he University of Massachusetts may move one of next season's men's basketball games to the Springfield Civic Center, and the building's general manager said he's determined to work out the details.
"I think we've reached the point where both sides want to make this happen," Civic Center general manager Stuart J. Hurwitz said last night. "It involves rebuilding a relationship that never should have been allowed to deteriorate."
Robert K. Marcum, athletic director at the University of Massachusetts, agreed that talks about bringing the Minutemen back to the city for the 2000-2001 season have been productive. The men's basketball team hasn't appeared at the Civic Center since 1995, and now plays at the Mullins Center in Amherst.
"We feel very positive about this," Marcum said of the two meetings held with Hurwitz. He added, "Nothing has been confirmed."
According to Marcum, the primary issue is assuring that season ticket holders have comparable seats at the Civic Center as they have at the Mullins Center.
"In the past we've always had problems working out ticket allocations. At that time the Civic Center had contracts with people that needed to be taken care of and required most of the good seats," Marcum said. "Stu has indicated he doesn't have the same reservation plan as in the past."
Hurwitz, a businessman who took over the position of general manager in September, said he has pushed hard to bring the university back to the center where it first played in 1973. Meetings have been held with Marcum and Assistant Athletic Director Bill Strickland, but not with team coach James "Bruiser" Flint.
"We are currently looking into the possibility of the first men's basketball game to be played here right after the first of the year," Hurwitz said. "My goal is to get (the Minutemen) here on a regular schedule, whether it's one, two or three games. They'll never leave the Mullins Center, nor should they, but coming here could be an added part to their schedule."
Along with Hurwitz's efforts, Mayor Michael J. Albano last week sent letters soliciting two other University of Massachusetts coaches — Donald C. "Toot" Cahoon, men's head hockey coach, and Joanie O'Brien, women's basketball coach.
The mayor said the Civic Center could serve as "home away from home" during the January intersession, when the student population is on break, and could broaden the team's fan base, possibly attracting Springfield residents to the Mullins Center for future games.
A meeting with Cahoon, Hurwitz and Bruce Landon, executive director of the Springfield Falcons is scheduled within the next two weeks. The Falcons are the Civic Center's primary tenant.
The UMass men's basketball team last appeared in Springfield on Jan. 3, 1995, against West Virginia. The Minutemen stopped playing at the Civic Center for several reasons, the most obvious of which was its ability to draw capacity crowds to the 9,493-seat Mullins Center.
The Civic Center holds about 8,500 fans for basketball. But crowds at the Mullins Center have dwindled in the past few years, and last year's average was 5,836.
That not only made the Civic Center a viable alternative again, but increased the importance of restoring visibility in the Springfield market.
Hurwitz said he would book the game as a break-even proposition if necessary.
"As long as we make enough to pay our bills, that would be good enough for me," he said. "We don't need to make money for this to be worthwhile. That's how important I think it is for our city and our region.