I've been to Hartford, I've been to Storrs, I've been to Springfield. I will just say that when there is a Hartford-Springfield regional airport, the Springfield/Amherst area is contiuned to be in the orb of influence of Hartford.
They may share a regional airport and are only 26 miles apart and may have some interlinkage ties with Hartford. However, Springfield has a distinct enough market and regional hub identity that it can carry its own. The state line in between Springfield and Hartford is strong enough to demarcate some differences between the two metro areas, despite their linkages and some shared relationships.
For instance, Springfield, MA is its own Designated Market Area according to Neilsen for TV markets. They have a ABC, NBC, CBS and a PBS station of their very own, and concentrate on Western Massachusetts news. Also, Springfield is the hub of the Pioneer Valley
and Western Massachusetts
The Boston Metro Area portion of Massachussetts comprises about 4.7 million of Massachussetts' 6.5 million people. The Western Massachussetts region which includes Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and Worchester Counties (including the Springfield, Worchester, and Pittsfield Metro Statistical Areas) is 1.6 million people. UMass is the only Division I school in Berskshire, Franklins, Hampden and Hampshire Counties, and when Worchester County is included the only other D I school is Holy Cross.
All 5 counties that I have named are west of the I-495 Loop which pretty much separates Boston from Western Massachussetts.
A population of 1.6 million and with only Holy Cross as its only school with competition, 1.6 million is about the equivalent population, a tad smaller than either the entire State of Nebraska or the entire state of West Virginia. Both the University of Nebraska and West Virginia University are BCS schools. Now they probably pick up maybe 5% of the Boston market, with U Mass Boston and UMass Lowell in the metro area with some graduates so there may be some interest from those schools as only UMass Lowell has a D I Hockey team and UMass-Amherst is the only D I school of the system.
5% of the 4.7 million Boston Market yield about 200K to 250K (a then resulting market total of 1.8 to 1.9 million people) of further interest which places it in the same area of University of Nebraska, West Virginia University, and perhaps University of Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado State are similar size markets to UMass.
Now football and basketball may be less followed in Massachussetts than Nebraska and West Virginia, but even if they get 60% what Nebraska and West Virginia get, their market is probably about equal to Memphis, UAB and Southern Miss. Their geography and academics give them some advantages along with this equal market size. They just need to move their sports up and be competitive.
They are also a relatively new school with a very similar history to UConn. Up until 1931 they were simply known as Massachussetts Agriucltural College. Then changed to Massachussetts State College, then in 1947 they became the University of Massachussetts, and experienced their rapid growth in the Post WWII era. UConn had about the same exact history with roles and name changes and recognition, with being founded in 1880s as the Storrs State Agricultural College, then changed names in the late 1890's as the Connecticut Agricultural College, then in 1931 became Connecticut State College then in 1939 became the University of Connecticut. Look where they are today. Also UConn is billed as the top public academic institution of New England. While UMass may be a shade below U Vermont and UNH in academic reputation, its size combined with relatively good academics makes it the second public academic institution in New England. I knew someone who went there who was a resident from Vermont, and it attracts students in Massachussetts statewide. I knew someone from Worchester that went to UMass. It is gradually assuming and taking on the role to that of similarity of many statewide public flagship universities.
They were D II I think up until the 1970's. There growth has been dramatic and as time has passed have gradually gained a bigger name recognition. They may not be at the level of UConn or a Rutgers, but they have the most potential of any school in the greater northeast of moving up, and are certainly in a much better position, market wise and potentially competitive wise when compared to Georgetown, U of New Hampshire, U Maine, and U of Rhode Island, and perhaps even Villanova as well.