Saturday, January 7, 2017

Football Is Forever: The Money-Losing Drug These Schools Can’t Quit

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t let go

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the University of Massachusetts Amherst, moving into the top echelon of college football looked a lot like going pro.

Robert Holub, then the university's chancellor, announced the change at the 68,000-seat Gillette Stadium, 90 miles east of campus. Just like the NFL’s New England Patriots, the Minutemen would play at Gillette, selling more tickets to make up for the increased costs of big-time football. “We promise national excellence and prominence to the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Holub said in April 2011.

Five years later, the school’s plan appears, at best, naively optimistic. The projected revenue has failed to materialize, and the athletic department now relies on more financial support from the university than it did before its football team joined the Football Bowl Subdivision. Fewer than 15,000 fans on average attended UMass home games this season. The Minutemen no longer belong to a conference and won’t play a single game at Gillette in 2017.

“I see nothing changing in terms of the financial viability, the attendance or the conference opportunity,” said Max Page, a UMass architecture professor who co-chaired the faculty senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on FBS Football in 2014. “It’s going to continue to drain money from the core mission of the university. And there’s no end in sight. How many years do we do this?”

Quite possibly forever. Once a school fields a top-division football team, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the commitment. UMass is one of 10 schools to join the FBS since 2009, and most are struggling financially. In theory, they have alternatives—drop down to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), known until 2006 as Division I-AA, or cut football entirely. Neither is a panacea, as the University of Idaho and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are learning.


No comments: