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COLUMN: Bates Takes Big Gamble On BC Hoops

Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 00:02


If he builds it, will they come?

Brad Bates’ first major risk as athletic director hinges on that question. 

The hiring of Steve Addazio, even if it was the right move, was safe. The firing of Frank Spaziani was obvious. What Bates is planning next, though, is neither of those things, and the answer to the question will be in the hands of a fourth-year head coach, his team, and 9,000 undergrads.

“We need to make basketball as intimidating of an environment as it can be,” Bates said at the State of the Heights on Monday night.

One of the first questions Bates has repeatedly asked students since he got to Boston College has centered around the seating at men’s basketball games.

Imagine you could start over from scratch, he’s said. Don’t think about the restrictions. What would you want it to look like?

That answer is starting to take shape.

“We are going to do some things that are going to put you right on top of the court,” Bates said.

If students are right on top of the court, that means they’ll be on TV. That also means that if they don’t show up, like they haven’t for the past two seasons, a barren outer rim will haunt the television’s edges. 

So, which one will it be?

“If we give you those seats, we need you to show up,” Bates said.

There’s the gamble, and it looks like Bates is making it at the perfect time.

The team should be significantly better in 2013-14, which will encourage students to fill the new, improved seats. BC’s scoring margin against opponents has shrunk from a putrid -9.3 average point differential last season to just -1.8 this year. With a young team making the transition to a veteran squad, especially when it comes to learning how to finish games and staying composed on the road, that margin should swing into the positive next year. 

Dennis Clifford is expected to be back at 100 percent after having time off to rest his knee. Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan, both of whom already carry themselves like seasoned upperclassmen on the court and can only fly under the national radar for so long, are looking to become the conference’s best back court. Eddie Odio still has plenty of ACC big men he needs to dunk on, over, and through.

The students proved against unranked North Carolina earlier in conference play that it’s possible to fill seats for a weeknight game. The issue, though, is that they didn’t come to watch the Eagles, they came to watch the Tar Heels and, potentially, to storm the court. For Bates’ gamble to pay off, both of these things will have to change.

BC needs to be entertaining enough on its own. The barrage of 3-pointers will have to stop rimming out and start falling in bunches. That 80-point mark Donahue has set will need to be hit regularly. And, most importantly, court-storming will have to be taken off the table. If BC hoops is going to draw a crowd on a regular basis, the team will have to be good enough for wins over Duke and Carolina not to be considered enormous upsets. Otherwise, those are the only games that will sell out.

Last week, the bull crew, responsible for switching out the basketball and hockey ice, tried some changes at Bates’ direction. The student seating behind the rims was moved up 10 feet from where it currently stands, eliminating the gap between students and the court, so that Bates could see how it looked. That’s a good place to start. 

The next move should be to bump the media away from its courtside spot. Ideally, students should be standing there, and the team benches should be moved to that side as well. BC should set up a few rows of benches for students to crowd in behind the teams. With better seating and possibly a better and more exciting team, there is more motivation for students to go, and even to get there early to take up these spots.

Yet there’s still no guarantee that students won’t only show up for the two or three games against elite opponents. If Bates takes this risk and only the hundred or so students who showed up for the Wake Forest or Maryland games this year come to most games next year, things could get ugly.

Bates knows this, and based on Monday’s comments it sounds like he’s prepared to go forward with the plan anyway. Less than five months into his tenure as athletic director, it’s a bold and ambitious move, but if he truly wants to institute change, all he can do is fire away. From there, it’s up to Donahue and his players to step up and finish the shot for him.

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