UMass, UConn FB struggling for survival

Big time college football has never been part of the culture in New England. Only three schools in the six state region--Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut--even have an FBS program.


Of that trio of Boston College, UConn and UMass, only BC is part of a Power 5 conference and the Eagles have not participated in a significant bowl game for 33 years.

UConn and UMass can still be considered fledgling FBS programs. UConn didn't make the conversion until 1999, UMass didn't make the move forward until 2013.

Ironically, both programs are run by coaches who had stints at the schools when they played at the 1-AA (FCS) level. UMass coach Mark Whipple won a 1-AA national championship at UMass in 1998. Randy Edsall was at UConn when the Huskies moved up to the FBS level and guided them to a BCS game in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.

This season both schools have stumbled from the start. UMass dropped to 0-6 on Saturday following a 58-50 loss to Ohio U.

UConn is now 1-3 after a 49-28 loss at SMU.

Both Edsall, who returned to Storrs this season, and Whipple, who has not been able to revive the Minutemen since he came back to Amherst four years ago, are admittedly frustrated with the slow starts. But both are committed to long term success.

The question that must be asked, however, is if that is a mutual feeling from the schools and their support base.

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Neither school has a real football tradition. It is not a stretch to say that if football were eliminated on both campuses, few people would notice or perhaps care. There would be no huge public vetting of emotion.

And it's New England, where leaf peeping--watching the leaves turn colors--is as much a fall tradition on weekends as tailgating.

Neither program is making money.

UMass is struggling for survival as an independent after an experiment in which the Minutemen were a part-time (football) member of the Mid-American Conference didn't work out.

UConn has tried to elevate itself to a Power 5 conference and been rejected each time. To protect football, the Huskies left a comfort zone in other sports in the Big East and is part of the American Athletic Conference, which became the football offshoot when the Big East imploded a few years ago.

The Huskie fans. used to rivalries against traditional opponents such as Providence, St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown, have not embraced East Carolina, SMU, Tulsa and UCF as new partners. There is no buzz during the winter anymore, even with the continued dominance of the UConn women's program.

Football has even less of a pull, especially with home games being played off campus in East Hartford. Add losing to the formula for failure. The Huskies have not had a winning season since Edsall left in 2010. Edsall replaced Bob Diaco, who was fired at the end of a short three year stint last season following a 3-9 record.

""There is a lot of work to be done to get things back to where they were,'' conceded Edsall, "and a lot of things are different now.''

What is different is that when Edsall left, UConn was part of a BCS conference in the Big East with big time rewards (the Fiesta Bowl) for success. That no longer is a guarantee.

The prospects of membership in a Power 5 conference are slim at best. While there remains a possibility of a return to the Big East in all other sport--a popular choice among the UConn fan base--the question of what do about football looms. AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is not inclined to accept UConn as a football only member.

UMass's situation is even more dire. Despite the best efforts of constructing a schedule as an independent by athletic director Ryan Bamford, the Minutemen are swimming against the Tide.

Whipple continues to preach optimism, but concedes UMass needs to find at least one win to plant the seeds of a winning culture. It hasn't come for six games and now the Minutemen must deal with a two week break in the schedule, which may be both helpful and harmful.

Dropping back to the FCS level in football is an option for both schools, but almost no one thinks that will work or receive any support.

The harsh reality could be simply a harsh reality. Both schools could drop football and funnel the resources into making their other sports better funded and more competitive.

At most places where major college football resides, it would be an unthinkable option.

At UConn and particularly at UMass it is now something to think about.[/membership]