For some reason UMass fans always expect less, and I don’t think that’s fair to themselves or their school.
Time and time again, the idea of FBS football at the University of Massachusetts was kicked around and then set aside. UMass was comfortable with what it was and where it was. It was a big rudderless fish in a pond containing fish of various sizes with a similar affliction.
Fans of the program would speak in borrowed phrases (“If you build it, they will come”) and make passionate promises of what would happen if some alarm ever woke up the sleeping giant in the Berkshires. These conversations predictably ended with the closing of a grill, a finishing of a beer and a long content walk to watch UMass play in a half-filled McGuirk on a chilly fall afternoon.
Now the alarm is going off, and UMass and its fans are pressing snooze.
There is a grassroots level of excitement surrounding the program, but most of that is generated by the motivated minority that was already paying attention. There are definitely additional alumni that are coming out in support of the football team, but the initial swell of excitement seems to have drained away.
There are no commercials, no billboards and no coverage in the Boston papers. In Western Mass, the Gazette and Republican are covering the program, but not nearly as in depth as other dailies in FBS areas this time of year (for example, the Republican had four articles about UMass football online last month; The Post-Standard in Syracuse has had about 20 in seven days).
Fans who flooded the football section of the UMassHoops message board have taken a breather, too. Of course there was the NIT run to distract Minuteman Nation, but once the nets are cut, it’s football season.
There is this baby-deer awkward feeling around the program right now as Greater UMass attempts to figure out how to deal with the next level. Meanwhile, Coach Molnar has the team practicing in the snow at 5:45 in the morning at McGuirk. He has the team show up at veterans halls and fundraising runs. He is actively bringing alumni back to campus so the current players can see this program’s successful past.
When he heard about #Operation50K, he asked for a full house:
Molnar said he wanted to create something in the Boise State model, which is an amazing statement to digest considering many UMass fans would have gladly accepted the James Madison model three years ago. This is the problem I see with today’s UMass fan: They are willing to accept less for some mysterious reason.
I always hear this argument when it comes to the lack of interest in New England college football: “This is a pro sports area.”
The thing is, I don’t really buy it. I think New England is an “underdog area” despite its recent successes. Real New England fans hate the pink hats, the people that showed up after all the waiting, the losing and the heartbreak. They associate with the people that were there for the down times and stuck around long enough to enjoy a genuine victory pint.
Hell, the most famous game in New England college football history involved an underdog quarterback throwing an impossible Hail Mary to pull off an upset.
UMass is the perennial underdog.
For years the school has floundered in the money-making sports, and now it is attempting to raise its identity. It is trying to stand among the powerful schools in the Northeast while hoping that a new football culture holds it up. UConn and Boston College are terrified about this potential culture and are already starting to notice a new guy at the recruiting table. The wheels are moving, and the hope is that UMass fans get on and demand the best.
Operation50K is a great idea for the first home game, but the real concern is Operation UMass. What identity will this community take now that it has a top-level football team to get behind? What effort will the school make to get the community motivated?
I guess we will find out by August 30.
Until then, Coach Molnar and his squad can only hope that UMass and its fans are taking this as seriously as they are.