Opinion

Is It Time for UMass Football to Punt?

Editorial

UMass Football has a new coach — now former Florida State Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell.

What the program doesn’t have, at least from our vantage point, is a clear path out of what seems to be some very thick weeds. Indeed, the program, which moved into what’s known as the FSB, the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision, in 2012, seems to be mired in quicksand, with poor records, seemingly poor support from fans, and a distinct lack of any light at the end of the tunnel.

A new coach might help, but we believe the problems run deeper than that — deep enough to prompt discussion about whether this move to the FSB can someday achieve the lofty goals set years ago.

And that’s where we need to start, with those goals.

They were broad, and included a winning program that would bring prestige, revenue, and perhaps even some top-shelf students to the campus in Amherst.

Thus far, the move to the FSB has achieved little if any of that. On the revenue side, for example, after losing money in 2016 and 2015, university athletics finished in the black in 2017, to the tune of roughly $500,000. But those numbers pale in comparison to the major football powerhouses, and as expenses continue to rise, we wonder how long university athletics, and especially the football program, can operate in the black.

Meanwhile, far from attracting new fans, the program seems to be alienating alums and supporters, first by playing home games at Gillette stadium (a strategy that was thankfully shelved, for the most part), and then by putting together schedules of games against opponents that no one knows or cares about.

Indeed, as a member of the Mid-America conference for a few seasons, UMass played the likes of Buffalo, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Toledo, and Akron. And, now, as an independent after leaving the MAC in 2015, the Minutemen play teams like Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Florida Atlantic. None of these teams resonate with alums and residents of the region, and they won’t, even if UMass plays them for the next 20 years.

Yes, Georgia, Boston College, and Brigham Young University were on this year’s schedule (BYU was even a home game), but the respective scores were 66-7, 55-21, and 35-16.

OK, this is not a sports publication, and this bit of commentary is not about how bad the UMass defense was. Well, maybe it’s a little about that, and the defense was really bad, giving up almost 43 points a game.

No, it’s a business publication, and in most all respects, UMass football isn’t a sport, it’s a business — a business that has yet to find its way and probably needs a new strategic plan, in addition to a new CEO (head coach).

But determining which direction to go in is difficult. One can make a logical case that maybe the best course for the university is to go back down a division and put some traditional, or at least geographic, rivalries back on the schedule — teams like New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, and maybe Harvard and Holy Cross, if those schools are so inclined.

But going backward isn’t an appealing option.

Still, going forward at this pace doesn’t appear to make sense, either. To really be successful within the FSB, the school will have to continue to make the huge investments in facilities needed to attract top players.

And we wonder out loud whether it will be worth it. After all, the school continues to rise in the USA Today rankings and overall prestige as a research university, and it would be very fair to say that none of that upward movement has anything whatsoever to do with the football program.

Like we said, UMass football has a new coach. What is doesn’t appear to have is a sense of direction regarding the future.

It’s definitely time to get one.

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