Flash forward to a year from now.
UMass kickers will be confidently booming field goals toward the north end of McGuirk Alumni Stadium. There will no longer be a construction zone, and protective netting will prevent the pigskin from smacking the performance center's brand-new facade.
As the day gets long, shadows cast by the new press box will slowly meander over UMass' turf field.
Jump ahead a few weeks, and thousands of fans from Boston College and the University of Massachusetts have descended upon the top football facility in New England for a late-summer gridiron matchup. The Gillette Stadium parking lot is fill with football sounds. Colleagues argue football with mouths full of pulled pork. Young college men crack wise and pour cheap beers.
A month or so later, the scene changes dramatically. As a rural New England weekday afternoon fades to a chilly fall evening, cars line up outside McGuirk Alumni Stadium. There is an extra something in the air. As the Power and Class practice “Fight Mass” in the parking lot, wires are unloaded from an ESPN truck.
The nationally televised mid-week affair between UMass and a Mid-American Conference foe moves the needle in Amherst. Locals are happy to have their team at arm's length, and students enjoy being part of an on-campus event.
Two stadiums, worlds apart, and the UMass football team seems to have the best of both.
Multiple outlets have recently reported that the Minutemen will do a three-and-three split between McGuirk and Gillette. The articles confirm an April Maroon Musket report where multiple sources told us about the potential arrangement.
While the new setup has received a mostly positive reception, one columnist went out of his way to say that this was “not the plan,” that an FBS move was expected but traveling to Gillette was not, and that McGuirk was supposed to be a “quality practice facility.”
For those keeping track, this is from the same columnist who reported that UMass was spending $20 million on the McGuirk upgrades, part of which would be the addition of 8,000 seats – neither of which are true. Playing connect-the-logic, that means Northern Illinois, the defending MAC champions and Orange Bowl participants, play in one heck of a practice facility over at Husky Stadium (24,000).
Let's forget all of that. Let's talk about what's really going on.
With the Gillette/McGuirk setup, UMass will be able to draw big-name opponents while keeping its on-campus crowd engaged with quality conference games. Teams like Colorado (2014), Boston College (2014), Temple (2014) and Vanderbilt (2018) will play out east in a bigger venue, while MAC opponents will head to Amherst.
As part of this arrangement, mid-week games will be on campus, and a few of those will likely be seen on ESPN. If history has taught us anything, students show up when they know television crews are on campus (See: Every ESPN game at the Mullins Center).
The seasoned Western Massachusetts fan will be back, too. Maybe a few feel abandoned, but those who followed the bouncing ball and acknowledged the reality of the situation understood that in order to move up, the Minutemen needed to move out for a few years.
There is little doubt that UMass' first year at Gillette went much worse than people anticipated. It was likely a combination of things, namely: 1) A quick upgrade, 2) a bad team, 3) a failed marketing ploy, and 4) a lack of marquee opponents. If the team improves, and UMass athletics is able to bring in bigger names, the new arrangement at Gillette can be a boon for both the arena and the school.
If the wins start coming, and the cameras show up at McGuirk, the three games in Amherst will be better than the days when UMass faced local teams. You know, those teams who either stepped away from college football or didn't have to resources – or a Gillette-like opportunity – to grow their programs.
The UMass football team is heading back home, and while it was gone, the school added another wing and spruced the place up a bit. While having three games at home may have not been in the original plans, it was never not the plan, and both the university and the Kraft family had to have known of the possibility.
UMass will have to figure out how to make the Gillette/McGuirk situation work from a marketing and ticket-sales perspective, but that's a conversation for another day.
Right now the school is in the midst of making a move that will boost the future viability of the program, while increasing its visibility across the state.
But let's rewind again, and settle back down into the here and now. A steel skeleton stands just outside the north end zone, and stage one of the press box demolition is coming together. Meanwhile, a second-year FBS team is practicing on a quality, construction-zone practice field.
Next year, they'll call it home.
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