Maxwell Sparr/Daily Collegian
Following Saturday's football game against Massachusetts, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez did something that he's not accustomed to.
In fact, he couldn't recall the last time he did.
After his team, ranked No. 22 in the Football Bowl Subdivision escaped with a victory in a42-37 win against UMass of the Football Championship Subdivision, Rodriguez went into the opposing locker room and addressed the Minutemen.
"You've got to give credit to UMass and its coaches," Rodriguez said. "I went in the locker room and told them. They came here to play and they came here to coach and did a terrific job. I don't do that very often. But I have a great respect for that team coming in here and playing as hard as they did and executing the way they did. They had a game plan, they followed it, and they did a terrific job. Those guys played their tails off and I think they'll win a lot of games."
Rodriguez's gesture was more than just a sign of sportsmanship or goodwill. It went beyond saying, "Thanks for coming. Maybe next time, folks."
It is a testament to the quality of the football program and should be an eye-opener for fans and students of UMass to acknowledge the football team's accomplishments and to become enthusiastic for their school's athletics.
"He talked to the team about how competitive he thought they were," UMass coach Kevin Morris said, "and how hard they played and the type of team he thought we were. It's a good compliment to our guys. We talk about who we are as a team and how we want to represent UMass and based on his comments and a lot of other peoples' comments postgame. The kids represented UMass really well."
In a Boston Globe article, now notorious for recently attaching the phrase "second-tier school" to UMass, author Tracy Jan makes the point that students, when making a decision about where to attend college will be influenced by the quality of its athletic programs, name recognition and the vigor of its student body towards those sports. Ironically, she uses an example of a Massachusetts native passing up UMass to go to school at Michigan.
If Saturday was any indication, UMass athletic programs may not have the same name recognition, but they are not second-rate and the gap between FBS and FCS schools is closing.
Morris illustrated how the changing landscape of media coverage today will present more opportunities for his team to gain recruiting opportunities after playing so well against a national team like the Wolverines.
"It's always good if you get on TV and it's national," Morris said. "The Big Ten Network is all across the country, apparently based on all the messages I got of people watching it. There is a reason why those Bowl games make millions of dollars because people watch TV and pay millions of dollars into advertising. I think TV is the recruiting tool and video now. Certainly us being on that stage and getting that kind of publicity nationwide, that's where it comes into play, absolutely."
UMass might not have the name recognition of other colleges, but it does produce some of the most competitive sports programs in the country at its level.
There are plenty of examples, however, of teams that are flourishing. The men's lacrosse team climbed its way into the national rankings last season and received national televised coverage on ESPN and ESPNU on multiple occasions.
I can't count how many perfect games and no-hitters the softball team threw and I was even surprised to see the club rugby team in its run to the national championship tournament and its jump to Division I.
Of course, prospective students likely won't be swayed by the quality of a university's club sports if they are influenced at all by a school's athletics. It probably wouldn't be highlighted on the brochure, anyways.
The main sports would be the main draw for young students and the most important to garner attention.
Sure, the basketball team has fallen off of the national grid since the days of Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Marcus Camby (who was recently inducted into the UMass Hall of Fame). The hockey team is consistently amongst the top teams in the east, but competes for recruiting and coverage with the likes of Boston University, Northeastern, Vermont and tend to get left out in a lot of ways.
Football, though, has flourished in the past decade and does not get the attention it deserves from its student body. Fans don't generally flock to games and when they do, it is more for the tailgating.
The last time I met a friend in front of McGuirk Stadium for a game, he didn't even bother going in to watch the game.
In traveling to last weekend's game, I saw students, alumni and fans of Michigan flocking in droves to the Big House. There was not one person walking along State Street in Ann Arbor, Mich., that did not have navy blue and gold on, even at eight in the morning. The streets were littered with students wearing jerseys and face paint, geared up to support their football team.
A handy-man named Joe came to my apartment to fix a leaky faucet (cliché, I know, but true). We began chatting and he told me how disappointed he was that he did not get the chance to renew his season tickets this year.
Joe had been a season-ticket holder for over 30 years and he was sad that this year he wouldn't be able to take his granddaughter to the games. She enjoyed seeing the marching band perform and they would usually leave after halftime of the game.
I hope that Joe can get his hands on some tickets this season, because the Minutemen deserve to be seen not only at McGuirk, but on the national spotlight.