Gazette Editorial Supports UMass' Football Move - UMass Athletics

Gazette Editorial Supports UMass' Football Move

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The Daily Hampshire Gazette has an editorial supporting the move of UMass football to the FBS ranks and games at Gillette Stadium. Here are some key points:

It appears they jumped, wisely, at an opportunity that had never taken quite this form, or been this attractive. At the same time, the ground from which they leap - the lower level of Championship Subdivision (FCS) play - was falling away around their feet. Two former competitors in Championship Subdivision are gone and a third is lowering its program out of the Colonial Athletic Association.

If you love your Minutemen, may we suggest a carpool?

In Our Opinion: UMass' football future

After years of longing to play football at a higher level, the University of Massachusetts is taking the leap to Bowl Subdivision (FBS) competition with big consequences for fans, players and the school. Did leaders jump, or were they pushed?

It appears they jumped, wisely, at an opportunity that had never taken quite this form, or been this attractive. At the same time, the ground from which they leap - the lower level of Championship Subdivision (FCS) play - was falling away around their feet. Two former competitors in Championship Subdivision are gone and a third is lowering its program out of the Colonial Athletic Association.

That withering away of the CAA gave UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon and administrators little choice but to move up or fade away.

In the past, one big impediment to moving up has been financial. McGuirk Stadium is small for Bowl Subdivision play and the prospect of paying tens of millions of dollars to renovate or replace it has been a game-stopper. With the state strapped for cash and students facing fee hikes this fall, this would have been a dismal time to pitch the value of investing in the infrastructure that bigger-time football requires.

Enter the white knight known as Robert Kraft. The owner of the New England Patriots is making his state-of-the-art stadium in Foxborough available as the Minutemen's home field. The price? Nothing now, but a share of revenues later.

For McCutcheon and his team, Kraft's offer makes this move possible. It is really quite that simple. The Minutemen will now play their home games with the Mid-American Conference roughly 100 miles from home - a plan that outsources their audience and will test the loyalty of Minutemen fans here who face the prospect of a long drive to Foxborough at a time of high gas costs.

While UMass is promising to help transport students to Gillette games, we'll see how many want to make the trek. Students haven't exactly been mobbing games at McGuirk. Some students will be left behind in this shift, along with restaurants and hotels that have benefited when the Minutemen play at McGuirk. Other parties that will suffer are the 2011 and 2012 teams, which will compete but be ineligible for post-season play.

In a cold but probably unavoidable calculation, UMass is betting that it will be able to develop a new fan base at Gillette that has been untouchable at McGuirk: the tens of thousands of UMass alumni who live closer to Foxborough than Amherst.

UMass football had nowhere good to go but up. Getting there remains a goal, not a guarantee. While the team saw more than 32,000 turn out for its Gillette contest against New Hampshire last October, that's a healthy New England rivalry. In time, officials hope the Minutemen will be adopted as the "state's team." It could happen, but lots of those prospective fans already root for other eastern Massachusetts teams, such as Boston College.

In remarks last week, Chancellor Robert C. Holub focused on a positive - that to be thought of nationally as a top-level state university, UMass must play football with the big boys. Absent the other factors, the argument that UMass should invest heavily in a men's sport to safeguard its overall academic legitimacy isn't persuasive. Call us un-American, but we value educational success over what happens on the gridiron. Academics must not suffer. And the extra students recruited to play football should not become mere gladiators for UMass prestige. If graduation rates for football players falls, that would diminish the school and run counter to values of a land-grant university.

Even with free initial use of Gillette, UMass will be laying dollars on the line to bring this about. The school is forging ahead with plans to create a roughly $20 million training facility in Amherst on the old stadium grounds with donated or borrowed money. UMass hopes to open the facility in 2014, one year after it becomes a full FBS member.

McCutcheon is also talking about spending $7 million to $10 million to remake the press box at McGuirk, which might include hospitality suites. If UMass succeeds in surpassing the larger audiences that it needs at Gillette to satisfy Bowl Subdivision - at minimum, an average of 15,000 - it is unlikely to schedule any home games at McGuirk. Talk of investing millions to prepare that stadium for football games that may never be played is illogical.

To satisfy Title IX rules on gender equity in sports, UMass will have to beef up its support for women's athletics as it moves to increase the number of football scholarships from 63 to 85. That's good news for women's tennis, track and field, rowing, swimming and lacrosse, the sports most likely to see added scholarships.

In the end, the cost of doing nothing to change the prospects of a football program that loses $3 million a year was just too high.

If you love your Minutemen, may we suggest a carpool?

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