Last week, news came from Amherst that UMass moved two games originally scheduled for the friendly confines of Gillette to cozy Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
While this may not seem like big news, the move is a plus for the Minutemen; UMass had been a tenant of Gillette ever since their move to FBS in 2012.
After playing their full home slate at Gillette in 2012-2013, the Minutemen played three games per year from 2014-2016, and a single game in 2018.
While playing at Gillette helped attract marquee opponents, the Minutemen struggled with attendance throughout their stay. In 21 games at Gillette, UMass has averaged 14,141 fans per game, with the highest attendance coming versus Boston College when 30,479 watched the Bay State Showdown in 2014 and the lowest coming in 2015 when only 6,228 fans thought it a good idea to see Akron in Foxboro.
Opponents of this move may argue that cutting ties with Gillette will scare awabig-timeme opponents, but as an independent, UMass should be focusing on securing opponents in general.
It’s not like Power Five teams are eager to play a game at Gillette. As of this article, UMass only has two home games scheduled with Power Five schools, Boston College in 2021 and Missouri in 2024.
Even when UMass was able to get Power Fives to come to Foxboro, they failed to fill seats. Below are the attendance figures for every Power Five game (plus BYU last year) at Gillette since UMass joined FBS:
- Indiana (2012) : 16,304
- Vanderbilt( 2013): 16,419
- Boston College (2014): 30,479
- Colorado (2014): 10,227
- Boston College (2016): 25,112
- Mississippi State (2016): 13,074
- BYU (2018): 14,082
Seven games against Power 5 teams with an average attendance of 17,956 per game. All but, the two Boston College games could have been played at McGuirk, which seats 17,000, and those five games only averaged 14,021 per game.
Bringing attractive opponents was a good idea on paper, but had little practicality when the “home team” has to travel over 90 minutes. UMass depended on Eastern Massachusetts alumni that never showed out for the school, instead of the students and their local fan base.
Having programs like BYU and Missouri come to McGuirk instead of Gillette gives the program, and Western Massachusetts on a whole, a big-time football feel its been lacking.
The Minutemen will no longer operate in the shadow of Boston College, UConn, and even Harvard. A full home slate at McGuirk is good momentum for a fan base headed in a new direction under young first-year coach Walt Bell.
Even though the Gillette games did have their flaws, I am a sucker for neutral site games, and I do believe that future UMass games at Gillette are feasible under certain circumstances.
The most logical situation is playing the Battle of the Bay State against Boston College there. As mentioned earlier, UMass does have a home game versus the Eagles in 2021.
Making this the only game at Gillette will give the rivalry a more special, almost bowl-like atmosphere. Outside of the Ivy League, New England lacks intense rivalries.
Making the Battle of the Bay State a Gillette tradition can make it the most prominent FBS rivalry in the region.
The lack of Gillette games in the foreseeable future benefits the program on so many levels. And while it may hurt some to bid “ave” to the “House that Brady Built”, the time has been long overdue.