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UMass aftershock

Good morning!

The folly that was UMass football’s move to Foxboro has earned the university unwanted national attention. Two years ago, this little lemonade stand of a column asked if a move to Gillette Stadium was necessary. Now much larger newspapers are echoing the same sentiment.

Within the last month, both the New York Times (“Big Dream, Rude Awakening”) and the Boston Globe (“Enthusiasm Gap for UMass”) have run lengthy articles detailing the team’s 1-11 record since “upgrading” to the Mid-American Conference of the Football Bowl Subdivision and the resulting poor attendance figures at Gillette Stadium.

What would happen to UMass football because of this grandiose scheme was reported in The Recorder on May 21, 2011, when the following item appeared in this column: “The plan to play in Foxboro was made without regard to the students, area fans, and the local business community ... (UMass has) bought into the theory that big stadiums will mean big crowds ... It will haunt the athletic department long after the perpetrators, chancellor Robert Holub and athletic director John McCutcheon, are gone and enjoying the taxpayer-funded fruits of retirement.”

Today, Holub teaches German at Ohio State, while McCutcheon remains at UMass, where he’s paid hundreds of thousands to make decisions that have cost the state taxpayers millions.

McCutcheon wasn’t totally wrong by joining the MAC. It’s a fun conference. Point spreads are involved, it’s a shootout league and the talent includes players like Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher and Miami of Ohio quarterback Zac Dysert, both of whom will be high picks in April’s draft.

The conference and upgrade aren’t necessarily the problem; it’s the venue. Move the MAC games back to campus, attract some decent crowds and put money back into the local community where it belongs. Then maybe the national media and the little lemonade stands like this will have cause to print something good about the program.

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First-year Greenfield Middle School girls hoops coach Cameron Ward dug deep before the Wave’s game against Pioneer on Dec. 28, imparting the words of Michael Jordan who said of his career: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots. I’ve lost almost 300 games and 26 times I’ve been entrusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

The outcome? “We won,” said Ward, “the middle school’s first win in three years.”

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There was some talk that the Pioneer football program might be losing its coaching staff, including head coach Glen Wilson, offensive coordinator Dick Howe and defensive coordinator Tom Gaffigan.

“I’m not coming back, but Dick’s still mulling it over and I think Glen’s coming back,” said Gaffigan, who’s served on the sidelines for 29 years. “I want to get back into hunting and fishing again. It’s still fun when I’m out there, but I want to do something else for a change.”

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The parents of the Frontier Red Hawks girls’ basketball team want to resurrect the passion of the Vi Goodnow era. This coming Friday’s home game against Turners Falls High School is being billed as “Pack-the-House Night” with prize giveaways and a 50-50 raffle.

“The coach asked what we could do and if we can get them back for one night and they play an exciting game, maybe they’ll keep coming,” said Eddie Esposito, the father of freshman guard Mindy Esposito.

General admission is $5, with senior and student discounts. “Just show up,” said Esposito. “We want a good crowd.”

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s spirited post-game talk after the Tigers’ last second win against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve confirmed former UMass coach Jim Reid’s classic line, “Why would anybody do drugs when they can coach football?”

After he bear-hugged ESPN’s sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards, Swinney delivered a passionate prologue to the come-from-behind win. “These guys, they fought for every frickin’ play, every patch of grass. They played with love and toughness. They played with a desire to win. It’s just great to be a Clemson Tiger. I’ve been tellin’ ’em they’re at the doorway of greatness, but sooner or later ya gotta step through it, you gotta take action. Tonight they grew up. Fourth-and-16, my frickin’ quarterback mans up and makes plays. Just awesome. Go Tigers, Baby!”

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Sportsbook.com lists the Tigers, Angels and Dodgers as 7-to-1 co-favorites to win the 2013 World Series. The improved Blue Jays are 10-to-1, the Yankees are 12-to-1 and the Red Sox are 30-to-1. Last year’s Cinderella team, the Baltimore Orioles, will continue that role into this season at 50-to-1 odds.

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If you want springtime action, the Dominican Republic is a 2-to-1 favorite to win the World Baseball Classic that begins in Japan on March 2 and ends at AT&T Park in San Francisco on March 18 or 19.

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Squibbers: During Pats-Dolphins at frigid Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Gil Santos’ radio sidekick Scott Zolak said, “This is the nice thing about playing the Dolphins in Foxboro this time of year. You look across the field and you start to see the hands go in the pants.” ... Same day, different stadium, Indy radio commentator Will Wolford was incensed when an interference call went against the Colts: “Andre Johnson flopped like (he was in) a basketball game!” ... As long as there are people willing to gamble, there will be scammers intent on taking their money. “Wall Street genius turned betting pro” is the come-on for a new website called Thevegasnightmare.com. ... The Oakland Raiders were 0-6 on the East Coast this season, outscored by a 20-point average. ... Ugueth Urbina is out of a Venezuelan jail after serving almost eight years for manslaughter. The 38-year-old two-time All Star was sent to the hoosegow after he attacked five workers with a machete. Urbina pitched two seasons for the Red Sox and had two saves for the Marlins in the 2003 World Series against the Yankees. He wants a big league tryout, claiming he can still bring it, with or without la mocho. ... ESPN asked viewers which was the bigger story, the Vikings making the playoffs or Adrian Peterson falling short of the rushing record. Of 55,401 nationwide respondents, 114 were from Vermont. ... Peterson got his nickname “All Day” from his father when he was an indefatigable 2-year-old. ... While Larry Pruner’s bookstore in Amherst is closed, his business continues online at Valleybooks.com, a distinction overlooked during a write-up on Pruner a while back. ... With 900 channels, why’s my TV always on Weatherscan? ... Rick Cadran retired from the Mass. State Police last week. Contrary to popular belief, the veteran Trooper never gave his mother a ticket.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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