Football program a hard sell for UMass students

By Stephen Sellner

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Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar has done plenty of endorsing of the Minutemen’s new Football Bowl Subdivision status since taking over the program last December.

He’s reached out to alumni and the greater New England area to put UMass on the map as the premier college football team in the region.

But Molnar might have a problem selling his FBS Minutemen product to its closest fans: the University’s student body.

UMass will play all of its home games at Gillette Stadium, which is approximately a two-hour drive from the Amherst campus. The University has offered to bus students to every home game for  $10 and participate in a school-sponsored, in-stadium tailgate party.

With games on Saturday afternoons, the prospect for students to take the voyage to Foxboro is suspect. Throw in a $10 charge and it’s almost nonexistent.

Saturday afternoons are used as a cool-down lap from the Friday night festivities. They’re a cherished time frame that students can lounge and get their acts together and, for some, an opportunity to knock off some of their weekend homework assignments before going out again on Saturday night.

Schools that have top football programs like Alabama, Southern California and Louisiana State don’t have this problem because football games offer a chance to show school spirit and tailgate at the same time.

With an exciting team comes an exciting crowd. With strong, supportive student sections, these premier football schools have the luxury of homefield advantage that fuels its players to perform their best in front of their biggest supporters.

But UMass students don’t have that luxury quite yet. Their team will go through plenty of growing pains in its first FBS season, seen already in its 37-0 loss to Connecticut on Aug. 30.

For now, traveling two hours to root on the Minutemen isn’t exactly the best way for students to spend their Saturday afternoons.

Even when the Minutemen played on campus, students were reluctant to walk into McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

This was the scene outside of McGuirk last year: students filled the fields in large packs to tailgate before the game. Wherever you turned, you saw alcohol, barbeques and dizzy bats.

But what you didn’t see was students walking into the stadium.

Once game time rolled around, the crowd dissipated away from the stadium instead of into it.

The students turned down a short, easy walk into the stadium to root on their team. Does the University expect students to take the two-hour bus ride to see them now?

At least when games were at McGuirk, students could leave if the game was a blowout. Nowadays, students that take the bus will have to sit through the lopsided affair until it ends. The buses do not depart from Gillette until a half-hour after the UMass marching band concludes its postgame performance.

To ask students to willingly take nine or 10 hours out of their Saturday’s to watch the Minutemen is less than realistic. It’s even more unrealistic after their 37-0 fiasco at UConn.

While it’s to be expected that UMass will struggle this year since it was picked to finish last in the East Division of the Mid American Conference’s preseason poll, students will want to see more out of their squad before they venture out to Gillette.

Students will want to see a competitive team before they can make the hike to Foxboro.

As Molnar and the Minutemen become more established in the FBS and MAC, UMass should see more wins and more fans showing up. After all, a strong sports program brings students and alumni together to take pride in their team and school in the tradition of college athletics.

In the future, campus might be buzzing with students planning out how they want to get to Gillette to catch the Minutemen play.

But for now, it’s an awfully hard sell for Molnar to lure students out to Gillette this season.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.