s the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team within 29 victories of 1,000 in its history, or 28?
In fact, Shelton claims to have found an entire lost season, the 1899-1900 campaign, in reports from old school newspapers. That team, he said, was 1-3 but won the first game in history Jan. 10, 1900, when the school — then called Massachusetts Agricultural College — defeated the Northampton YMCA 14-9.
"Twenty-three points would be a fair night for (current UMass guard) Monty Mack," said Shelton, a New York City resident who still holds season tickets for UMass men's basketball and is writing a book on the school's basketball history.
Shelton says his information of the first game is based on a brief mention in "The Aggie Life," a forerunner to the current school newspaper, The Daily Collegian. He says records show that UMass began playing basketball just over eight years after it was invented in December 1891 by James Naismith on what is now the campus of Springfield College.
The first game for what is now UMass was played at Drill Hall, where mandatory military drills and dances were held. The hall also housed the basketball team until Curry Hicks Cage opened for the 1931-32 season.
Shelton said the newspaper report called the inaugural game "uninteresting from the start." Further research revealed that UMass had eight players, led by team manager and captain Edmond McCobb of Milford, on the 1899-1900 team.
Shelton also said the school newspaper ran a review of the first season, stating that "basketball in this college was almost an impossibity." And students voted not to organize a varsity team for the 1900-01 season because of lack of funds, and because the college did not belong to a league.
But UMass was back in basketball for the 1901-02 season, beating Northampton 26-13 Jan. 11, 1902. That's the game — and the season — officially recognize d as the first in school history.
UMass went 5-3 in 1901-02, and its official all-time record stands at 971-849, including this year's 7-7 mark. But if Shelton's lost 1899-1900 season is included, the win total would be 972, since the Aggies were 1-3 with losses to Ware Young Men's Union, Williston Seminary and Chicopee Parish House.
"That would be interesting, because we're approaching 1,000 all-time wins," said Al Beaubien, a UMass human resources department employee who has also devoted time to research, and has uncovered several previously unrecorded games that were added to the records over the years.
Beaubien said it was not uncommon for a team to go on a road trip in the early 20th century, and play more games than originally scheduled after picking up other opponents along the way. He had never come across research to indicate games played before 1902, but did not rule out it was possible.
"Whatever is in the media guide is what we've found," he said. "If we find more, I imagine we'd have to petition the NCAA for an official change."
UMass associate athletic director for external affairs Bill Strickland, who had previously served as media relations director, said the NCAA has approved changes based on Beaubien's research in the past. He said the school wants to be accurate, and credited Shelton for showing such interest.
But Strickland also admitted that part of him hopes Shelton's findings are somehow wrong, though he isn't disputing them or dismissing that they may someday be officially accepted.
"I wish he'd mentioned it a couple of years ago," Strickland said. "If we missed the 100th anniversary of UMass basketball, that would be a little annoying."
fter all the debate over whether the new millennium begins this year or next, we should know better than to treat math as an exact science.
Just as sure as a lateral looks different in Tennessee than in Buffalo, the arithmetic of sports also relies on interpretation. The latest proof comes from one Michael Shelton, who recently announced he'd discovered an entire lost University of Massachusetts men's basketball season from back issues of the school newspaper.
Shelton is a UMass graduate, which gives him a leg up on Marcus Camby. He claims to have uncovered proof of an inaugural 1899-1900 season, with the first game played Jan. 10, 1900 when the school, then known as Massachusetts Agricultural College, beat the Northampton YMCA 14-9.
If true, this is revealing for two reasons:
1. The offense looked about the same in 1900 as did aganst Providence two weeks ago.
2. Last Monday marked the program's 100th anniversary, although UMass records say the first game wasn't played until Jan. 11, 1902.
But Shelton's findings could also change the timing of the 1,000th victory in UMass history, which will probably occur next year. And here's where it gets juicy. Nobody really knows how exactly many games UMass has played or won.
Entering this season, the school media guide listed the all-time record as 978-858. Counting this year's 7-7 mark, the countdown to 1,000 stands at 985.
That includes this season's win over American University of Puerto Rico, a Division II team. Yes, those rivals count, too.
So does the Northampton YMCA, Shelton's first opponent in 1900. "Northampton" is also the first opponent listed in the UMass records, in 1902.
But in the 1902 listing, there's no mention of "YMCA," so while we're pretty sure they were young men, we can only assume they were Christians.
Shelton's 1899-1900 team was 1-3, so the victory count would only change by one — though one means a lot when you're counting down to 1,000. That first team also lost to Williston Seminary and the Chicopee Parish House, proof that you couldn't push those Chicopee parishioners off the blocks too easily back in 1900.
Still, losing to a seminary and a parish house suggests a team with about as much stomach for mixing it up as, say, Lari Ketner.
UMass can say it has 985 wins, but the NCAA disagrees. Remember 1996, when Camby's ineligibility wiped the Final Four run off the books?
UMass counts its 4-1 tournament record. The NCAA doesn't. So was UMass 35-2 that year, or 31-1? And does the school now have 985 victories, or 981?
Every school has this dilemma. Some have tried to claim victories on overseas goodwill tours.
So UMass has either won 981 games (subtracting the 1996 tournament), 985 (the school's count), 986 (adding the 1900 victory) or one of many other choices. It all depends on your math.
But I know the worst mathematician of all. Me. On Monday, I came up with 964 wins entering this season, by forgetting to add last season's. And UMass did win 14 last season, though don't ask me how.
But Shelton, who is talking with UMass officials about helping update the records, is not done. He claims a 1907 win over the Amherst Reserves was really an exhibition, making the Reserves the Converse All-Stars of their day.
Whatever the count, UMass should reach 1,000 next season. That's unless somebody discovers a few wins over the Holyoke Boys Club in 1905, or the touring Russian Czar's All-Stars in 1912.
I don't know who is right. All I know is that I don't want to miss the 1,000 party, whenever the school gets around to holding one.