As Charley Molnar conducts meet and greets across the state, the athletic department makes sure to have images of the McGuirk Stadium upgrades in tow.
The facilities look impressive: modern, new and squeaky clean. However, these new toys are anchored to McGuirk – the same McGuirk that UMass fans have learned to deal with during the past 47 years. The same 17,000-person stadium that could barely stack up against the best facilities in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The upgrades look fantastic, but none of the images show any signs that McGuirk as we know it will grow. They show a press box and a northern cap, but no extra seating.
UMass and the MAC agreed that McGuirk was unacceptable. In the Membership Agreement with the MAC, the Minutemen agreed to make significant improvements to the stadium, including a “new end zone facility” and a “new and/or renovated press box.” Nowhere in the agreement is anything mentioned about adding more seats or improving the general structure of the stadium.
The university simply agreed that no MAC games would take place at McGuirk until the press box and end zone facilities were up to snuff. If McCutcheon’s calculations are correct, the Minutemen could host its first conference game in Amherst during the 2014 season.
There have been a few reports on stadium expansion, but there have been no renderings, no time frame and no indication that a single seat will be added during the first phase of stadium improvements. What we know is that the school is about to spend $30 million to upgrade its stadium. We also know that the license to use Gillette Stadium officially ends on June 20, 2017.
This leads to the biggest question about the future: What is McGuirk going to look like when and if it’s time for UMass to come home?
As it stands, the stadium is an artifact of an ugly, concrete past. It has bleacher seating, an ugly facade and stands flat and nondescript against its hilly background. The new press box and end zone facilities will be attractive alterations, but if no seats are added, McGuirk will be the smallest stadium in the MAC – holding 3,500 less than Kent State’s Dix Stadium, currently the smallest in the league.
Of course silence doesn’t always mean inaction. UMass is going on a road-warrior money grab during the next few years and will receive major payouts from BCS opponents. The Minutemen will also benefit from their relationship with the Krafts and will receive one-half of the first $300,000 in net ticket revenues, among other attendance-based incentives. Maybe early financial success will force UMass’ hand into making more improvements.
Some believe that Gillette is UMass’ home for good, so massive improvements aren’t needed. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. The license will expire, the arrangement will be reassessed, and at some point the 100-mile trek from Amherst to Foxboro is going to affect the relationship between students and the team.
If UMass is going to settle in as a MAC team, it is going to need a MAC stadium. That means adding seats, parking and other physical improvements to McGuirk.
As of now, we know a press box and football facility are on the way, and that’s a good start.
However, the first improvements bring up an important question: What’s next?