Today marks the official start of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Sports fans across the country have finally submitted their brackets after days of tweaking and debating for a chance at a billion dollars and bragging rights at the office. There’s one region of the country, however, that is less than excited for the next two and a half weeks of college basketball. There isn’t much for the people of Boston or the greater New England area to root for in the tournament.
At the beginning of the season, the TD Garden hosted three opening day face-offs, including Boston University vs. Northeastern, UMASS vs. Boston College, and Holy Cross vs. Harvard. Six Boston-area basketball teams playing back-to-back in one of the most historic arenas in the country and the Garden barely reached half capacity.
The highlight of the year for college basketball in Boston was Boston College’s takedown of No. 1, undefeated Syracuse, a team that then went on to lose five of their last seven games. Overall, BC had a miserable season in the ACC going 4-14 in conference and losing in the first round of the tournament to Georgia Tech in overtime. Even Boston University had a better run, making it to the championship game in the Patriot League and an appearance in the National Invitational Tournament.
Boston College made the NCAA tournament eight times in the 2000s, but has done nothing of any significance in the last five years, leaving Boston fans with little to get excited about come March Madness. And what about Boston University? They’ve gotten away with not having a solid basketball program for the past ten years, making the tournament only once in the past decade after winning the America East championship game. They had their best team in a long time this year, winning the Patriot League regular season title their first year in the league and advancing to the championship game. However, they still failed to garner much support and continually found themselves playing in front of a very empty Agganis Arena home crowd.
Harvard is arguably the best college basketball team in the Boston area. They’ve made the tournament three years in a row and dominated the Ivy League conference, becoming regular season champions four years in a row. However, they have yet to make it past the third round and the Boston market doesn’t get excited over Harvard basketball. Boston doesn’t slowly change into a sea of crimson like the shade of orange that has settled over all of Upstate New York.
Bostonians should expand their horizons to all of New England. Providence College robbed the Big East championship from No. 3 seeded Creighton to gain an 11th seed spot in the big tournament. The University of Connecticut is also a good choice for Bostonians to follow. They have made it to the NCAA tournament 16 of the last 20 years, including a win in 2011.
However, if Bostonians want a college basketball team to get behind, they need to look no farther than the state of Massachusetts. The University of Massachusetts dominated in the 1990s with seven tournament appearances, including a trip to the Final Four. They also won five Atlantic 10 conference championships in this time. While UMASS basketball has been irrelevant over the past decade, this year could mark a true turning point for the Minutemen. They started the season winning 16 of their first 17 games, including big wins over Nebraska, Saint Joe’s and eventual Big East champions Providence College. They finally found their way back to the tournament this season after going 23-7 in the regular season and will take on the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday at 2:45 p.m.
There isn’t a lot of promise on the horizon for college basketball in the city of Boston going forward. Players from New England are simply leaving the area to play in the Big 10 or SEC. No one wants to stay in the area to play in the Ivy League or Big East or sit at the bottom of the ACC. Additionally, Boston viewers don’t tune in to college hoops or make the trip out to the arenas. Empty seats stick out like sore thumbs in Conte Forum, Lavietes Pavilion and Agganis Arena.
Boston just isn’t a college sport town. It holds some of the best college hockey teams in the country and Bostonians still don’t buy into the college scene. Basketball needs a serious investment or it doesn’t stand a chance. When a city has three of their four professional sports teams making it to the championship or conference championship game in the past year, there’s no need for Boston fans to rally behind a mediocre college team. Another college basketball opening day in the TD Garden, however, is a step in the right direction to bring college hoops back to New England. If you can’t bring Boston pro sports fans to college basketball games, bring college basketball games to them.