After the dust settled from the fireworks surrounding UMass’ future out of conference schedule, I took some time to sit back and look at what the football program is working toward.
It’s fueling the ship.
I’ve seen comments out there alluding to the fact that UMass’ road gauntlet is simply a way to move as quickly as possible to a bigger conference. This just doesn’t add up to me. The university is still trying to figure out how to promote the program, how to engage fans and build a brand for what has forever been a brandless product. It is looking for exposure in all the right places (hello Notre Dame), and it is trying to build a little clout so that when it’s time to either move back to Amherst or re-up the Gillette contract in 2016, it brings something (namely fans) to the table.
The Republican reported that UMass is making $6 million for all of its road trips, and John McCutcheon alluded to UMass’ building process:
We’ve got a lot of work to do in getting people to the games and selling game tickets and generating that kind of revenue, but obviously when you look at the things you can do in advance like this, it’s been very positive. It’s not just about the guarantees. It’s about who we’re playing and what that says about the quality of opponents we have and how we’re trying to stimulate excitement about where we are trying to position for the future.
UMass is not alone in the travel-for-cash sweepstakes. South Alabama and the University of Texas at San Antonio moved up from FCS to FBS with the Minutemen, and both schools are going on similar football odysseys.
South Alabama, while playing a few creampuffs, is also traveling to: North Carolina State, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia, Nebraska, LSU and Oklahoma State between now and 2019.
UTSA will build some confidence in 2013 against a junior varsity slate, but then it rolls up its sleeves and travels to Oklahoma State, Virginia, Kansas State, Arizona and Baylor during the following six years.
Scheduling for money is not a new concept in college football, but this type of money/exposure grab is foreign to most UMass fans. In the past, the Minutemen could snag one FBS game against a smaller program (no offense, Army, Navy, Kansas State), thus the Michigan game was an eye-opening change of pace.
Now UMass comes equipped as a FBS opponent, with a curious fan base, near a major media market and with some name recognition. Schools are more willing to pay for a UMass game for these reasons and one other: They expect to win. Fans of these programs know this, and when it was announced that UMass would travel to Penn State and Notre Dame, fans of those respective schools were annoyed if not unimpressed.
Then again, after reading enough Penn State and Notre Dame stuff, nothing seems good enough for those fan bases.
UMass is going to take its lumps, but it will also make some much-needed cash. In theory, it will also bring home value in the form of motivated alumni who get to see their team play on Saturdays in the biggest football towns in America.
That’s a far cry from road trips to Holy Cross.