Dan: We at the UMBR were some of the biggest supporters of UMass’s jump to FBS football and have tried our best to stay optimistic over the past four seasons. After a 1-11 opening season in 2012, we said the team just needed time to adjust. After a 1-11 season in 2013 we said maybe we need a new coach. Things were looking up after a 4-9 2014 and 3-9 2015 season under Coach Whipple but we are back to square one and staring down the barrel of another abysmal season. With no conference who will want us and no sign of improvement on the football field, UMass Football is at a low point.
Phil: My two dreams for UMass Athletics before I graduated were for football to go FBS/1-A and for hoops to return to the Big Dance. Both of those goals were achieved (though fudged the timeline a bit by coming back for grad school). But the novelty of big time football is wearing off quickly. No doubt its been a disappointing season so far, especially after the obvious progress that was made under Coach Whipple over the two previous seasons.
Dan: After almost 5 seasons of FBS football and literally nothing to show for it UMass is at a crossroads. Do they continue to throw money and effort at a program that is never going to be successful? Do they sacrifice the future of a basketball program that is on the rise by accepting an invitation (if it ever comes) to an inferior conference?
Phil: “Nothing to show for it” is a harsh description, but not untrue. The good moments have been significantly overshadowed by the bad. Will this program ever be successful? That’s not something we can say for certain. I don’t think we can count on Boise State-like success in Amherst, but the Minutemen should at least be able to attain a .500 record every year in a competitive conference. The problem is, now that the Big 12 has decided not to expand, there are essentially no conference openings for football.
Dan: I understand the administration made the move to the FBS in order to raise the profile of UMass and put us in the same conversation as the great public schools in this country. Michigan, Cal, Wisconsin, Ohio State, to name a few, all are top ranked schools with competitive football programs. There is no reason why UMass would not want to emulate these universities.
Phil: In hindsight, UMass should have jumped to FBS after their national championship in 1998. Fan interest was at its highest, the athletics department was still high on the success of the basketball team, and numerous teams were making the move. The Minutemen would at least be in the same place as UConn right now if they did. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. The move in 2012 was made with good intentions, just a decade and a half too late.
Dan: While UMass is rising in the rankings in education (and food) every year, it is clear that UMass has no shot of competing with the rest of the top dogs on the football field. What UMass does have is an incredible basketball program that has a chance to be one of the best in the country. This year’s recruiting class is the best in a generation and Coach Kellogg has the experience to lead them to a Final Four. UMass should cut the football team and focus that energy, money, and commitment to basketball. Its time for UMass to make basketball great again!
Phil: And here’s where we split ways. I’m not the most patient of people, but I am of the firm belief that a college coach in particular needs a minimum of four years before any changes are considered. The reason for this is the new coach needs that much time to recruit a full team of his own players and allow players from previous administrations to graduate. (Charley Molnar was an exception, as he was clearly overwhelmed with the whole concept of head coaching.) So before anyone suggests cutting football entirely, let’s see how the next season, preferably two, go with Whip at the helm. We knew there would be growing pains in the independent era. It’s certainly a difficult situation. But it’s not time just yet to admit failure.
Dan: But what about tailgating? you might ask. It’s a tradition at UMass going back decades! How will UMass students be able to drink on Saturdays? As a former UMass student, I can assure you these kids are go-getters on that front and will come up with a new tradition for day drinking.
Phil: Can’t argue with that logic.
Phil: If things really don’t work out, the hardest thing to do will be to own up and say “We screwed up”. But if that’s the case, football should not be cut as a sport. Better to head back to FCS with our tails between our legs than kill the program. Like it or not, Idaho did the same thing a little while back, and will probably be better for it. They returned to a conference with their natural rivals like Montana and Montana State. UMass could do the same (remember UNH, URI, and UMaine?). Bet attendance wouldn’t even drop from where it is today. But I’m not ready to give up yet. Go UMass!
What do you think? Is it time to cut the program? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @theumbr