UMass unveils plan for new football facility, press box at McGuirk Stadium
AMHERST - The University of Massachusetts athletic department put plans for its new football facilities on display Friday in the program's temporary offices in the Slobody Building on University Drive.
The plans are part of the upgrade by UMass to Bowl Subdivision football.
The two-story building will house a locker room, a weight room, a sports medicine facility, an equipment room, coaches offices and meeting rooms. It will be built in the north end zone of McGuirk Stadium, where there is currently a small parking lot.
UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said raising the approximate $20 million for that 38,000-square-foot facility will be the focus of the department's fundraising efforts in the immediate future.
"It'll be the focal point of our fundraising. We'd love to raise all of it, but if we don't it'll be a long-term debt-service situation," McCutcheon said. "It's something we need. We know that. You can't expect to compete at the FBS level without a facility like that to recruit with. We need that anyway. We were going to do something in that area even if we stayed at the FCS level."
UMass hopes to open the building in 2014. UMass will be a full FBS member in 2013.
Plans are also in place to replace the press box at McGuirk, which sits above the west sideline. The current press box is below Bowl Subdivision standards. McCutcheon estimated that it would cost between $7 million and $10 million. Plans for the new press box feature two floors, one of which would include hospitality suites.
"We do want to have the option to come back here for a game or two a year," McCutcheon said. "That's why we're doing what we're doing. ... It will be kind of dictated by how successful we are at Gillette. If we're drawing 30,000 to 35,000 people per game, that's probably where (all the games are) going to be. But we want to have that option. We'd like to have at least one game out here to keep the connection."
In addition to the floor plans, there is an artist's rendering, created by Clough Harbor and Associates, that shows the facilities building at the end zone during a night football game.
Clough Harbor also produced a plan for expanding the current 17,000-seat McGuirk Stadium. It includes 2,000 new seats along each sideline (500 current seats on each side would be removed as part of the plan) and 5,000 new seats in the south end zone that would bring the total capacity for the stadium to 25,000. McCutcheon emphasized that those improvements were not guaranteed to occur and would not happen any time soon.
"The rest of it may never happen. Those are cartoons right now. That's something we could do. It's a concept that could be pursued. Whether we would ever do that or not will be pursued down the road," said McCutcheon, who reiterated the expectation that the long-term future for UMass football is in Foxborough. "We see Gillette as a big piece of our future. ... For us to make this transition at this point in time, it had to involve Gillette Stadium. If we didn't have that option, the whole thing wouldn't have gotten the momentum. A big piece of this is our nonconference schedule. To attract the type of teams that we want to, there's no way we could get them to come" to McGuirk.
McCutcheon balked at the idea that stadium expansion plans could be a fallback if the team is not successful drawing fans and interest in Foxborough.
"You want to have options," he said. "We think we're going to be successful with what we're doing."
McCutcheon said McGuirk Stadium will still get regular use. It's also the home of the women's lacrosse team and will be used as a practice field for the football team and potentially other teams on campus as it has both FieldTurf and lights.
"We could open it up for other events. We could open it up for high school tournament-type activities," he said. "It's not an investment that won't have returns on it."
FUTURE OPPONENT RUMORS - While McCutcheon declined to say what high-profile schools have expressed interest in playing UMass, he said interest has been considerable.
On FBSchedules.com, a site that tracks each team's scheduling commitments, UMass is already slated to play at Boston College again in 2015. The two teams also play this year. BC's nonconference schedule is otherwise filled through 2015.
UMass and UConn are scheduled to play on Aug. 30, 2012. The Huskies have shown a willingness to travel to MAC opponents as they have games set at Western Michigan (2012) and Buffalo (2013).
Programs that are rumored to be interested in playing UMass include Florida, which still needs to schedule one nonconference game in both its 2012 and 2013 schedules.
Virginia Tech, which has been rumored as well, has one available game in 2014. Texas A&M, which is also a potential opponent, is full in 2013 but has at least one date open in every other season after UMass moves up.
BYU figures to be an eventual long-term target. The Cougars are becoming an independent in football with hopes of establishing a national following. They are expected to schedule games around the country in pursuit of that goal.