Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Change of future-home for Minutemen disappoints student fan base

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
On Sept. 8, 2012, the Massachusetts football team will line up opposite Indiana at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. It will mark the school’s debut as a member of the Mid-American Conference and the first time UMass hosts a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.

As a member of the MAC, the Minutemen will play all of their home games in Foxboro, nearly two hours disconnected from its student body in Amherst. Some argue that the move to Gillette shows that the university and its athletic department are losing touch with the students who support it, worrying too much about alumni and recruiting instead of its current fan base in the Pioneer Valley.

One thing is certain. There are plenty of fans in western Massachusetts who aren’t happy that their team is abandoning them and moving east.

“College football is all about the atmosphere and students go to immerse themselves in that environment and show pride and support for their school,” said 58-year-old James Laughner, a lifelong UMass football fan. “How many Division I football programs can you count that don’t have a real student section for support because they play two hours from their campus?

“I can’t think of a single one.”

One problem the Minutemen will face when they move to Gillette is drawing a crowd. While students argue that playing in Foxboro prevents them from attending each week, there seems to be as many supporters of the move as there are critics.

UMass and MAC administration argue that moving to a bigger stadium will attract more alumni and a wider fan base. Playing there, as the argument goes, brings to life a new faction of supporters who were previously unaware or unable to support the Minutemen in Amherst.

But, in creating this new sect of supporters, there are those on campus who can’t help but feel abandoned and a bit betrayed.

“There’s no way students will travel two hours out of their way on a Saturday morning to go see a football game,” said Jessica Quinn, a sociology student and frequent football attendee. “After a night or two of partying, the last thing anybody wants to do is drive or take a two-hour bus ride to Gillette for a three hour football game. It’s just stupid. The game becomes an all-day ordeal.

“Most people don’t even stay for the whole game when it’s at McGuirk [Alumni Stadium],” Quinn added. “If they don’t stay when it’s five minutes from their dorm, they’re definitely not going across the state to watch.”

Josh Robinson, an engineering student, echoed Quinn’s sentiment and offered another perspective on student attendance for the upcoming fall season.

“I honestly would be surprised if [the team] gets half the crowd of students this year as they have in the past,” said Robinson. “For most of the kids who go, it’s about the tailgating, not the game. If the team isn’t even going to be here after this year, I don’t know how many kids will go. It’s kind of a lost cause.”

Should UMass lose the support of its student section, the team might have a difficult time filling its new home.

Gillette Stadium has a capacity of 68,756 spectators. Last season, in the Colonial Clash against New Hampshire, 32,848 fans filed in to watch the game. While it was the biggest crowd in UMass history, it was less than half of what the stadium can hold. Take out the students and the crowd isn’t nearly as large.

And if the stadium isn’t full, one has to wonder how long it will take for the university’s decision to play two hours from its flagship campus to look like a mistake in the eye of the public.

Despite what will happen in 2012, there is still a season to be played in 2011. The Minutemen will tear through their banner at McGuirk Stadium for their home opener on Sept. 17 as they always do, but for the first time in recent memory, there might be more attention paid to those in the stands than the athletes on the field.

With the opener right around the corner, time will show how local residents support their Minutemen.

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected].

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  • T

    TaurusSep 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

    As an ’07 alum, I have to say I’m disappointed by the general attitude of some students…but not surprised.

    Jessica Quinn unwittingly makes the case FOR the move to Gillette: College football is SUPPOSED TO BE an “all day ordeal,” and yes, that’s right, most of the students on campus ONLY CAME FOR THE TAILGATING. They couldn’t have cared less about the GAME let alone the team.

    Let’s be honest; football was just another excuse for ZooMass-style partying. Most students couldn’t name more than one or two guys on the roster (if any at all).

    The article’s headline mentions a “student fan base”, yet most students were just fans of the tailgating NOT the Minutemen.

  • M

    MattSep 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Sorry fellow students – you never showed up to McGuirk. And yes, college football is supposed to be an all day ordeal. There will be plenty of people at McGuirk, students included. Go UMass!

