As conference realignment turns and rages on, there is a clear pecking order in the Group of Five. At the bottom, is UMass.
UMass has been playing FBS football for a decade now, and during the time they’ve failed to ever win more than four games in a season. Add to that, UMass is geographically challenged, as one of two schools in the Northeast who are, realistically, still looking for a conference. In a world where conferences, especially G5 conferences, are considering travel costs and geography, this is a big negative.
They also, interestingly enough, started out in a conference. The MAC. However, the two sides had a falling out when the MAC wanted UMass to join for all sports. UMass, with basketball in the A-10, didn’t want to lower the quality of their conference. So, they went Independent. That stance, it’s important to point out, is still true today. UMass only wants to join a conference as a football only member. That’s another knock on UMass, as you need at least eight full-time members to maintain FBS status.
For UMass fans, this process requires patience. However, with an information blackout, teases from the administration about updates that never came, and no good news, there is a lot of growing panic for UMass fans and alumni. Eventually, this culminated in a ten minute video that UMass put out on Twitter, which essentially said, “Hey, we’re trying our best.”
That video didn’t give many details on how UMass actually was pitching itself, though. I wanted to know. Fans wanted to know. Through a freedom of information act request, we can see exactly what was inside the booklet UMass sent out to C-USA’s presidents and other officials.
The first page opens up by talking about academics at UMass. That includes being the 26th ranked public university, as well as having the top public business school in the Northeast (incredibly specific, I know). There is also a highlight of the $1.8 billion spent on construction on campus since 2007, which is designed to show growth. This then transitions into talking about UMass’ admissions statistics, before going into the campus dining, which the Princeton Review has rated the best in the country for five years in a row. What dining has to do with joining a new conference is anyone’s guess.
After this, the booklet gives UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswammy and Athletic Director Ryan Bamford’s respective biographies. The idea, here, is to highlight their accomplishments and imply that they’re only going to keep accomplishing great things at UMass.
At this point, the pitch finally gets into athletics. This includes a quick facts section going over the size of the athletic department. Importantly, it notes that the athletic department budget is over $40 million annually. By comparison, FIU lists their athletics budget as $27.1 million annually. They also highlight deals with Adidas and Learfield here, as well as their student athletes’ academic success. After that, they highlight the Twitter accounts engagement from UMass’ recent win over UConn.
At this point, they list the quick information on the school, team history, and the current roster of the football team. This all, frankly, feels like filler and is either repetitive or not necessary to convincing a conference to offer you an invitation.
From this point, UMass highlights upcoming games that are going to be held at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. They include:
- UConn (3x)
- Army (4x)
- Buffalo (2x)
- New Mexico State
- Liberty (3x)
- New Mexico
- Arkansas State
- Miami (OH)
- Eastern Michigan
- Bowling Green
- Northern Illinois
Outside of Missouri, let’s be honest, it’s a weird brag. Hosting a handful of Group of Five teams is fine. In fact, it’s to be expected. It just doesn’t sell the way USF’s, for instance, out of conference schedule might sell.
That leads into the next slide, which is probably the most important in the entire presentation. It’s a breakdown of the football budget. The total football budget listed is $10.5 million. It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but that’s approximately what Middle Tennessee football generates on an annual basis. There are seven places where UMass spends money within their football budget:
- Scholarships and Cost of Attendance=$4.1 million
- Staff Compensation=$2.45 million ($650,000 to the head coach, $1.8 million to the assistant coach pool. These numbers will need to go up, particularly with the news that UConn is paying their new head coach, Jim Mora $1.5-1.7 million annually)
- Team Travel=$1.2 million
- Game Guarantees=$1.1 million
- Recruiting and Marketing=$925 thousand (They must spend more here)
- Misc. Expenses=$650 thousand
- Equipment (Adidas)=$400 thousand
From there, the presentation brags about the deals between UMass and NESN and FloSports. It also points out that UMass is the third most valuable property for NESN, behind the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins.
After this, it points out major FBS victories, which were all during Mark Whipple’s second tenure. It also points to UMass players who have made their way to the NFL. The best known of these players today is likely Victor Cruz. Either way, the point is to brag about what success UMass has actually had in recent years. Again, trying to imply potential.
The pitch culminates with an overview of UMass’ football facilities, when they were built, and how much was spent on them. In total, that’s around $65 million in the last seven years invested in facilities. That includes $40 million on the football performance center, $4 million on a new press box, $6 million on other stadium enhancements, $500 thousand in various branding upgrades, and $14 million on a bubble indoor practice facility. Then, the pitch ends with some photos of McGuirk Alumni Stadium. All of this is designed to show that UMass invests in and has the facilities to compete going forward.
It’s still up in the air whether this pitch will work for UMass or not. It makes you wonder if the investments in football have been enough to overcome their reputation and geography during conference realignment.