UMass Faculty Senate votes against sponsoring a motion supporting the discontinuation of the University’s football program

By Hannah Depin

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

University of Massachusetts faculty senators voted  to defeat a motion that would have encouraged UMass administrators to discontinue Division I football at the University on Thursday. The vote followed a heated discussion about the motion among faculty, administrators and students.

The motion, which was defeated by a vote of 26-14, would have urged Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, UMass system President Marty Meehan and the University’s Board of Trustees to discontinue Division I football, and move the program to a different division or discontinue it altogether.

The motion cited low attendance at games, research linking football to high rates of concussions and brain damage, the high cost of operating and marketing a Division I team, and recent hikes in UMass tuition as the primary concerns.

Supporters and opponents assembled themselves on either side of the room and were allowed to present to the audience for no more than three minutes.

Student Government Association President-elect Anthony Vitale criticized the motion for lack of transparency.

“I’ve heard a lot of keywords today like respect, transparency and communication, but this is the first time that the Student Government Association has heard about this [motion],” said Vitale, a sophomore studying economics. “Was this not going to be spoken to us?”

Vitale urged faculty and administrators to have open discussions that would lead to a more sustainable, long-term vision for the UMass football program.

Frank Hugus, a professor of German and Scandinavian studies at UMass, supported the motion.

“My concern here is that we are in over our heads,” said Hugus.

He added that other universities with Division I football programs had more resources and stronger football traditions that help them consistently win over UMass football.

“But what concerns me most is that I read the stories in the press about Division I football players who have been accused of rape and sexual assault,” said Hugus. “I don’t want to see that kind of behavior come to campus.”

Opponents of the motion quickly addressed Hugus’s comments about sexual assault.

“Senator Hugus compels me to respond,” said Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, adding that it was unfair for Hugus to associate UMass students with sexual assaults that occur on other campuses.

“I do not approve of this idea of guilt by association. Our student athletes do not deserve this,” said Subbaswamy, drawing applause from the audience.

Steven Brewer of the Biology Department steered the discussion to finances and resources, saying that the idea that Division I football would bring a “huge infusion of capital” to UMass was “overly optimistic.” He encouraged administrators to reconsider the program’s viability.

Professor Ernest May of the Department of Music & Dance echoed Brewer’s concerns about money. He said that the football team’s financial losses “translate directly into student debt.”

Susan Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences, explained that her concern for football players’ well-being outweighs her appreciation for the sport. She praised student athletes who come to UMass “and train their hearts out,” but stated that she worries about the long-term effects to their health.

“We’re asking these players to be regularly brutalized by people in the division that are two times their size,” she said. “It seems unconscionable to me to put our students in those situations on a chronic basis.”

UMass Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford dispelled the criticism that the football program puts athletes in harm’s way. He said that the health and safety of student athletes was of paramount importance.

Bamford, who has worked at UMass for one year, added that the football program will bring pride to current students, alumni, and the campus community as it grows.

“I came here because I see where this place is going, and I know that we can take it to great heights,” said Bamford.

He addressed the criticisms of low football game attendance, explaining that by the end of the 2017 season the administration would be poised to bring all home games back to the University’s McGuirk Stadium, after several years of hosting home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Football player and civil engineering major Matthew Sparks added that in addition to fostering community on campus and in the western Massachusetts region, the football program recruits underrepresented students to UMass and diversifies the campus.

Lisa Saunders, an associate economics professor, told Sparks and others not to disparage the efforts of other campus organizations to diversify UMass.

“Don’t pretend that football is the leading star,” she said. “I’m appalled that anyone would bring this issue up without the data to back it up.”

Hannah Depin can be reached at [email protected]