The UMass Minutemen currently play their home contests at Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots. What has been a particularly warm home for the Patriots has been cavernous for their NCAA counterpart and if that doesn't turn around soon, the Minutemen could face a tough road moving forward.
The NCAA announced late last week that if the Minutemen couldn't reach the 15,000 average attendance number that was laid out for them as part of their transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the program could face a 10-year probationary period that would result with UMass being forced to go through the transition process all over again.
15,000 fans doesn't sound like a lot, especially when you consider that UMass plays in a 60,000 seat NFL stadium that can be easily accessed from three of New England's biggest cities (Boston, Worcester, and Providence). But the Minutemen only averaged 10,901 fans per home contest last year thanks to the fate-sealing combination of a bad team and weak marketing campaign in the greater Boston area - the latter of which has been turned around.
Here is what NCAA spokeswoman Emily Potter told Maroon Musket's Bob McGovern.
Should UMass not have an actual attendance average of 15,000 or more during the 2013 period, the NCAA will give the university notice that it is on probation for 10 years. If, during the 10-year span, an institution misses the attendance requirement during a rolling, two-year cycle, it "could become restricted members" under NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11.2., according to Potter.
John Sinnett, UMass' Director of Media Relations, had this to say.
An institution in a restricted membership is not eligible for postseason football and will be given one year to meet the requirement. If the mark isn't hit during the year of restricted membership, the program can be reclassified and would be forced to go back through the transition process again, according to Sinnett.
All in all, the postseason ban has no bearing on the immediate future of UMass football since the program likely won't be competing for a bowl bid for at least another three-to-five years. But the possibility of facing the reclassification process again should be enough of a push for UMass' extensive alumni base to step up to the plate and start coercing their friends and family out of the house on Saturdays to support the Minutemen.
There will likely be an uptick in average attendance from 2014-16 when UMass will bring several home games back to Amherst and McGurik Alumni Stadium. McGuirk has a listed capacity of 17,000 fans and could probably add to that with temporary bleachers and standing room. With the possibility of mid-week ESPN games on those dates during those years, UMass should be able to hit that average attendance number without much issue.
But above all, the Minutemen have to compete. That's what Charley Molnar and his staff are working on and once they get that ball rolling everything else will fall into place.