The biggest story of the offseason has reached its resolution. Of course, I am talking about the saga of where UMass would play UConn this year. Since last November, UMass discussed playing UConn at a neutral site. Logically, two stadiums came to mind. Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium
Ultimately, neither major pro stadium in the Bay State got the right to host this former Yankee Conference clash, so it stays at quaint and cozy Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Purists applaud this move because it keeps a heated rivalry on campus, but I cannot help but think of how much of a lost opportunity this is.
The Minutemen have played numerous times at Gillette, most times to seas of empty seats. The Fenway Bowl is a yearly occurrence, and UMass already played there in 2017. There is one venue that UMass and UConn administrators could have used if they were creative enough.
Enter New Hampshire Motor Speedway. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is New England’s only NASCAR track and seats 76,000 fans. It is also only two hours away from Amherst and just 30 miles further from UMass than Gillette or Fenway. Sure, 76,000 is a lot of seats, but UMass could tarp seats to reduce the capacity and the novelty would still excite fans.
While attendance will not come close to selling out the venue, it likely would make numbers higher than at Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park. Playing football at a NASCAR track is rare. No one needs to explain that. A novelty game like this will encourage attendance much more than a game at Gillette or Fenway could.
After all, over 156,000 people flocked to Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016 to see two teams that combined for a 16-10 record the previous year. Despite neither being a football powerhouse, there is a chance that football fans throughout New England would descend upon New Hampshire Motor Speedway just for the spectacle.
Not only would it give a new experience to UMass fans, but it would have given the program a rare chance to play in front of alumni in the Granite State. Since exiting the CAA after the 2011 season, the Minutemen rarely travel within New England and play in front of pockets of alumni in bordering states. The UConn series is the only opportunity to do this, leading many alumni sprinkled throughout alumni to go out of their way to catch their Minutemen.
While fans may never know why talks with neutral sites fell through, UMass and UConn likely never floated the idea of a game at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. UMass has played plenty of times at Gillette. The novelty is gone, and Fenway’s sight lines are not ideal. A game at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a new experience. More importantly, it provides a bowl-like atmosphere UMass has rarely had. This year’s UConn-UMass game was the right opportunity to experiment with an intriguing idea. Now it is just another UMass home game.