This past weekend, UNH played the first-ever college football game at the Patriot's Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. UNH defeated the University of Massachusetts 39-13 in front of the largest-ever CAA regular-season crowd, which topped 32,800. It was pretty easy to see that the majority of those fans were UNH fans, but we'll come back to that later. I am not going to talk about the game though, but more of the experience for the fans.
Every single person I have talked to, young and old, had an absolute blast at the game. Although, in all fairness I have not talked to any UMass fans, so I cannot speak on their behalf. I mean, as fun as the tailgating was, most of their fans were long gone before the Minutemen put any points on the scoreboard. I think this was an awesome chance for two relatively small football schools to experience a taste of what big-time college football is all about. Sure, the crowd was about a third or less of that for Penn State, Michigan or Florida games – or any major FBS team for that matter – but it more than doubled any UNH home game in recent memory.
The tailgating was pretty awesome, and it was great to see everybody having fun. I saw many UNH and UMass groups tailgating together in harmony. I'm sure that there may have been a few bad apples out there, but for the most part everyone seemed pretty friendly. Except, of course for the kids we caught trying to steal our grill after the game. Their excuse was perfect, "It was on fire, and I was trying to put it out." Really? Because there weren't any coals in it, and it was cold.
It is safe to say that UNH had the larger crowd and, even when we figure that a few thousand went just to see a cheap game at Gillette, we can estimate that at least 13,000 to 15,000 were UNH fans. I think that if the Colonial Clash proved anything, other than UNH's superiority over UMass in yet another category, it is that UNH can fill a larger home stadium. Cowell Stadium opened on Oct. 10, 1936; it is ancient, ugly and downright embarrassing for a college facility. Despite having a crowd of over 12,000 for this year's Homecoming game versus Richmond, the stadium actually only holds 8,000 spectators. Last year UNH's largest home crowd was over 14,000 when UNH upset Villanova, who would eventually win the FCS Championship.
If these last few seasons have proved anything, it is that UNH football is here to stay, and as a university and a community we need to recognize that and give the team what it deserves. That would be a new or at the very least a renovated stadium and field. President Huddleston has mentioned it in his "UNH in 2020" speeches, and I think he is right on. Very few FCS schools make money off their football programs, and I think that UNH has the potential to be a profitable program. A larger stadium will attract better recruits, better teams attract more fans and that means more profit. It is a simple fact. If you are a recruit split evenly between two schools, which do you pick, the school with 7,000 quiet fans or the school with 15,000 rowdy fans?
Now, we must understand that you need to spend money in order to make money. Every year students have complained about rising tuition costs, but one thing that UNH lacks compared to many other schools is alumni donations from former athletes. According to a Boston Globe article from earlier this year only 1 percent of UNH's former athletes donated money in 2008, compared to 26 percent at Boston College. This shows it is not necessarily a matter of tuition, but also alumni donations. It is not a coincidence that some of the most profitable universities and colleges in the country also have some of the strongest athletic programs.
Of course this is all just wishful thinking and UNH is still years away from achieving those goals, but it is never too early to start promoting new ideas. If you get anything out of this, I hope you get excited for the final home football games of the season. UNH hosts top-five-ranked William and Mary on Nov. 6 before closing out the season with Towson on Nov. 20 for Senior Day. I hope to see you out there cheering for our ‘Cats.
Stay classy, not UMassy