In the latest example of campus divisions over UMass moving to the elite ranks of college football, the school’s Faculty Senate on Thursday narrowly rebuffed an effort to kill the multimillion-dollar upgrade.
The vote was 19-18, with one abstention, against calling on university leaders to immediately consider developing a plan to withdraw from the elite Football Bowl Subdivision. The move would have failed even if the lone abstainer, Max Page, a leading critic of the upgrade, were not absent to attend a conference in China.
Before a vigorous debate, chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy vowed to stand by the initiative while he carefully monitors its progress. The university is one year into a five-year contract to play its home games at Gillette Stadium as part of its shift from the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision.
“People are divided, there’s no question about it,’’ said Ernest May, head of the Faculty Senate. “I think the reason it didn’t pass was because they wanted to give [Subbaswamy] some breathing room.’’
A university spokesman expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the vote, although it was largely symbolic because the Faculty Senate has no direct involvement in decisions regarding athletics. Nor has anyone polled the 1,400-member UMass faculty to gauge how well they were represented by the 37 members who voted on the issue.
In its FBS debut last fall, UMass went 1-11, drawing smaller crowds (an average of about 10,900) to Gillette Stadium than the Minutemen attracted the previous year when they played before an average of about 13,000 in the lower division at McGuirk Stadium on campus.
May said the vote gives school leaders “more time to continue the experiment and see if they can’t manufacture a little more enthusiasm for it.’’
Subbaswamy inherited the upgrade last summer when he succeeded Robert Holub, who spearheaded the move. Subbaswamy has promised to protect the school’s financial interests even as football spending has more than doubled since 2010 to more than $8 million last season, according to a report by the Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on FBS Football.
A number of football backers argued it was premature to condemn the upgrade, while opponents expressed urgency in killing it to prevent such scheduled projects as $34 million in improvements to the campus stadium.