UMass football could play on campus again, but not before 2014
Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011, 6:44 PM Updated: Saturday, April 23, 2011, 7:06 PM
AMHERST - The University of Massachusetts football team's days of home football games on campus may not end with the 2011 season.
It's possible the team could play selected games at a renovated McGuirk Alumni Stadium, though no earlier than in 2014, athletic director John McCutcheon said.
Whether the team plays future games on campus will depend on how well it does at Gillette Stadium, the site of all UMass home games in 2012 and 2013.
"The more success we have in Foxborough, ironically, the less chance there would be of returning to McGuirk,'' McCutcheon said.
But the option will exist, if current renovation plans come to fruition. McCutcheon said UMass is committed to the plan, but that it is in the preliminary phase.
"We are in a transitional period. By 2014, the plan is to have an upgraded campus facility that could host some games,'' he said.
UMass is undertaking a $20 million McGuirk improvement project. Seating will be expanded from 17,000 to 25,000, with a comprehensive training facility built at the stadium's north end.
McCutcheon said a major fundraising effort is aimed at paying for the project. If the full amount is not raised, "some debt service'' will be incurred by the university, he said.
He called the project essential.to the upgrade to the Football Bowl Subdivision, and especially necessary for any games to take place on campus in 2014 or beyond.
On Thursday, UMass and Gillette Stadium announced a five-year deal in conjunction with the university's upgrade to the FBS.
The deal does not affect the 2011 schedule, which will be UMass' last as a Football Championship Subdivision team in the Colonial Athletic Association.
All 2011 home games will be played at McGuirk, the team's home for 45 years, except for the New Hampshire game at Gillette Stadium. All 2012 and 2013 home games will be at Gillette.
From 2014 through 2016, UMass is committed to a minimum of four games per year in Foxborough. That would leave one or two home games that could be moved.
McCutcheon said the decision to play the home schedule in Eastern Massachusetts has met with widespread approval and anticipation from fans and alumni across the state.
The reaction has been different in Western Massachusetts, where long-time fans face the prospect of four-round round trips.
UMass officials say in its present state, McGuirk was unacceptable for a move to the FBS. Some requirements of the Mid-American Conferemce, which UMass will join in 2012, are not met at the current site.
Among them were press box facilities and replay technology, McCutcheon said. The current seating could technically adhere to the FBS requirement of a 15,000 average attendance per game, but trying to do so would be impractical.
One reason is that UMass is exploring options to bring several high-profile, non-conference opponents to Gillette, either for single appearances or as part of home-and-home series.
None of those teams would consider playing at McGuirk. McCutcheon says those games, which figure to draw the Minutemen's biggest crowds and produce the most revenue, will always be staged at Gillette, even after 2014.
But playing a MAC game or two per season at McGuirk is possible after the stadium is renovated, he said.
"The MAC has a tradition of playing late-season, midweek games (for TV). I can see possibly moving that type of game on campus, so that people don't have to make the longer trip in the middle of the week,'' McCutcheon said.
The seating expansion will involve lowering the ground level of the field, and adding 14 new rows of seating in the area created by the sunken turf.
In the meantime, parking at the Gillette home games will be free. Bus transportation will be provided for students who want to attend.
The football expansion process has already begun. UMass is moving into new, roomier football offices into an existing office building on University Drive.
When the McGuirk training center is finished, it will house those offices in addition to weight rooms, locker rooms, training facilities and equipment storage.
The new building will be at the stadium's opposite end to where UMass locker rooms now exist. UMass officials believe that whether future home games are played at McGuirk or not, improvement of campus training facilities is necessary for competitive reasons within the MAC and FBS.