5.11.12

THE PERILS OF REPOSITIONING.

The thought process of some university administrators must run something like this:  Flagship universities are visible in football.  There are lots of people in the stadium six or seven Saturdays in the fall.  So let's get some football visibility and play in a big stadium.

It hasn't worked so well for the University of Massachusetts.
For generations, the University of Massachusetts Marching Band has rallied students before the football team’s home games by parading through campus, horns wailing, flags spinning, drumline popping.

No longer. The tradition will end Saturday morning when the band’s 350 musicians board a convoy of motor coaches for a two-hour trek to the school’s home opener — at Gillette Stadium.

The journey to Foxborough, by far the longest commute to a home game in American college sports, will signal a turning point in the 130-year history of UMass football — a test of whether relocating the school’s home games to an NFL stadium nearly 100 miles away and investing millions of dollars to try to catapult the state’s flagship university into the gilded realm of big-time college football is visionary management or a misguided gamble.

The fact is, no one foresees a financial bonanza anytime soon. Amid the turbulent currents of major college football, UMass leaders have crafted a blueprint for the upgrade that aims to limit the risks of a potential failure but offers little promise of a significant payoff through at least 2020, according to a Globe review.

Any notion of UMass joining Boston College and the University of Connecticut in the rarefied ranks of big-time college football will have to wait. Amid the funding crunch in higher education, UMass has embraced a humbler goal: reducing its annual investment in football.
A check of the sports archive of the Boston Globe failed to turn up any reporting of the Minutemen's most recent game, although there were stories about Boston College and Harvard.  In the midwest, the big city dailies report on the fortunes of Badgers and Boilermakers and Hoosiers and Wildcats and Wolverines, and the Chicago Sun-Times had the story of that most recent game, at Northern Illinois, as did the Chicago Tribune.
Massachusetts looked like it didn’t belong on the same field, and the Huskies scored at will in a 63-0 victory. It was NIU’s first shutout since 2008 against Eastern Michigan.
Massachusetts-friendly coverage out of Northampton wasn't sympathetic.
In the second half, UMass made it past the Huskies’ 43-yard line just once, and that drive early in the third quarter ended when Northern Illinois recovered a fumble by Michael Cox.

But the Minutemen’s overall production wasn’t the only thing that bothered [coach Charley] Molnar. It also was seeing Huskies defensive linemen run down the field uncontested, tacklers not wrapping up and other signs that effort was lacking.

“I think some of the guys started to think about the trip home, getting out of DeKalb,” Molnar said. “Today, I was a little bit disappointed. I don’t think every guy played until the end of the game.”

In the last month, UMass has had a rash of injuries and suspensions that have hurt an already thin squad.

“We’ve had our fair share of adversity and trials and tribulations that we’ve had to overcome,” [quarterback Mike] Wegzyn said. “But I think, as a group, we needed to grow from that and build from that.”

Saturday’s loss showed that the Minutemen are a lot further from winning their first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision than they thought.
Growing pains for a team only recently realigned out of Division II, or whatever it's called these days.  The Mid-American Conference is having a pretty good year, with Toledo, Northern Illinois, Ohio, and Kent State all receiving votes in the polls, and each of those teams having beaten a team from a power conference.  I was surprised, though, that the Massachusetts game was on tape delay Saturday.  A high school playoff game was on the air live.  Go figure.  And the radio broadcaster, in commenting on the slim attendance (below 12,000 in the stadium) noted that the high school playoffs were in full swing.

We may be looking at another year of football success on the field, and financial stress off the field.

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