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Opinion

Editorial

On the gridiron, they call it ‘piling on.’

That’s when one tackler stops the ball carrier and begins to take him down, and a number of teammates come over and help him get the job done. That’s piling on.

The phrase has been adapted for use off the football field as well. It has taken on several meanings, and is often used in the context of debates and adding many voices to an expressed opinion on a particular subject.

With that, we’ll say we’re piling on today on the subject of UMass football, or the sorry state of UMass Amherst football, to be more precise. To be sarcastic, and a little snarky, this team probably hasn’t piled on all season, and that explains why it’s giving up more than 50 points a game on average. And this isn’t to LSU, Ohio State, or Oklahoma, either. It’s to Army, Liberty, UConn, Louisiana Tech, Northwestern, and other non-powerhouses in college football.

But this isn’t a column for the sports page. It’s an editorial for a business publication. College football is business, but, more to the point, we believe the sad state of the football team is hurting the business — and the brand — of the state university.

We’re not the only ones expressing this opinion, hence that comment about piling on.

Indeed, other media outlets have gone beyond printing the abysmal scores of the UMass games — 44-0, 69-21, 63-21, and 63-7 have been some of the recent ones — and are now asking, ‘why are we still doing this?’

‘This,’ of course, is playing football in what’s known as the Football Bowl Subdivision, where the Alabamas, Georgias, and Notre Dames live. UMass has played all those schools and others, generally receiving more than $1 million for the privilege of traveling to those college towns, becoming a designated cupcake on the schedule, and getting trucked by the home team.

We’d say it’s getting embarrassing, but it’s well past the ‘getting’ stage — so much so that UMass President Marty Meehan, who was at the Army game at West Point a few weeks back and witnessed the carnage (that’s the 63-7 score, and it wasn’t really that close) first-hand, knew what reporters were calling about the following Monday before they asked their first question.

When asked by the Boston Globe whether the school should give up the ghost and drop back down a level in college football, Meehan danced around the matter and essentially said it was up to the school and its chancellor to make that decision.

Maybe he’s right, but he could certainly help them make it, and we believe he should.

Over the past several years, we’ve written countless stories about a university on the rise — a business school climbing up the ranks nationally, astronomers helping to provide proof of black holes, student scientists and entrepreneurs turning discoveries in the lab into new businesses, and a food-service program second to none — and a brand taking hold nationally.

Football can’t and won’t kill the brand, but these scores, this embarrassment on the field, certainly isn’t helping, and of late, it has become a distraction.

Yes, this football season will mercifully end in a few weeks, and maybe the press will go away for a while and stop talking about football. But the problem isn’t going away — and it is a problem, a very big problem.

Nearly a decade after entering the Football Bowl Subdivision, UMass isn’t making any progress. In fact, it’s regressing. It is struggling mightily to recruit solid players, as might be expected given the school’s location and its track record for losing by 40 points every week. And that’s not going to change anytime soon. The school is finding out that this is a cycle you can’t break.

Maybe the money is working out, but we think it’s more of a wash than anything else. And the school’s reputation, or brand, is taking a serious hit that can’t be mitigated by the hockey team going to the national finals last spring.

The team has become a punching bag and a punchline, and it’s time for the university to cut its losses.

Opinion

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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