Designated Hitter: We pay attention to UMass, BC when they win

New England sports fans have it pretty good these days.

Of our region's four professional sports teams, three of them are championship-driven (with varying degrees of success), while a fourth is trying to find that formula.

The perennial success of the New England Patriots is something for fans to celebrate. The Red Sox and Celtics haven't won titles in the last couple of years, but both are putting efforts together to build teams that can hoist a banner or a trophy.

The Bruins are a little stuck. They aren't quite at the championship-driven level of the other three. They are not, however, the Arizona Coyotes stuck in no-man's land.

Which leads me to think about the kind of hole that Massachusetts' two major Division I college sports programs find themselves in.

It is wrong to say that people won't support the University of Massachusetts and Boston College sports teams. I've been to games at Conte Forum or the Mullins Center when it was standing-room only. I've tried to get tickets for a football game at BC's Alumni Stadium when the Eagles were in the Top 25, and that was almost as tough as getting good Red Sox tickets.

The fact that most of the teams that wear maroon and either white and gold are mediocre at best right now. That is a horrible place for them to be.

What happens when your team is mediocre or below? Some people get angry. Most people get indifferent. That is the situation that faces both UMass and BC.

For Mark Whipple's Minutemen, Saturday night's game with Coastal Carolina (which ended way after deadline) was as big as any he has coached in.

A loss in that game would have made UMass 0-2, with a possible 0-3 start after next week's home game with Old Dominion — another former FCS team that has made the move up.

If you were at the season opener against Hawaii, you probably saw what I saw and what I've been saying to whoever asks me. This UMass team is better than it has been, and it might be the best FBS team in school history.

So when people ask me how good UMass is going to be, I say that's two questions. Whipple's team answered that question one way against the Rainbow Warriors — there is more talent on the field than ever before. The Minutemen also got up off the mat a couple of times, something that hadn't happened before.

All of that is a good thing. Whether it translates into more than two or three wins remains to be seen. It might very well not matter when the scoreboard lights shut off in November. UMass could be better and still not win.

But with the Red Sox heading for the playoffs, the Patriots being the best team in the NFL and the Celtics having completed the Kyrie Irving trade and have put together a potentially very exciting young team, the Minutemen and the BC Eagles could get lost so far into the dust that we won't be able to find them until next summer.

This isn't the South or the Midwest, locales where college football and college sports truly matter. They matter here, but only if the teams are very good.

So if we don't see UMass and BC win a bunch of games early on, it will be out of sight and out of mind for this year.

That, my friends, is far worse than being angry about their play.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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