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UMass Faculty Senate fails to seek football upgrade reversal

University of Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn throws a pass against Buffalo on Nov. 17 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. A motion urging UMass administrators to consider reversing the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision failed by one vote at a Faculty Senate meeting Thursday.  (AP File Photo)

University of Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn throws a pass against Buffalo on Nov. 17 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. A motion urging UMass administrators to consider reversing the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision failed by one vote at a Faculty Senate meeting Thursday. (AP File Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

At the Faculty Senate’s meeting Thursday, a motion to have the administration study and bring a plan for how to withdraw from the Football Bowl Subdivision was rejected on a 19-18 vote, with one abstention.

Prior to the vote, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy told the professors he is interested in the success of the football program and is carefully monitoring how well the transition is going.

Though some faculty members referred to the move — a decision that was made by Subbaswamy’s predecessor Robert Holub — as an experiment, Subbaswamy said that was the wrong description.

It was “never presented as a one-year experiment. It simply couldn’t be,” he said.

The motion was put on the agenda after an interim report presented by the Ad Hoc Committee on FBS Football in December showed the university has more than doubled its spending on the program over the past two years. According to the report, the university spent $8.22 million on the upgraded program in 2012, compared to $3.16 million on football in 2010.

The Minutemen began playing in the Mid American Conference in the fall, with the team struggling to a 1-11 record and attendance at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough falling below expectations.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the vote means that Subbaswamy and President Robert Caret have no matter on which to act.

Blaguszewski pointed out that Subbaswamy has repeatedly said he is fully committed to making the program a success.

Frank Hugus, a professor in the department of languages, literature and culture, said the motion was not one designed to abolish football, but rather to begin a comprehensive study.

“This is a motion to reconsider a hastily made decision by a former chancellor,” Hugus said.

Paul Wennik, a member of the Friends of UMass Football, a decade-old organization that raises money to support the program, said he worried this action could undermine its future.

“We feel that the UMass football program and UMass athletics, in general, have been a positive force in garnering alumni support as well as creating positive media coverage for the entire university,” Wennik said.

He said football also enhances the diversity of the student body and promotes gender equity through scholarships for female athletes.

Diego Fellows, a UMass sophomore, told the Faculty Senate that many students are taking more pride in the university because of the upgraded football program. He said many distinguished universities, including those that have become part of the prestigious American Association of Universities, have top-tier football programs.

“They all started somewhere,” Fellows said.

While students are likely split on the idea of going to Foxborough to see the games, Fellows said, the upgraded program still will be a positive move overall.

Susan Whitbourne, a professor of psychology, said she was conflicted. While she is a sports and fitness enthusiast, Whitbourne said she worries about the head injuries football players suffer and that having the games off-campus is the antithesis of what should be the experience.

“They’re not home games. They’re games 2½ hours away,” Whitbourne said.

Richard Bogartz, a professor of psychology, said he supported the motion because it was a step toward eliminating football, a sport he described as promoting violence and entailing physical damage.

“I favor shutting down the whole enterprise,” Bogartz said.

While the Faculty Senate subcommittee’s report calculated institutional support for the program and other related costs in the current budget year against two years ago, when the Minutemen were playing in the Football Championship Subdivision, there was little information about how wins and losses affect the reputation of UMass among alumni and students, and the value of playing home games at Gillette.

English professor Joseph Bartolomeo said he could not support calling on Subbaswamy to move toward withdrawing from FBS football without more information.

But several faculty members have said cuts to academic programs are reason enough to be concerned about the drain caused by athletics.

Randall Phillis, a professor of biology, said it was obvious money is being diverted from academics to athletics.

But Wennik said it was too soon to say this after only one season.

“We feel that it is premature to judge the results of FBS competition after one year and that the UMass football program is about much more than one year of finances,” Wennik said.

Michael Sugerman, a professor of anthropology, said the time to act was now, as games are being scheduled for future seasons and the $34.5 million project to improve McGuirk Alumni Stadium is about to start.

“At what point do we keep on sinking money into an experiment where we don’t know if it’s succeeded?” Sugerman said.

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