Matt Vautour column: FBS football is finally here

Last modified: Friday, August 31, 2012

The announcement from the public address announcer never came.

I was sure the pregame music would stop abruptly and someone would call the Rentschler Field crowd to attention and call off Thursday's game between the Universities of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Surely UMass couldn't really have a Bowl Subdivision football team. Could it?

For decades UMass has talked about playing I-A/FBS football. It's been debated and discussed by a parade of chancellors, trustees, athletic directors and fans. UMass has hired consultants and formed committees. Former Chancellor John Lombardi even agreed to the upgrade on the condition that the athletic department could be turned into a self-sufficient nonprofit organization. It was a genius move politically because Lombardi could sound like he was saying yes even though he was too smart to believe it could actually work. And of course it didn't.

The hurdles of conference affiliation, stadium adequacy and cost were always too much to overcome.

It seemed like the Minutemen were forever destined to play I-AA/FCS football and the people dreaming of one day being at the same level again with former rivals Boston College and Connecticut were going to keep being disappointed.

But the starting lineups were announced, the anthem ran all the way to "the home of the brave" and nobody took the microphone to say "Sorry for the mix-up UMass, but tonight's game is canceled and you're actually playing Central Connecticut on Saturday."

Nope, this is actually happening. The kickoff happened and the Minutemen are playing FBS football.

It was almost too easy. Former Chancellor Robert Holub decided that UMass needed Bowl Subdivision football and quietly a lot of people went about making it happen. Deals with the Kraft family and Gillette Stadium, and the Mid-American Conference came together and in April 2011, the school announced that FBS football was not only possible, but a reality.

Fast forward 16 months and UMass actually played its first game as an FBS team. For the fans that clamored for the upgrade for decades, it feels a monumental accomplishment. But for the move to be a boon and not a boondoggle, Thursday needs to be the starting blocks not the finish line. UMass needs the team to win and garner interest and for fans to show up in Foxborough.

The product will be a little tougher to sell after Thursday's 37-0 loss to a UConn team that nobody is predicting to be in a BCS bowl. The UMass offense mustered just one first-half first down as former Minuteman coach and current UConn coordinator Don Brown had his defense regularly in the UMass backfield.

Only the most pie-in-the-sky optimists expected UMass to win Thursday or be good in 2012. But first-year coach Charley Molnar has some time to fix the football. Getting competitive in the FBS shouldn't take nearly as long as it did to upgrade to it.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at http://www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.