UMass Football: The Catastrophe In Amherst

http://www.thechiefly.com/features/umass-football-catastrophe/

The following is going to be painful to write for this biased author currently dressed in a pair of University of Massachusetts sweatpants (and a Kang and Kodos ’96 shirt), but it needs to be said. We suck. A lot. And this was a gigantic mistake.

Two years ago UMass jumped from the Football Championship Subdivision (or FCS, which used to be known as I-AA where schools get about 75% of the scholarships D-1 schools get, so they wind up fighting for lesser heralded players) to FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) and joined the Mid-American Conference. The story was that we were a D-1 school in every other sport, so why not football? We were almost D-1 anyway, and hey, we won a National Championship back in 1998! We have some prestige…right? Eventually our UMass Minutemen will play our way out of this small crappy conference and join the Big East…right?

A Financial Disaster

So now that we successfully convinced ourselves to move to the FBS, we had to figure out how to pay for our new toy. Joining the MAC already opened one small revenue stream; a relatively modest $1M deal with ESPN, netting each MAC school less than $100k per year. These slides below from UMass’ presentation can get us in the ballpark of how much a football team will cost, but keep in mind that these aren’t real numbers, just projections from a bunch of people with a vested interest in a positive outcome.

So how much does it generally cost to run a team?

UMass Expenses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, about five and a half million a year for a crappy one. We know that they didn’t get much from their conference TV deal with ESPN, so how do they make up the difference?

UMass Revenue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even in their projections, they’re depending heavily (63% of total revenue) on increased tuition and “university support” (which is supported by taxpayers). See where this is going?

I obviously don’t have access to their financials when it comes to ticket sales, novelty sales, concessions, and parking, but I do have firsthand experience of UMass football games and I can report that they assuredly fell well short of their projections on all four fronts. In fact, the university barely reached the necessary attendance average required to avoid probation next season.

Gillette Stadium in Foxboro is about a forty five minute drive from Boston, but a two and a half hour drive away from campus in Amherst (and there’s the problem). Whomever made this decision for UMass assumed that all the grads in the Boston area would flock to Gillette to watch bad football and some students would wake up early on a Saturday morning to make the trip. (I couldn’t finish that sentence without keeling over in laughter.)

Playing games at Gillette while renovating the stadium in Amherst was an incredibly short sighted decision and must be the primary reason behind the “huge financial disaster” that we’re seeing with UMass football.

To pile onto the disappointment of the universities financial woes, the games themselves haven’t even been worth watching.

In two years at the FBS level, UMass is 2-22, and has been outscored 878-285, an average beatdown of 37-12. And this is in the MAC! They have been shut out five times, scored a touchdown or less eleven times, and have losses by 63, 50, 45, 44, and 42. By every measure, they have been a doormat.

Can things get better?

UMass has produced some quality NFL starters in the past: Victor Cruz, James Ihedigbo (replaced Ed Reed in Baltimore this season), Vladimir Ducasse (starting tackle/guard for the Jets), and Michael Cox (played in the Giants RB rotation this year), so expecting some players to make the jump next year is a reasonable expectation to have (especially since every junior and below will have been recruited by Charley Molnar, he took over as head coach when they made the move up to FBS).

Given that the first few years jumping from FCS to FBS are always the worst (because there is a gigantic talent disparity), you have to think that on the field, the Minutemen have to be nearing a climb in competitiveness, especially since the bar is set so low.

That doesn’t mean that success (or relative success) will translate to meaningful dollars going in to the pockets of UMass football. Beginning next season $1.6M in the hole to the people you supposedly serve isn’t a good start, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some money to get it back.

The first place you’d look to is ticket sales and concessions, but those are often shallow wells for schools in non-BCS conferences.

UMass will split its home schedule between Amherst and Gillette next season, which includes a “home” game against Boston College in Foxboro.  Don’t expect any actual revenue from those contests, save for the one that will be overpopulated with BC fans. So what about actual home games?

McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst holds roughly 17,000, and unless the policy has changed with the move to FBS, UMass students just need to show their student ID to get in for free. So there goes significant revenue from ticket sales, and if I know your average UMass student, they probably brought their own “concessions” to the game. That leaves UMass to sell tickets to one half of a stadium for half of a season, and tickets for a tiny fraction of a stadium (non-students) for the other half.

There must be a potential savior in all this, right? How about bowl games? Isn’t it just one big payout for everyone involved? Well, part of that is true, it is a payout, but I’m going to fight you on “big” and “everyone involved.” Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today looked at the 2010-2011 bowl season and found that the average team lost $169,226. Unless your team is going to a BCS bowl, your university is just not going to see that much money from these glorified exhibitions.

Unless the team improves dramatically and they play their way out of the MAC and into the American Athletic Conference or the ACC, they won’t. And after watching this team for the past two years, there’s little faith that will happen.

Operating a football team is not always profitable, and there is no sense in increasing the burden on already over-encumbered students and taxpayers to fund something few people care about.

Jacob Weindling
Pure bred Coloradan with a dash of Masshole (go UMass). Sports and politics junkie. If I've learned one thing in life to this point, it's that stupid loses more games than smart wins.
Jacob Weindling
Jacob Weindling

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