The Attleboro Sun-Chronicle has a story on the impact of UMass moving its home games to Gillette Stadium as part of the upgrade to FBS and joining the MAC.
When I get calls from Foxboro residents complaining about one thing or another regarding Gillette Stadium, I'm often tempted to ask them when they bought their houses - but I usually don't, for compassion's sake.
If I did, and the answer was "Before 1971," perhaps the caller might have a legitimate gripe. Any time after that, however, it's been a case of "let the buyer beware." There was a big stadium there for almost 30 years and now there's a bigger one that's been there for 10 more.
It came as no surprise to me (although it did surprise Robert Kraft) that I'd hear a smattering of local concern over recently-announced plans to make Gillette Stadium the long-term home of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst football team as it makes its leap up to the Football Bowl Subdivision of NCAA Division I. I'm sure some of the stadium-area residents fear that they will now find themselves trapped in their houses on football Saturdays as well as football Sundays or Mondays during the fall.
If you don't believe that, you obviously haven't seen it.
On a football day in Foxboro, police checkpoints (reminiscent of the pre-Berlin Wall "Checkpoint Charlie") go up on Beach Street, Payson Road, North Street and Cross Street. And unless you have documentable business with someone that lives on one of those roads or any of the subdivisions within the perimeter, you can't drive down there - on the premise that you might be looking for a secret shortcut to the stadium, or plan to park illegally. Similar inconveniences face residents in the parts of Walpole, Wrentham and Norfolk nearest the stadium. Even the rest of town can be affected adversely by the traffic. Late-starting games often cause thousands of motorists to get off the highways and try to inch their way through the center of town looking to avoid the Route 1 backup from I-495. The resulting traffic is equally frustrating, and even more so for those who have no interest whatsoever in the Patriots and are just trying to get around the rotary to pick up a prescription at the CVS.
Well, my advice to those folks is not to panic - just yet.
Personally, I can't see much in the way of success for this gambit by UMass. It's not as if the region has been clamoring for another big-time college football program, and the Minutemen still have a long road to travel before they get to that point.
My guess - and it's strictly an educated guess based upon having attended football games in Foxboro since Schaefer Stadium opened in August 1971 - is that the disruptions will be a lot less than what happens when 68,756 fans and their 18,000 cars pour into Foxboro on a football Sunday, and maybe a little more than when about a few thousands relatives and friends saunter into a Revolution game and take up fewer parking spaces than the Showcase cinema.
Initially, there will be a curiosity factor. Just under 33,000 fans attended the "Colonial Clash" last October between UMass and New Hampshire, and undoubtedly, the initial arrival of UMass in 2012 will attract some sports fans that can't get into Gillette for Patriots' games. Believe me, if UMass games draw an average of 30,000 that first year, it will be considered wildly successful.
But at that point, UMass will have to take bold steps to keep the attention of those who might not be enamored with the yearly visits of Akron, Ohio U., or any of the directional Michigans. Would visits by Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Auburn or Southern Cal bang out the place? Quite possibly. But games like that would be few and far between - and it would seem as if Boston College and Connecticut, as more established FBS programs, would have first dibs on the cream of the crop.
UMass is clearly counting upon the 120,000 alumni living within a 30-minute drive of Foxboro to pull its fat out of the fire in this gambit. It hasn't been established yet how many of those alums are footbal fans. And of those UMies who are, it's not known how well their strained finances would embrace solicitations from the State U for season-ticket plans. The appeal of the UMass-Ball State rivalry may not be enough.
The truly displaced individuals in this matter aren't the stadium-area residents, but the "real" fans of the Minutemen, the Amherst-area supporters who, along with students, generally put about 13,000 fans into McGuirk Alumni Stadium for every game. Their commute for home games at Gillette will now be at least 186 round-trip miles and probably more, and UMass is probably going to lose a lot of them no matter how attractive the season-ticket packages are.
Students, meanwhile, will likely be bused to and from Foxboro, which should mitigate fears that drunken hooligans will be unleashed upon the stadium-area neighborhoods. Unless they feel like staggering 93 miles back to Amherst, they'll find their way back to the buses.
There is one way to eliminate all risks from this proposal. The Foxboro Board of Selectmen could simply deny licenses for any and all UMass games. But that won't happen; sometimes you just have to do what you're told, and it's pretty clear that when the Kraft Group says it wants something from the town, the town fathers bend over, take the paddling and say, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"
The agreement to play at Gillette will basically last through 2016, at which time it will be revisited. If UMass goes through with an expansion of its home stadium and attendance in Foxboro lags, a larger McGuirk may be the ultimate solution and Gillette could be the occasional repository for the big-ticket games.
So, don't panic. Unless there is a sudden explosion of interest in UMass football, and it's sustained for the next five years - which would seem to be contrary to how Boston sports fans perceive college sports in general - there's a very good chance that this could all become just a historical footnote before too long.