Tackle the problems facing UMass football, don’t quit on our players

By William Keve

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(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

The struggles of the University of Massachusetts football program since entering the Football Bowl Subdivision shouldn’t be a factor in any decision regarding athletic funding. Instead, the debate should center on improving the program and confronting the legitimate issues of keeping athletes safe while moving toward cost effectiveness. These issues need to be addressed for our program to become a successful point of pride for our school. Cutting the football team wouldn’t solve the larger issues that plague the sport. Instead, UMass would waive the white flag and give up on a valuable opportunity to create a successful football program and improve the American cultural institution of football.

The results on the scoreboard should be irrelevant to any decision to fund the team. UMass shouldn’t send the message to athletes and to our community that losing should be a determinant of whether or not the school has a team. Our school’s athletes put in extraordinary effort to succeed academically while practicing in and preparing for games. They risk their physical and emotional wellbeing for our entertainment. Win or loss, I respect the effort they make each week. Our pride in UMass football can’t be so shallow as to hinge on wins or losses. Losing isn’t the issue. The problems facing football are medical and financial, and we need to confront those. Cutting the team won’t help us do that.

On the issue of concussions and other injuries, UMass could choose to cut its losses. A few dozen concussions a year would be prevented, but the outcomes for our athletes would be worse, not better. Without a program, the most talented players would transfer to other schools and face the same injury risks. Not only that, but players who transfer are required by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to sit a year on the sidelines before joining the team, which could jeopardize their athletic aspirations and would put a hurdle in the way of graduating.

UMass only ascended from FBS Division II in 2012. Five years isn’t enough time to judge the program’s ability to become a contender and attract significant benefits for the rest of the school and the community. Public schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Texas have built successful programs, but they weren’t powerhouses overnight. Those communities made significant investments and dealt with poor performance on the field for a long time. Eventually, the investment paid off and the football teams attract countless students and accolades to the schools. Programs of that nature might be decades away, but if UMass can make the leap to resemble even the University of Connecticut or the University of North Carolina on the field, the benefits of funding the football team would be more apparent.

Tailgates should also be considered. UMass students love tailgating, even if they don’t support the product on the field. Any student who shows up to party while advocating for ending football at UMass must deal with this contradiction.

Those who favor cutting the program want to benefit from the entertainment provided by the players, but they don’t want to pay for it or tackle the tough questions of injuries and the outcomes for players. UMass should fix the program, not quit just because we’re down 28-3.

William Keve is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]