Umass Upgrade Article
The following article appeared recently in the Greenfield Recorder. Unfortunately, there is no link the the original.
Sports: Upward mobility?
It was an all too familiar sight for the University of Massachusetts football team on Saturday afternoon.
As the Minutemen walked off the field in Annapolis, Maryland, most thought they had reason to feel somewhat satisfied with a tighter-than-expected, 21-20 loss to the U.S. Naval Academy.
But the team, and more specifically coach Don Brown, was not in the mood for any encouragement after the loss, no matter who they played.
“We came down and put it on the line,” the coach said in the postgame press conference. “They’re just like every other football team we play. When you don’t win, then you gotta go back to the drawing board and clean it up and move on. There’s no moral wins when you don’t win. I don’t want to hear that. That’s not acceptable.”
Sound like a coach who’s 1-AA team just lost a one-point nail-biter to a potential I-A bowl qualifier? Not exactly.
UMass has been in this same spot before. Not since their 26-10 win over Ball State in 1984 have the Minutemen defeated a 1-A team. Last year, UMass dropped a tough one to Army, 34-28. Two years ago the team lost to Boston College, 29-7. Losses to Kansas St., North Carolina St. and Marshall the previous three years extended the winless streak, but those games were not nearly as close as the Navy game.
What does all this mean?
Well, every year around this time, when UMass plays a 1-A foe, and especially when it performs well, there is talk all around Amherst about when the Minutemen will bite the bullet and move up to 1-A, where the big boys play.
UConn made the move in 2000, and while it took them a few years to make headway, the Huskies won their first bowl game in 2004, beating Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.
Well, doesn’t a team need to be dominant in 1-AA before they move to the 1-A level? Not necessarily. The Huskies are a prime example. UMass destroyed UConn, 62-20, in the school’s final game as a I-AA member in 1999.
What about the stadium?
One of the most important factors that goes into the ascension to I-A is indeed the facility. Rentschler Field in East Hartford holds 40,000 strong, cost $91 million and opened for the 2003 season. In comparison, Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst seats 17,000 and was officially dedicated in 1965.
One of the NCAA requirements for moving up to 1-A, although not always enforced, is attendance. A team must average 15,000 over any randomly selected two-year period to meet the 1-A standard.
Bowling Green, Louisiana-Monroe, Ball State, Temple, New Mexico State, San Jose State, UtahAkron, Rice, Buffalo, Kent State, and Eastern Michigan are all under scrutiny as teams that did not meet the 15,000 mark last year. Eastern Michigan, in fact, averaged just over 5,000 fans per game. State,
UMass attendance would certainly be an important aspect, as the school ranked just 35th in 1-AA attendance in 2005. In 2004, the Minutemen welcomed their biggest crowd since 1974, as 16,405 fans showed up for the squad’s night win over Colgate. While the argument could be made that a bigger stadium and better opponents would generate better crowds, the school would still need self-assurance that a new stadium would generate increased interest. Given the facts, it would be difficult to make that case.
The parking and traffic situation would also be challenging if UMass was elevated to 1-A and drew larger crowds. Route 9 traffic is bad now; adding to it, even temporarily, would probably require expansion. Parking in and around the stadium would need upgrading as well.
What else is keeping the school from making the jump?
Scholarship money, especially in football with its large roster, is expensive, although some will argue the school would get lots of bang for its buck. A 1-A team can give out 85 scholarships compared to 63 in 1-AA.
Scheduling is another issue. Teams with 1-A status must play at least 60 percent of their games against other 1-A schools, which are scarce in New England. That, of course, is where joining a conference comes in handy. UConn joined the Big East Conference after just two years of 1-A independent play and likely made the leap knowing it would have the chance to join the circuit because it was already Big East-affilliated in other sports. UMass would need a similar deal, as the life of a 1-A independent not named Notre Dame is brutal.
Then of course you have the local competition in Boston, as Boston College is the biggest ticket in New England college football on Saturdays.
It would really be tough to compete with the likes of Florida State and Miami, so it would take time for the Minutemen to build up the quality of their opponents.
Lastly, the student body would really need to step it up and support the program. UMass students are not exactly coming out in hordes to watch their football team play like they do at Ohio State or Tennessee, and college athletic departments across the country know that the fan base begins and ends with the students.
While a move up is not in the foreseeable future, and there are definitely obstacles that would need to be overcome, Saturday’s result against Navy should be looked at positively, despite what Brown said afterwards. His comments weren’t surprising. After all, how often do you hear a losing coach talking about a moral victory?
Talk-show callers, maybe, but never a coach.