  • N

    NickSep 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    WHAT student fan base? Everyone leaves after the pre-game tailgate. Gimme a break.

  • E

    Ed CuttingSep 8, 2011 at 11:59 am

    “…look like a mistake in the eye of the public.”

    The first 10-55K ought to do it.

    Last summer, a writer in the _Chronicle of Higher Education_ pointed out that students tend to drink at football games, and questioned the wisdom of a venue that requires a two hour drive back to campus.

    Worse, the entire UMass approach to student drinking is to physically prevent it. Not to even encourage moderation, but to outright prevent it via fiat and force. Even if UMass somehow prevents drinking in the stadium, even if they have cops staking out the local liquor store, the simple fact remains that there are a whole lot more liquor stores in Eastern Massachusetts (more than a few selling to minors) and absolutely no one at UMass is going to control what students do when alone in a vehicle on the highway.

    At UMass, the rule is simple: drink any time that the university isn’t stopping you from drinking — and sorry Sally L, once they get out of the parking lot, you aren’t going to be able to stop them no matter how hard you try.

    Yes, in many cases, the drivers will be drinking, and we know what happens next, dnn’t we?

    It will be worse than the fiery crash on Route 2 that led the state to put the yellow divider down the middle, this time they will be drunk/drugged out of their minds, not just driving recklessly, and even though four fatalities are bad, this wreck likely will be worse.

    Everyone will be leaving the game together, and more likely than not, the stupid stuff will start once they get to I-495. Think two carloads of UM student, racing each other, weaving through traffic using all three lanes if not also the breakdown lane and left shoulder — this is a dangerous enough thing to do while sober, which they won’t be…

    And more often than not, they are not the ones who are going to get killed. A truck tries to avoid one of them and winds up on top of a few other cars, blocking all three lanes with authorities closing the other side so they can bring in the LifeFlight helicopters. All of this within easy range of the Boston TV News helicopters — who all respond and start broadcasting live. Close enough to Foxboro, the network crews covering the game will scramble for this too.

    At this point, the parents of some 27,000 students do what parents always do — fear that their son or daughter is in the wreckage and try to call to make sure they weren’t. Even with most students now having a cell phone, at least half the parents won’t immediately get through. Folk won’t have them with them, will have calls going to voicemail, or will be on the phone.

    Worse, behind the wreck will be three lanes of stopped traffic, each car with upwards of a half dozen cell phones, PDAs, etc — all trying to “handshake” with the local tower. Towers along a rural interstate highway are not designed to deal with anywhere near this number of phones let alone the call/data traffic they can generate, and cell service will be spotty at best.

    Parents who know that their child went to the game (and is stuck in traffic) will freak and start getting creative. They will call their state rep — at home. They will call the co-worker whose daughter is interning at FOX-25 and see if she can find out anything. They will remember that one of the town police officers was in their Cub Scout den 20 years ago and call him. Some will call in favors with the Congressional delegation and the Governor’s Office…

    Years back, Boston’s WBZ-TV cut in with “Boy Scout camp Manchester hit by lightning, four injured, details at 11.” I was working at a different scout camp — we wound up receiving about 1.7 calls per camper, and that was in spite of the fact that we asked everyone who got through to “call all the other parents and tell them that it didn’t happen here.” Hysterical parents are not rational — we literally had to drag kids out of bed so that their mothers could hear *them* say that no, they hadn’t been hit by lightning.

    When this is all over, my guess is that there will be people who don’t have jobs anymore and it will be the end of games at Foxboro.

  • A

    AndySep 8, 2011 at 6:51 am

    I think that the case for lost student support is being way overstated. As mentioned in the article, many students wouldn’t even come down to McGuirk when it was a 10 minute walk from the dorms, and if they did it was mainly for the tailgating. They wouldn’t even sit through the whole game, often filing out at halftime making for an embarrassing showing on televised games. These students aren’t true football fans. True football fans will hop on the fan bus and head down to Gillette and enjoy the new era of Umass football.