UMass football thrown for loss
Team takes beating on field, box office
THERE WEREN’T MANY bright spots last year as the University of Massachusetts Amherst stepped up to the top level of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The team went 1-11, playing in the Mid-America Athletic Conference, and was outscored by an average of 40-13. Even more disappointing was the lackluster attendance at the team’s home-away-from-home games.
| UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn scrambles for a first down in the team’s home opener as
a Division 1-A program agaist Indiana in September. Photo courtesy of UMass Athletic
But that enthusiasm didn’t translate to this year as an initial crowd of 16,304 for the home opener in September against the University of Indiana had dwindled to less than 6,400 for the homecoming game against Central Michigan the day after Thanksgiving.
The school spent $7.16 million on football this year but brought in just $6.44 million in revenue, including $850,000 in payments from the University of Michigan and University of Connecticut for away games UMass played at the two schools.
UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon says he expected the football program to experience growing pains as the squad took on bigger and more seasoned teams than the one-time 1-AA powerhouse Minutemen.
“I think [the expectation] was to see progress and that’s what we saw,” McCutcheon says. “To expect anything beyond that would have been very unrealistic.”
CommonWealth spoke to McCutcheon in early December after the season had ended.
COMMONWEALTH: You played five teams that are going to bowls, including another MAC team, Northern Illinois, which is going to a BCS bowl. But UMass lost all five games by an aggregate score of 254-75. Which of those two facts best describes the state of UMass football?
MCCUTCHEON: I think you have to be realistic. This is a group of men recruited to play at the 1-AA level. It’s going to take several recruiting classes of students that can play at [the 1-A] level. We knew that was going to be a great challenge. We were very pleased that they were able to get one win.
CW: What were the biggest differences between playing at McGuirk and playing at Gillette?
CW: What was the impact on recruits when they saw the professional environment but then all the empty seats?
MCCUTCHEON: The recruiting has gone exceptionally well. What we talk to them about is they are coming in on the ground floor of a program that is growing. The stadium is a nice piece but the school is the main focus.
CW: What are your plans to cover that $700,000 deficit and what about next year’s budget?
MCCUTCHEON: We’ll do everything we can throughout the course of this fiscal year to whittle away at that gap. We’ll figure some way to plan to pay over the long term through fundraising and donations. We really felt we could meet those income numbers. We’ll make adjustments. As for the future, there’ll always be some out-of-conference games that we’ll look to have. Next year we open at Wisconsin and we have Kansas State on our schedule. They’re providing us with guarantees that are double what we earned this year. From Michigan and Connecticut, we received a guarantee total of about $850,000. Next year, it will go to $1.6 million.
CW: Did the move to FBS generate more booster money or any kind of increased outside funding?
MCCUTCHEON: Our 100-yard Club, which is set up to accept money from boosters and alumni, has grown significantly. We got one gift for $500,000 [from former player Robert Foote]. There were also several other large donations and as we get further along, there will be opportunities for additional fundraising.CW: Who do you see as another team to foster a rivalry with, here or in the MAC?
MCCUTCHEON: We’re in discussions with Connecticut for more meetings and we have a three-game series in the next three years with BC [Boston College]. They are both great programs to be associated with. It will be good for all of us.