The University of Massachusetts unveiled its Football Performance Center this past week, the first step in returning the program to Amherst after two substandard and underperforming years at Gillette Stadium. The building is considered the centerpiece of the $35 million McGuirk Stadium renovation that began with the Minutemen announcement of reclassification out of the FCS three years ago.
The building will house the Minutemen football operations and locker room, including a state of the art sports medicine suite and strength and conditioning facility. There is a team auditorium and individual rooms for coaching purposes, and a new lobby and hall of fame dots the interior. The locker room itself is a sizeable expansion over the old McGuirk Stadium area built back in the 1960s.
While UMass remains under substantial criticism for its move to the FBS, one that's left the program getting summarily destroyed by both AQ and non-AQ programs from the old BCS system, this is the first step in the right direction regardless of what happens from here on out. They are still in the process of dropping new artificial FieldTurf as well as building the new press box and broadcast areas.
The new press box and television access areas allowed ESPN to schedule a televised game on ESPN2 later on this year in Amherst. The Minutemen will host Ball State in a mid-week MACtion contest under the lights in November.
This UMass program is one that's been floundering for the past two years. Charley Molnar's unfulfilled promises as head coach left the Minutemen in a sort of disarray not unlike what BC saw with the departure of Frank Spaziani. Bringing in a coach like Mark Whipple helps, but there's still substantial work left in order to build this program to respectability. Getting kicked out of the MAC doesn't help.
Still, opening a brand new facility will help improve the team's image, at least on the recruiting scale. Is this something that should have BC fans worried? Probably not. Under Steve Addazio, BC isn't recruiting against UMass. They're not battling for players, and I think the current Eagle staff is showing their propensity for selling the school on the recruiting trail. But it's something for the Minutemen to hold onto as they begin the process of going back to their real home.
In the grand scheme of the local college football radar, UMass is a long way from ever challenging BC in terms of money and market standing. That much can be assumed strictly by the numbers. But this is something of a foundation for the team. Opening the doors on the new facility is something that gives them some type of selling point, especially since the Gillette experiment went and is going so poorly. With Whipple at the reigns, there's a chance the Minutemen could formulate something respectable over time, especially since they coaching staff is well aware of what they've been tasked with fixing.
Any time something happens in the BC back yard, it's worth noting. If nothing else, there are still two FBS-schedule teams playing in Massachusetts, and they'll meet in less than two months.
Along the rest of the Minutemen newsy type things, hats off to Charley Molnar, who went from the Golden Dome to the Kibbie Dome in less than five years. A disciple of Brian Kelly, Molnar's helped Notre Dame post over 400 yards per game during the 2011 season. After being fired by UMass with two wins on his resume, he accepted a position as the wide receivers coach in Idaho. Ironically enough, that would make him a conference opponent of UMass if the Minutemen end up in the Sun Belt.