Colleges

DAN SHAUGHNESSY

UMass’s football team, and its brand, are taking a beating

Massachusetts players enter the field during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26,, 2019, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
jessica hill
The Minutemen have run headlong into a series of blowout losses this season.

UMass’s football program is an embarrassment. This is not the fault of the student-athletes. It is the fault of the UMass administration and the athletic department. The players are not being put in a position to succeed, and that’s on the grownups and the citizens of Massachusetts who are letting this happen.

Simply put, the Minutemen should not be playing big-time college football. They lose by whopping scores. UMass is 1-9. Here are the scores of the Minutemen’s last five games:

Florida International 44, UMass 0.

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Louisiana Tech 69, UMass 21.

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UConn 56, UMass 35.

Liberty 63, UMass 21.

Army 63, UMass 7.

The Minutemen are playing at Northwestern this weekend. They have been established as 39-point underdogs.

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This is not as simple as saying they are having a bad year. This is systemic. It is a pattern. It is the residue of a bad decision to go “big time” starting in 2012 and the Minutemen have been paying almost every autumn Saturday since. UMass is 19-75 since moving up to the top division. The Minutemen are giving up more than 53 points per game this season.

What are we doing, people?

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford told the Herald Sunday that there was “no discussion” of abandoning the Football Bowl Subdivision, stating, “We’re 100 percent committed to staying in the Football Bowl Subdivision. We’ve proven we can win games at this level. We’ve just had to take a step back in order to take a step forward.’’

Swell. I called UMass president Marty Meehan to get his take on this disaster. Meehan was not president of the school when the ill-fated decision was made to move up starting in 2012. Meehan is a local guy, a football fan, and a reasonable person.

He knew it was me calling. Probably that’s why he didn’t pick up until the fifth ring.

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When Meehan finally answered, he blurted, “This has to be a call about the Army football game,’’ before offering a hello or any small talk.

More than that, I told him. This is about the whole stinking program. What are you guys doing out there?

“These decisions are made on the campus,’’ he started, a nifty deflection. “The campus made a decision to upgrade in terms of football. Obviously there’s a concern about what it means in terms of the brand. You don’t want to go into a game and not only lose the way we are losing, but . . .

“I was at the Army game and physically it takes a toll on the kids that are on our football team. The program made a decision to hire a new coach [Walt Bell]. Obviously recruiting is a big factor. In colleges and universities in New England, recruiting is always a big challenge.’’

I explained that I went to Holy Cross. A couple of years ago, someone decided it would be a good idea for the Crusaders to renew their 20th-century football rivalry with Boston College. So HC met BC in 2018, and the carnage was significant.

The tailgating was fun. The social stuff was fun. But the game was abysmal.

Holy Cross players had to be helped off the field after the first two plays of the game. It was 21-0 after eight minutes and 34-0 at halftime. The final was 62-14, but it could have been 100-0 if BC didn’t take its foot off the gas.

Holy Cross should not be playing Boston College in football. Just as UMass should not be playing Northwestern, Auburn, Georgia, and Notre Dame.

UMass does this for bags of cash that help but don’t come close to offsetting the enormous cost of the money-pit program.

The Minutemen will take home $1.2 million from Northwestern this weekend. In 2020, it’ll be $1.9 million to play at Auburn. In 2021, it’s Pitt ($1.3 million) and Florida State ($1.5 million). In 2024, the Minutemen will bring home $1.9 million to get crushed at Georgia.

Is this a good idea? Taking millions to be somebody’s Tomato Can?

“Well, the campus made a commitment to it,’’ Meehan answered half-heartedly.

Then he pivoted, sounding like a reasonable man with some doubts about the wisdom of this path.

“Obviously, long term, there are a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made,” he said. “I watched the Army game from the sideline, specifically to get a feel for what was happening on the field. And we were just totally outmatched, physically.

“Financially, the program does better because you go to Georgia and you get that money. You go to Notre Dame and you get $1.2 million. But I don’t think you decide to play in a football conference because of what you get for away games.’’

When the Globe did a Page 1 story on this issue four years ago, Meehan issued a statement in which he concluded, “I know many people are working hard to build the football program in Amherst, and I am sure this team effort will bear fruit in the years ahead.’’

Now he seems more concerned about the damage being done to the school’s reputation.

“I don’t like to be 40-point underdogs and obviously it’s not good for the brand,’’ Meehan said. “The question is, can this program be turned around? We were 38½-point underdogs at West Point.

“It was great to be at West Point and it’s obviously a great environment. Especially on Veterans Day weekend. It was a very moving experience before the game. And then the game started . . . ”

Are you guys exploring the idea of killing the program altogether, I wondered?

“I think the athletic director and the chancellor evaluate all of their programs every year,” said Meehan. “Ultimately the decision will be made on the campus.’’

So eliminating football is on the table?

“We have a football team at Amherst and they’re playing at some very prestigious places around the country and I want to be as supportive as I can,’’ said Meehan. “We have a very good athletic director at UMass-Amherst. I think the athletic director does a good job and I think all colleges and universities are evaluating their programs and I think there will continue to be an evaluation.

“It’s never a good situation to lose by the margins that we are losing by. It’s never a good situation to be 40-point underdogs.

“The University of Massachusetts-Amherst is now the 24th-ranked public university in America. Branding is obviously important. Reputation for excellence is important in everything we do.’’

So stop the madness. Stop pretending to play big-time football. You are not competing. It is not good for UMass.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.