No one responsible for investing millions of public dollars to upgrade the University of Massachusetts Amherst football program and move the team’s home games to Gillette Stadium saw this coming. When the Minutemen played their first homecoming game in Foxborough — a 24-0 loss in October to Bowling Green — they drew a crowd of only 10,846 to the 68,756-seat stadium.
The sea of empty seats was especially stunning because the Minutemen had been accustomed to nearly packing their campus stadium for homecoming games. Over the previous five years, they had played before average crowds of 13,937 at the 17,000-seat McGuirk Alumni Stadium, on the UMass Amherst campus.
The program’s precipitous attendance drop at Gillette — never more evident than when the Minutemen completed their 1-11 debut in the elite Football Bowl Subdivision by losing to Central Michigan before a paltry 6,385 — has driven up the cost of the school’s effort to enter the ranks of big-time college football and intensified concerns about the upgrade’s prospects for success.
With students and taxpayers picking up the tab for at least some of the cost overruns, the lower-than-expected attendance has prompted some to wonder whether UMass should reconsider its plan to transform the Minutemen into a national football program.
“I think we certainly need to get out of the FBS experiment,’’ said Max Page, an architecture professor who co-chairs a campus committee examining the cost. “There is a feeling of urgency because of the disastrous attendance this year, which contributed to higher costs than we expected. They already were bad enough.’’
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