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I-Team: UMass Football's Move To FBS Comes At High Cost

BOSTON (CBS) - Football at UMass Amherst has officially gone big time. Massachusetts' flagship state university is now playing its games in the NCAA's elite Football Bowl Subdivision, known as FBS.

UMass officials are bullish on the move up, but the I-Team finds it's coming at a high cost, and not everybody is cheering.

The UMass football team has just two wins in its first 27 games as a member of the FBS, but you'd hardly know it. Enthusiasm carried the day at a recent pep rally in downtown Boston and many students on the Western Massachusetts campus say they're excited about UMass football.

UMass football
UMass football at Gillette Stadium. (WBZ-TV)

"I can't get enough of it, everyone is always talking about it," said student Alex Elkins.

That spirit is shared by UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon. "We want to represent the institution on a level that's fitting of the flagship campus," McCutcheon said. "I think we've seen that in this transition already with the amount of exposure that we've generated."

In theory, that exposure will bring not only prestige, but also more revenue to help reduce the amount of money students and taxpayers pay to subsidize the UMass Athletic Department. Asked what it will take to make that happen, McCutcheon said: "Well, obviously on-field success will help a great deal."

But wins have been scarce so far. And instead of shrinking, the athletic subsidy is actually growing. Research by Indiana University shows the UMass Athletic Department had the eighth largest subsidy in the country last year.

And there is a report by an ad hoc committee of the UMass Faculty Senate which projects the subsidy for football alone will reach $6.3 million this year -- roughly double what it was before the team moved up to the FBS three years ago.

UMass officials say the move into big time college football is a work in progress, but at least one renowned expert says it's really more of a Hail Mary.

"If the goal is to financially break even, or to make money on football to finance the rest of the athletics department, I don't see that happening," said Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist, a leading sports economist.

"For taxpayers right now there's a subsidy for the football program from the university and the state of 6.3 million-plus per year that probably won't decrease. It might even increase."

UMass Football
UMass vs Colorado at Gillette Stadium. (WBZ-TV)

"There's also the possibility that in order to cover this deficit that the university will continue to increase student fees," Zimbalist said.

Another important source of revenue is ticket sales, but the team's most recent home game against Colorado at Gillette Stadium drew only 10,000 fans.

Asked if UMass should give up on the FBS and drop back down to the lower subdivision, Zimbalist said: "It seems to me to make sense, to look at that very seriously."

According to the school's original projections, the football program should have been covering its costs by this year, but that hasn't happened.

UMass officials insist they have no plans to raise student athletic fees, which have not been increased in five years.

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