On this, the great drinking holiday of American culture known as Thanksgiving Eve, we here at the Fight Masspartment are thankful for so much. We are thankful, of course, for family, friends, prosperity, our respective mates, all that good stuff, etc. More importantly, though, we are grateful that we finally have a polished product to root for in Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen, even while the other two of the “big three” are firmly entrenched in rebuilding mode.
Not to get all apocalyptic on you all at such a festive time of year, but I’ve hinted for quite some time that I feel strongly that this season has some underlying importance beyond what meets the eye. We are in an era of great change in the college landscape. Conference realignment continues to separate the haves from the have nots. To borrow the most timely of pop culture metaphors, the FBS power conferences are the Capitol, and we’re basically District 12. And if we don’t do something quickly, we may be on the fast track to District 13. (Actually, I’m not sure how the third book plays out, nobody spoil it for me, I literally just got into this like a week ago. Also, sidebar – can we see the Hunger Games as a separate metaphor for instilling Euro soccer-style relegation into the conference landscape? Never mind, I just got lost in my own tangent. Moving on.)
What’s crucial at this juncture for UMass is that they’re in a relatively good spot. Despite struggles on the ice as we transition fully to the Mick era, the hockey team seems unlikely to go anywhere in what is at the very least one of the top 2 conferences in the sport, and adding UConn next year gives them a local rival who they can actually beat up on. Football has found itself in a more stable position than, say, staying in the FCS as it crumbles around them. Midweek #MACtion is a certified phenomenon, and for the moment, the MAC, anchored by Northern Illinois but with contributions from not-awful Ohio and Bowling Green and Buffalo and the like, is a solid step above laughing-stock territory. The awful attendance question has been sidestepped by a good-enough year, and the return to campus next year should be a big help, as Gillette is relegated to the higher-end opponents while the stadium upgrades and time off will bring people back to McGuirk. (Not to mention an improved team! Right, Charley? Right?)
As for basketball? These are crucial times. With the breakoff of the Big East, everyone seems to be waiting for the next big moves to materialize, namely what will happen to UConn and Cincinnati who are both unlikely to remain in the AAC forever. Meanwhile, the rumors swirling about more Big East poaching of teams like Dayton and Saint Louis, or even (gasp) VCU.
These are uncertain times, but what’s not uncertain is that the teams in the have-not conferences are on display. (I could really easily tie this into that Hunger Games metaphor what with the Tributes showing off for the sponsors, but I’d rather Marty Peretz not have to revoke the nice words he said about my writing so I’ll stop now.) A year or two of success in these uncertain times can be all it takes for a program to hop up to the next level. UMass sold its recent FCS success to the MAC to buy their upgrade. Schools like Xavier and Butler have turned timely success in recent years into their tickets to the next level, and the rumors on VCU (which, remember, wasn’t much of anything before Shaka Smart came to town five years ago) and Saint Louis (which has made the NCAA’s six times since 1954) are further signs that this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business.
Am I suggesting that UMass will get invited to the Big East with a Sweet 16 run this season? Not exactly. What I’m saying is that this is the time when you need to put your program in the absolute best position to succeed, come whatever may in the college sports landscape in the next few years. A return trip to the tourney in March with a couple of wins in the Dance would not only help the team’s athletic image and standing in the area immediately, but coupled with the construction of the Champions Center, it would help our recruiting prospects for the immediate future too to help make this good feeling sustainable, not just a flash in the pan.
So you’re damn right we’re grateful. Grateful that, in this uncertain time, DK, Chaz and the gang have given us something to root for. Now go out there and enjoy yourselves, and we’ll see you after the weekend.