informed him of Gillette Stadium's interest in having the UNH football team play a game there. "I wasn't sure we'd want to give up a home game," Scarano said. "The more we talked, the more it made a lot of sense. I thought it was a great opportunity for UNH." Phil Buttafuoco had been making a similar pitch to University of Massachusetts Athletic Director John McCutcheon. "It came together simultaneously for both of us," McCutcheon said. "When they were interested and we were interested it made sense for us to do a two-year deal and work on it together."
Gillette presents unique opportunity for UMass, UNH
New Hampshire Athletic Director Marty Scarano was skeptical at first when Associate Athletic Director Steve Metcalf first informed him of Gillette Stadium's interest in having the UNH football team play a game there.
"I wasn't sure we'd want to give up a home game," Scarano said. "The more we talked, the more it made a lot of sense. I thought it was a great opportunity for UNH."
Phil Buttafuoco had been making a similar pitch to University of Massachusetts Athletic Director John McCutcheon.
"It came together simultaneously for both of us," McCutcheon said. "When they were interested and we were interested it made sense for us to do a two-year deal and work on it together."
The fruits of those conversations will be on display Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when the long-time New England rivals play in the first Colonial Clash in Foxborough. It's the first-ever college football game in the New England Patriots' home stadium.
Buttafuoco, who was formerly the commissioner of the ECAC and the senior director of championships for the NCAA, said this is something Patriots owner Robert Kraft had been excited about pursuing.
"The Kraft family has been interested in closing the gap, if you will. We have the Patriots and the (eastern Mass.) high school Super Bowls. We saw that we have a gap of no college football," said Buttafuoco. "Through my relationships with UNH and UMass, I started talking to the two athletic directors and we agreed that this would be a great thing to do. Here we are and we're looking forward to a great event this Saturday."
Because New Hampshire was scheduled to host UMass this year, the Wildcats will be the home team and receive a financial guarantee of $85,000 from Gillette Stadium according to McCutcheon. Next year, the Minutemen will be the home team and will receive the same compensation.
Since the game was announced last year, there has been considerable buzz around both programs about the event, which is between 90-100 miles from both campuses.
"For both of us we were looking to do something that would give us a different level of excitement, a different level of exposure and would be a unique opportunity for fans and the kids and our coaches. I think it's working out that way," McCutcheon said. "For the first time around, the way it's going so far is real positive."
UMass has sold out 25 fan buses, mostly with students. Buses ran out before interest did.
"We could probably send more, but we can't find any more buses," McCutcheon said. "We've worked with two different companies and with foliage and everything else, they can't locate any more buses for us."
Scarano said New Hampshire is sending 14 buses.
In addition to fans of the schools, Gillette has marketed the event to high school and youth football programs. They've specifically invited teams from the hometowns of the 79 Massachusetts residents on both rosters.
"From the schools and from the folks we're contacting in the youth football and high school market, it feels like the weekend is going to be a very popular one," Buttafuoco said.
Scarano said he thought the attendance was on its way to topping his goal of 25,000, which is the combined attendance of the schools' two home stadiums.
"Anything north of 25,000 would be great. That's a big audience for a I-AA game. I think we're going to be there," he said.
"When we first started out, we were asking what would be an acceptable attendance. We were hoping to get over 20,000 and it looks like we're there already," he said. "If we get between 25,000 and 30,000 we'd consider it a great success."
Gillette Stadium holds 68,756 for football games.
Buttafuoco hopes the event will have a homecoming atmosphere for eastern Massachusetts alumni of both schools.
"It's a great opportunity for both schools to engage their alumni that live in the Boston area that might not regularly travel to their respective institutions," he said. "We're very interested in creating an event that would be enjoyed by all the participants, the teams, and the fans alike. If the teams and the fans have a great time, it will be worthwhile from our perspective. It's going to be almost like a second reunion for a lot of people."
SATURDAY EVENTS - There will be several events for each school surrounding the game. Parking lots and stores at Patriot Place, the mall next to the stadium, open for early arrivals at 8 a.m. Tailgating can begin in stadium parking lots at 12:30 p.m. All parking is free. Each of the schools will have different parking lots for tailgating.
Both marching bands will play in the Patriots Plaza for a pep rally at 1:15 p.m.
The CBS Scene restaurant is hosting a UMass event while Bar Louie is hosting one for New Hampshire. Both start at 1:30 p.m.
Gillete Stadium gates open at 2 p.m.
Both bands will perform at halftime. The UMass Minuteman Marching Band will perform a tribute to the late George Parks.
FUTURE COLLEGE GAMES AT FOXBORO - The second game of this agreement will be Oct. 22, 2011.
Buttafuoco said if the game is successful, the stadium would consider hosting other college games.
"We're focused on trying to make this the best event possible," he said. "If it works out well and we all deem it responsible to look at other events, we'll certainly look at that after the fact."
Several other NFL stadiums host neutral site college games and Yankee Stadium is scheduled to host a bowl game at the end of this season.