I’ve been enjoying the mailbag questions during the past few weeks, and apparently you guys have, too. Last week we had more than 50 comments, and at one point there was so much activity that the blog blew a tire, and the server went down. I guess that’s a good problem to have – especially for a college football blog in March.
I definitely appreciate all the reader interaction. Please keep the questions coming (email@example.com).
This week’s question is from Jack Pardi.
Do you ever see UMass playing all home games at McGuirk?
This is the million-dollar (30 million?) question. I think a number of things need to be determined before we know the answer for sure.
What we know now is that the McGuirk upgrades are slated to be finished by 2014. At that time, there will be a new press box and an endzone facility that will serve as a one-stop shop for the football team. Judging by early renderings, there will also be significant work done to the area surrounding McGuirk. We also know that there is are no plans to expand the stadium’s 17,000-person capacity.
If everything goes to plan, the Minutemen could host their first home game in Amherst during the 2014 season. That being said, it is infinitely unlikely that either Boston College or Colorado – UMass’ two home out-of-conference opponents – will play anywhere but Gillette. More likely: UMass plays a mid-week game against a MAC opponent. I think that game will be a fun, and quite frankly welcome, experience on campus.
After 2014, there is only one out-of-conference home game scheduled: Sept. 8, 2018 against Vanderbilt. The license to use Gillette Stadium officially ends on June 20, 2017. It is conceivable that UMass will be able to hold that game on campus, but it seems far more likely that a new agreement will be entered into in which “big” games, like Vanderbilt, will be played at Gillette.
After 2014, things get a little fuzzy.
The athletic department has been pretty quiet when it comes to UMass’ future at McGuirk. Back in October, Athletic Director John McCutcheon told the Maroon Musket that “we anticipate we will play at least one game per year on campus.” He also indicated that there was no set amount of McGuirk home games in the future.
“It would be premature to speculate on the balance of games between Gillette and McGuirk in the future, but the current agreement with Gillette runs through the 2016 season,” McCutcheon said.
My guess is that everything depends on UMass’ future conference affiliation. If the Minutemen maintain the status quo in the MAC, an improved McGuirk could be the answer for conference games. UMass could then create a custom-fit relationship with Gillette where it plays bigger, out-of-conference opponents in Eastern Massachusetts.
In a way, the Minutemen could have their cake and eat it, too. UMass could drum up more exposure in the Boston area with marquee games against SEC, Big 10 and ACC opponents. Meanwhile, the Minutemen could play MAC schools on campus and engage the student body. UMass could conceivably play a team like Michigan at Gillette and then have Homecoming against Ohio at McGuirk.
During a standard season, that would be a 4/2 split between McGuirk and Gillette, respectively. In a way, I like that math.
However, I think the entire equation changes if UMass leaves the MAC and joins the America 12, or whatever that odd juxtaposition of teams is called.
If the Minutemen are put in a position where they are paired with the likes of UConn, Temple, Cincinnati, USF and Houston, I think Gillette is home sweet home. There is no way this “new” conference will allow the Minutemen to play any games in Amherst unless McGuirk gets an unprecedented facelift. The America 12 wants to establish itself early, and it can’t do that if one of its members plays at a facility that barely passes muster in the MAC.
I personally believe the 4/2 split would be good for the program. Four games at McGuirk would be great for both alumni and students. The older folks would have a reason to head back to their alma mater, grab a slice at Antonios, wax nostalgic with old friends and add to the on-campus atmosphere that can’t be duplicated at an NFL stadium (just ask Temple and USF). The students could walk to games, tailgate and (hopefully) stick around and become fans. UMass had a great pre-game atmosphere for meaningless games against Central Connecticut State – I think that could be multiplied for a televised game against a conference opponent with bowl-game implications.
Meanwhile, UMass could reach out to bigger schools with either big (Michigan) or regional (Rutgers) fan bases for out-of-conference games at Gillette. The Wolverines are heading to UConn next year – it’s not that far of a stretch to think they would dip into the Boston market for a road game.
As mentioned above, this situation likely relies on UMass staying in the MAC. I know there is a pretty significant split among UMass fans as to whether this is a good idea. To me, the ability to use McGuirk in conjunction with Gillette, in a way that stirs up interest in the program, is yet another reason to stick it out with the conference that gave UMass a chance.
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