The University of Massachusetts football program will be moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision (the FCS – formerly Division 1-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (the FB$ – formerly Div 1A) per an announcement that has been expected for a while but was just formally announced. The Minutemen will begin play in the MAC against various directional state schools in 2012 and compete for a chance to go to bowl games that did not exist twenty years ago and usually go extinct before the anniversary of their tenth game.
After seeing UConn (and, to a lesser extent South Florida and Central Florida) make a successful transition to the FCS after many doubted that would happen, it makes sense for UMass to give it a go after playing in three national championship games in the last decade.
In addition, starting in 2012 the team will begin playing all of its home games at Gillette Stadium.
Obviously this change in venues is in conjunction with moving up to the FBS, but playing at Gillette is very debatable. I suppose the thinking is move now and grow an audience, rather than growing an audience and then moving away for a bigger stadium.
The thing is, if UMass does ever become popular we’re already all way too familiar with the issues on Route One. In the meantime a small crowd will look even smaller in a large stadium. Seeing that type of picture on the screen at home does not draw fans simply because there are good seats available; instead it keeps them away because it portrays a boring atmosphere. For better or worse people want to go to popular events, and empty seats subconsciously whisper ‘stay away’.
Does UMass feel they need to depend on the larger potential number of fans that live ear Boston (and Providence)? I would suggest that college football proves that is not the case; many if not most big college football programs are not located in the most heavily populated markets.
In fact, I would suggest moving (or in this case, staying) away from a big city is a college football programs best chance of success in terms of creating a large fanbase. Sports fans in the big markets are already following local teams playing in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, etc.
Besides, whatever college football fans there are here that are loyal to a team they are not an alumnus of, they’re probably already following BC; they have a 25-year head start thanks to Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary.
In my opinion UMass is better off playing in western Mass. It would be similar to how so many people support the Green Bay Packers or Nebraska Cornhuskers; with little or no competition, your local sports fans will be sure to follow. Fifty percent of a small number is likely to be better than one percent of a bigger number.
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