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
Department.
UMass moved its home games from tiny McGuirk Stadium on the Amherst campus to Gillette Stadium 100 miles away. The two previous seasons UMass played the University of New Hampshire at Gillette and drew an average of 30,000 fans to each game.
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?

MCCUTCHEON: Logistically, that presents some challenge. Our initial game, we had a great turnout. We had something like 38 busloads of students we brought to the game. As the season went on, maintaining that level of attendance was a challenge. We did have a new fan base to try to engage. If we had one significant disappointment this year, it was the level of attendance.

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.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

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.