Scribner: UMass slowly gaining more national attention

By Herb Scribner

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

I’ve been a member of the Daily Collegian sports staff since 2009 and for all of those years, I’ve seen the sports teams come and go with a common phrase shared between them: “maybe next year.”

Time and time again, through the archives of the Collegian until now, columnists and analysts have speculated that this year or that year will be “the year.” I’ve seen it over and over.

But it’s not about this year being “the year.” All teams have their droughts and pitfalls. Sometimes Duke isn’t ranked at the top for men’s basketball. Sometimes Notre Dame doesn’t continue its historical success in football.

Sometimes it’s not about it being “the year,” but whether or not people take notice of the school or not.

On a recent journey through the archives, I saw a Collegian page from when the men’s basketball team – complete with Marcus Camby and Derek Kellogg (as a player, believe it or not) – beat then-No. 1 Arkansas. The page had a 72-point font and it showed just how much of an achievement the win was.

That got me thinking of how we haven’t had this kind of moment recently. Over these past few years, UMass athletics has declined significantly in the eyes of the public. No longer have the Minutemen held a true spot in the world of college sports. UMass has become an afterthought, giving way to schools like Boston College in the state. Even though UMass has tried to be the flagship school of the state – and it should be – the Minutemen are always playing second-fiddle to schools in the capital.

But now, in 2012, with the end of the world approaching, I think it’s fair to say that UMass’ cultural significance among sports fans is going to change. For those who might have been living under a rock or left SportsCenter out of their life for winter break, it already has.

The other day on the four-letter network’s most popular show, there was a clip of Chaz Williams passing the ball back between his legs to Raphiael Putney, who jammed home a dunk that would make anyone praise the Lord and shout, “Amen.” Damn, it was sweet. SportsCenter recognized it, bringing UMass some national spotlight.

Then on top of that, UMass football – yes, I’ll mention it for the umpteenth time – is moving to the bigger and better Football Bowl Subdivision to compete in the Mid-American Conference. To the FBS and MAC the Minutemen go, giving them an opportunity to play in a bowl game. You know, those bowl games that people tweet about and call horrendous and a disgrace to college football. Yeah, those games.

There’s even the hockey team to consider. College hockey isn’t that popular to the nation for the most part, but for those who do care, UMass scored a decisive 4-0 win over No. 4 Boston College during winter break. The Minutemen beat the fourth-best team in the nation. For those who pay attention and read about college hockey, that has to mean something important. UMass is back in the spotlight again for college hockey.

The Minutemen will have another opportunity to gain some national attention. The Maroon and White – a nickname that I’ll support until my time on the sports staff comes to an end – will garner some national and cultural attention that was so prevalent in the 90s.

I’m from the Pioneer Valley and whenever I meet someone new and tell them I went to UMass, I always hear – aside from how hoppin’ and happenin’ the 60s and 70s were – that the sports teams of the past had the entire area in a frenzy; that news broadcasts of the Camby days of basketball were unlike anything else that the college has seen. Then, occasionally, I hear a word or two about Dr. J but that usually gets swept under the rug.

My late great uncle Paul always went to the UMass games and he used to tell me about the successful days of Camby and Lou Roe. He took me to games to see “Big Deli” Jeff Salovski. There was this culturally significant and powerful way about the Minutemen of the past, a type of mystique that has been lost as of late.

But it’s on the return. With the recent basketball success, the hockey wins and the moving football team, it’s now a question of whether its sooner rather than later that the programs will make national news once more. Perhaps soon the teams will no longer host games that students only attend so they can justify shooting back a few…YCMP swipes…

So where does this take us going forward? Will all of this attention, all of this pressure, finally give UMass sports fans “the year” that they’ve longed for? Based on historical evidence, probably not.

But it’s still cool to know that the Minutemen are going to start gaining national attention.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Scribner.