“That money comes directly from the operating budget and could be used for hiring faculty or improving student services,’’ said Page, the architecture professor who sits on the ad hoc campus committee.
Page’s co-chair, finance professor Nelson Lacey, struck a moderate tone. He supported the move from the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA) to the FBS and Gillette as a way to reduce the football program’s annual deficit.
“It’s much too soon to make a call as to whether this was a good decision for the campus and university,’’ Lacey said.
McCutcheon said the school plans to address the dismal ticket sales by stepping up its outreach to alumni, expanding a successful group sales program, encouraging greater student involvement, and trying to win back fans in western Massachusetts who felt abandoned by the move.
The university has a five-year contract to play home games at Gillette. The deal calls for the Minutemen to play their full home schedules in Foxborough through next season, then play at least four games a year there through 2016.
With UMass planning to schedule at least one game a season on campus beginning in 2014, the long-term question remains: will persistent meager ticket sales at Gillette increase pressure on university leaders to fully return the program to Amherst in 2017?
“In terms of Gillette itself, the jury is still out because we haven’t completely mobilized the alumni yet,’’ Subbaswamy said. “We will retool and try to get more alumni engaged.’’
Student support also lagged, particularly after the opener at Gillette drew the largest crowd of the season (16,304).
“I think it is generally hard to get people to attend any event in its infancy,’’ student government president Ashkay Kapoor said. “While the attendance numbers were not as great as we had expected, they were still substantial and I am confident they will increase in the coming years as the football program becomes more established.’’
McCutcheon said the program’s financial strength will improve next year, when the Minutemen receive large sums to play road games against Wisconsin ($900,000) and Kansas State ($750,000).
He predicted the team’s performance also will progress as the school recruits higher-caliber players, drawn in part by a new training facility that will form the centerpiece of improvements to the campus stadium.
Meanwhile, campus factions will continue to debate the program’s future.
“There certainly will be a good bit of disagreement on campus because there was controversy in the first place about joining the FBS at all,’’ Subbaswamy said. “I fully expect a healthy debate, as is typical on our campus.’’
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.