Faculty Senate discusses football’s move to MAC, passes motion

By William Perkins

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Nickolas Massar/Collegian

Some said it’s a move that will deplete more funds from the University’s already thin budget. Others said it’s a measure that helps to increase the school’s stature. And several questioned the process by which the decision to make the move was made.

The University of Massachusetts’ football program’s jump from the Football Championship Subdivision in the Colonial Athletic Association to the Football Bowl Subdivision in the Mid-American Conference was a topic of debate, discussion and deliberation yesterday at a meeting of the school’s Faculty Senate. And, after talks at the gathering ceased, members of the legislative body voted in a 31-10 decision to support a motion that calls on the University to not make a planned $30 million in improvements to the program’s main on-campus facility – McGuirk Alumni Stadium – until a significant portion of funding can be privately raised.

The vote occurred during a meeting in which over 100 anxious students protested recent, and then unconfirmed, changes in the UMass Residential Life program, lining the long lecture hall walls of Herter 227 with signs of demonstration. And it followed a panel discussion on the program’s move by three senators – Max Page, Michael Sugerman and Richard Bogartz – and  Student Government Association President Yevin Roh and student trustee Tina Kennedy.

The move, some on the panel said, could adversely affect the school’s budget and require a spate of more University funding.

“Football will corrupt our institution and it has already started,” said Page – a professor of art, architecture and art history – who added that the money allocated for improvements of McGuirk Alumni Stadium were not mentioned when the news of the program’s jump was first released. “Professional college athletics is a hungry beast and it keeps growing and growing.”

The cost of the move will increase the program’s spending budget, but, according to budget projections drawn up by Athletic Director John McCutcheon, it could generate a spike in revenue in the football budget through ticket sales, sponsorships and contributions, which could decrease University funding for the program. But many on the Faculty Senate have questioned whether such revenue will be produced.

And Sugerman, a lecturer of anthropology, also noted that while the football program’s budget will see a spike, some programs such as University Health Services have been cut back. This includes UHS’ recent cuts in hours and closure of its pharmacy.

 

“It seems a bit stingy to limit the hours [students] can visit them,” said Sugerman.

Bogartz, a professor of psychology, said that the collegiate version of the sport was the “exploitation of student gladiators.” He went on to speak about how many prestigious schools, such as the California Institute of Technology and Boston University, don’t have football programs.

The move, however, has not faced any concerns from students, according to Kennedy.

She said that it’s her understanding that many students are excited for the move – so long as “there is not an increase in student fees.”

There are other issues on-campus that students are concerned with, said Kennedy. They include the potential building of a new student union, a tobacco ban which is supposed to go into effect and the latest residential issues.

Also speaking from a student perspective was Roh, who said it his job to listen to students and gather their input.

“Democracy is a long process … and we listen to students,” said Roh.

And Roh also noted that the move did initially get the go-ahead from the University’s Athletic Council – which is composed of both students and staff members. The council unanimously passed a motion on the measure on Dec. 10, 2010.

One of the advocates for the program since its inception, Chancellor Robert Holub, also spoke on the matter at the meeting. Holub detailed the timeline of the events of the move for the members of the Senate, while also explaining how he thinks the move to the FBS could help create unity for the campus.

“We looked at what it would mean to move to FBS football and considered it carefully,” said Holub.

“We see this as consistent with our role as a flagship campus. We also see this with our goal to join the upper echelon of universities,” added Holub.

As Holub discussed the economic aspects of the move, he also spoke of the NCAA’s Title IX, which gives both men’s and women’s sports equal scholarship funds. Because the amount of scholarships offered for FBS football is higher, women’s teams at the University will receive an increase in scholarship funds, he said.

And according to Holub, less than 1 percent of the campus’ overall budget is related to football and will remain as such after the move to the MAC. Only 4 percent of the overall current capital improvement budget will be related, he said, to the renovations at the stadium – which include a new building and a new press box, among other things.

Improvements to the stadium will be done while the Minutemen compete at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro – the home to the New England Patriots, which is owned by Robert Kraft.

Holub also outlined, from his perspective, the process and development of the move to the MAC. After the move was approved by the Athletic Council, he noted that the UMass president and the school’s Board of Trustees were kept abreast on negotiations throughout the process. And, he said, that the move had been discussed at an open meeting of the trustees in February 2011.

On March 15, he said, he signed the FBS contract and, on April 19, he signed the contract with the Kraft family.

“The University is many things for many people,” said Holub.

“We have to look at this as a University. We have to try to look at our whole constituency and make the best decision we can,” added Holub.

But Secretary of the Faculty Senate Ernie May noted that the Athletic Council and the Faculty Senate’s Rules Committee saw the pro forma budgetary projection, which didn’t include new coaches’ salaries or new scholarships.

“What we passively approved was something that was very incomplete,” said May.

And, May said, the motion that members of the Senate ultimately passed yesterday was not a referendum on whether football is good or not for the school, but was rather a reflection of how the program – and the improvements to McGuirk Alumni Stadium – should be funded.

“The motion is not to say that football is bad, it’s just to say that the supporters of football should pay for it,” said May, who suggested that private donors should foot the costs for it.

The passed resolution states that UMass shouldn’t make a commitment to renovations nor to the expansion of McGuirk Alumni Stadium until fundraising has reached 80 percent of the estimated $30 million cost. The resolution, though, is advisory measure – as the Faculty Senate does not have the power to override the decision.

The move for the football team will begin this fall, as the Minutemen will begin their first season in the MAC against Indiana on Sept. 9, 2012.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected] William Perkins can be reached at [email protected]