by John Furgele (Always the 228)
One thing I love about college football is that personally, I really don’t have a favorite team. In most games, I choose a side, but I am not a die-hard of one particular team. That makes Saturdays easy for me as I can sit back and watch relatively stress-free.
That said there are some teams I would like to see do well. I grew up in suburban Buffalo; so naturally, I would like to see the Buffalo Bulls succeed. They play in the MAC and for the most part, go relatively unnoticed by sports fans in WNY. Buffalo is a small city, a cozy city; a city than bonds behind its sports teams. In Buffalo, that means the Bills and the NHL Sabres. The Bulls play at 29,000 seat UB Stadium, a concrete jungle that is as far away from intimate as a stadium can get. It’s functional, but WNY sports fans will continue to support the pro teams regardless of how well the Bulls perform. There are some in WNY that feel that the University at Buffalo would be better served playing at the FCS level because fan support will never rise to the level that FBS teams need and require.
Another team I root for is the University at Albany. Since 2001, I have lived in the Albany area and it has always been my belief that one should support the local teams. You don’t have to be a die-hard, but you shouldn’t root against them unless you graduated from the school’s archrival.
I also root for Army for obvious reasons. Their players love the United States more than they love football. That’s commendable. In most games, they are undersized compared to their opponents. For some reason, they can’t beat Navy anymore (14 straight losses), but something tells me the streak will stop soon. I don’t root against Navy, but for some reason, I don’t always root for them. And, I always take Army in the Army-Navy game.
But, if there is one team that we all should root for it is the Massachusetts Minutemen or UMass as they are commonly called. Why?
For one, they are the team without a country…in this case a conference. Some of that is their doing, some of it is not. UMass is playing 2016 and the foreseeable future as an independent, and while BYU, Notre Dame and Army have chosen to be independents, UMass has not. They were members of the Mid American Conference but the MAC wanted UMass to be a member in all sports, something they didn’t want to do. And, you can’t blame them. They play basketball in the Atlantic 10, a very solid league that sends multiple teams to the NCAA tournament. The MAC is a decent conference, but it is a one-bid only league.
The MAC kicked out the Minutemen, so here they are, scrambling to find 12 opponents each and every year. One might think there would be benefits to being able to call your own shots, but the great thing about being in a conference is you get 8 or 9 automatics when it comes to your schedule. It is much easier to schedule three or four nonconference games than 12.
UMass is not only is conference-less, they also have a stadium quandary. When the Minutemen were one of the best FCS teams in the country, Alumni Stadium was more than satisfactory to play in. With 17,000 seats everybody knew that games against Villanova, Delaware and New Hampshire would draw well, but 17,000? No way. Now that they’re members of the FBS, there are requirements and having a 17,000 seater is not in compliance. As a result, UMass is playing three home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough with the other three in Amherst. That sounds okay, right? Wrong. The distance between Amherst and Foxborough is 93 miles and while die-hard fans might make the drive, how many students want to get on a bus for a 186 mile round-trip to see a team that continues to struggle? Students like to drink before games and often, they like to leave games early to start drinking again. Waiting to game’s end and then riding on a bus for 93 miles is more than a buzzkill.
Another reason? The faculty at UMass is against them. If it were up to them, the Minutemen would go back to the FCS or drop football altogether. How can you not root for this team? They have no conference, no one place to play and no support from the professors and the faculty senate. When I was young, I rooted for Northwestern because they had lost 34 straight games. My dad said I should pursue politics because I root for the underdogs. I think if my dad was alive today, he would be supportive of me rooting for UMass and would probably root for them as well.
The last and final reason to root for the Minutemen is their schedule. Because 12 games isn’t enough torture, UMass gets a 13th in 2016 thanks to playing at Hawaii. They opened at Florida, hosted Boston College (both losses) and even though there are few “easier touches,” by and large, it is a tough slate of games.
9/17: Florida International
9/24: Mississippi State
10/8: @Old Dominion
10/15: Louisiana Tech
10/22: @South Carolina
10/29: Wagner (FCS school)
UMass doesn’t even get their bye week until November 12 and by then the injuries will have piled up. The Minutemen are playing schools from the ACC, Sun Belt, SEC, American, Northeast, a fellow independent and a Mountain West team. As Jim MacKay used to say, that is spanning the globe to find a constant variety of teams.
Hopefully, there will come a day when things get sorted out and UMass will find a conference to play football in. Notre Dame doesn’t need a conference, Army and BYU are surviving without one, but conventional wisdom says that UMass would benefit from being on one. Last spring, the Sun Belt kicked out Idaho and New Mexico State effective after the 2017 season. Idaho decided to move down to the FCS and go back to the Big Sky conference while NMSU is still contemplating what to do.
I’m not sure what UMass will end up doing, but if you can’t root for the Minutemen then you really have no compassion as well as no heart.