A new article from the Hampshire Gazette's Matt Vatour has reported that UMass football is looking to split their home games between "new home" Gillette Stadium and McGuirk Alumni Stadium on-campus. The plan would be to play three games at Foxboro's Gillette Stadium and three at McGuirk, as long as they can maintain a six-game home slate.
This is a shift from what we have been told since the university announced the jump to FBS. Originally, the plan called for at least four games to be played at Gillette beginning in 2014, allowing the opportunity for one or two to be played at home. The school would schedule the homecoming game in Amherst, potentially a weeknight MAC game as well, and that would be that. But it looks like a combination of low attendance in Foxboro and an NCAA regulation may be pushing the university to reassess their scheduling formula.
It is no secret that UMass had some attendance trouble last year. They were only able to pull an average of 10,901 fans per home game last season, and will need to increase that to 15,000 soon or face penalties from the NCAA. In addition to that, a team must play at least 50% of their home games in a stadium in order for it to be considered a "home" stadium, rather than a neutral site. I'm no expert, but I assume this could have an impact on how revenue is split between the participating schools, and if UMass can find a way to keep most of the ticket sales, concessions, and the like, they should do it.
This move could also help sell more tickets. Fans hesitant to pay for an entire season ticket package, or to block off a high number of their fall Saturdays, may be more apt to spring for a half-season package that is based on where the team will play. And those in Western Massachusetts who can't commit to the long drive to Foxboro every week may be more likely to see multiple games at home in Amherst.
This really would be a win-win for fans in the state. The alumni based out east will still get their three games at Gillette, most assuredly those games pulling in big-name non-conference opponents. The fans back home on campus will also get football earlier and more often than expected, returning much of the tradition that the team left behind when they announced their move in early 2011. Now we only have to wait and see if Gillette Stadium and the Kraft family give their blessings to the plan.
[Correction: Our friend Bob McGovern over at Maroon Musket was in fact the first to report this scheduling change.]