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UMass Faculty Senate seeks to place restriction on football stadium plan
Although the University of Massachusetts is already moving ahead to upgrade its football program, faculty leaders continue to question the merits of the move and on Thursday took a stand against using public money to renovate McGuirk Stadium.
In a resolution approved at the end of a lengthy panel discussion that included a speech by Chancellor Robert C. Holub, the Faculty Senate called for the university to halt plans to renovate or expand McGuirk until it has raised 80 percent of the estimated $30 million project through private donations.
Most of the discussion, however, focused on the merits of moving UMass from the Championship Subdivision to the Bowl Subdivision of Division I football.
The upgrade calls for UMass to join the Mid-American Conference and play most of its home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, home of the New England Patriots. Some games may still be played at McGuirk, though not until 2014, and officials have said the renovations are essential to the football program’s promotion.
Several faculty members argued against the move, calling football a money pit. They also questioned the process by which the administration made the decision and called on officials to reconsider the move.
“This move to big-time college football was not a ‘campus decision,’ as some have called it,” said Max Page, a professor of architecture and history. “It was a decision largely made by a departing president, a departing chancellor and a departing chair of the board of trustees.”
In defending the move, Holub said the plan was vetted along the way, including by the Faculty Senate Rules Committee and many other bodies.
“This was something that was not kept secret,” Holub said. “The impression that I got from that discussion was that there was enthusiasm for the decision.”
Student trustee Christina Kennedy, a member of Thursday’s panel, said she heard little student opposition to the football issue.
“We are excited to see a new stadium, and a move to FBS will hopefully create this behavior of unity and community spirit, as long as there is not an increase in student fees,” she said. “There have been no concerns brought to us by the students.”
Holub reiterated earlier statements that upgrading the football program is consistent with the university’s aspirations of joining the “upper echelon” of national public research institutions.
“All flagship public institutions that are in the AAU (Association of American Universities) play Division I football,” he said. “That’s just a fact. There isn’t a causation there, but that’s a fact.”
The chancellor said the upgrade will increase UMass’ profile and exposure, especially in the eastern part of the state, home to many current students and alumni. He said football is only one small part of a larger strategy to get Amherst recognized as the flagship campus of the state.
The resolution, as Faculty Senate secretary Ernest May noted just before it passed by a 31-10 vote, has nothing to do with the merits of upgrading the football program.
“We’re just saying that the supporters of football should pony up the money to pay for the cost of the football,” he said. “That seems reasonable.”
The resolution questions whether the university will be able to reduce the amount of the annual subsidy that the campus pays for the support of intercollegiate sports - one of the goals in the moving the football program up to FBS.
That subsidy is $19 million this fiscal year, with 58 percent coming from the campus’s operating budget and the balance through student athletic fees. Administrators have said the subsidy will be reduced within a decade, but won’t be eliminated. Holub said the football move makes financial sense in this regard.
“Our object was never to make a profit out of football … but what we’re aiming to do is to reduce the subsidy to intercollegiate athletics that we currently have,” he said. “And we have good reason to think that will occur.”
The McGuirk renovations, coupled with plans for a new practice facility for basketball, might hinder the campus’s ability to reduce the subsidy because of the need to meet debt service payments, the resolution states. That, in turn, would have a direct impact on the entire campus community and come at a time when state support is declining and student fees are on the rise.
The university intends to raise funds to cover part of the cost of the renovations, which will eventually reduce the yearly cost of the debt service.
In a lengthy discussion Thursday, several faculty members noted that the university will actually see an increase in spending on football in the coming years, a fact they said administrators knew but did not discuss when they announced the upgrade to great fanfare last spring.
Among the expenditures are $1.8 million to pay the debt on renovations to McGuirk; $1.075 million to buy out the contracts of the recently fired coaching staff and pay “many hundreds of thousands” more on salaries for new, FBS-level coaches; tens of thousands in additional scholarships each year under new NCAA regulations; and an unknown amount to hire an advertising firm to promote football.
“What we tacitly approved was something that was very incomplete,” May said. “Once you add in those costs, it changes the outcome completely.”
Holub conceded that the move would come at a cost, but noted that it also would produce more revenues and help meet the overall goal of reducing the subsidy the campus gives to the athletic department.
The chancellor also noted that contracts were already signed with the Mid-American Conference and to use Gillette Stadium.
“We are not in the phase right now of debating this,” he said. “We are in the phase of implementation. … I’m asking you to assist us with implementation because we can’t do this implementation on our own. We can only do it if we have campus support on this.”
By CHAD CAIN, Daily Hampshire Gazette