Sunday April 14, 2013

Maybe Spring is finally going to stick around for a while. Since I'm assuming it will, it's time to do a little sports spring cleaning from my notebooks.

News item: The Western Massachusetts Sports Commission is formed.

An idea whose time has more than come, the WMSC is put together to bring sporting events, and the tourism dollars that go with them, to the four Western Massachusetts counties.

In a story I wrote for Friday's Eagle, UMass sports management professor Steve McKelvey summed it up in three sentences.

"It's something that's overdue. The market for events continues to grow," he said. "You need to be proactive and have a plan to bring events to the Western Mass. area."

Board chairman John Heaps, the president of the Florence Savings Bank, said the first "major" target is bring the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament to Springfield's MassMutual Center.

If this Foundation existed a few years ago, that one-time visit of the Babe Ruth Softball World Series to the Doyle Complex might have become a regular visitor.

We had a lot of volunteers working tirelessly to bring the softball event to Pittsfield. With the WMSC's muscle, life could be much easier for volunteers.

There's no reason the NCAA Division III baseball sectionals should be played on Cape Cod, when teams can just as easily come to Pittsfield and play at Wahconah Park -- where there's a roof on the grandstand. How about having the U.S. Women's Open Golf Tournament return to The Orchards? Could the LPGA or PGA development tours make a stop at Taconic or Berkshire Hills?

Instead of just talking about these things, now there's an organization designed to make the push. It can only be good.

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News item: The NCAA Division III men's basketball championship game is played with the Division I Final Four.

Three weeks ago, I didn't think this was a very good idea. Today, I kind of like it.

When Amherst College won the D-III title last week, it did so in front of 7,000 fans in Atlanta's Phillips Arena. It was a much bigger crowd than the Lord Jeffs had ever played in front of.

Traditionally, the Division III title game is part of a Final Four weekend in Salem, Va. I have been there for three Final Fours, and can vouch for the first-class way the tournament is run.

But with the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Championship, the NCAA decided to hold all three men's title games in Atlanta. The D-II and III games were set for the Sunday between the Division I Final Four and national title game. That meant Salem hosted the Elite Eight and Final Four this year.

"When you're a kid growing up, the only thing you want to do as a basketball player is to play in the NBA. That's what I wanted to do for as long as I can remember. So when I heard it was going to be played in Atlanta, the championship game and it was going to be at Phillips Arena, I was overjoyed," Amherst guard Aaron Toomey said in the postgame press conference. "I was overjoyed and we set our minds that we were going to get here and play in this arena."

Atlanta worked perfectly for this setup because Phillips Arena is within walking distance of the Georgia Dome.

Next year, when the D-I tournament goes to Dallas and Cowboys Stadium, it won't be as easy because there's no arena in Arlington big enough for the other basketball games.

Here's hoping the NCAA can figure out a way to put these worthy Division III athletes on a big stage.