The Doug Flutie Effect

There is one moment in Boston College history with repercussions of titanic proportions, that is often cited as a catalyst for the University’s meteoric rise through the rankings. During a time when the amount of students going to college decreased, BC saw an incredible surge in applications, in both quantity and quality.

With just 28 seconds on the clock, BC trailed by four points—four mere points separating sporting history from oblivion. Of the millions watching, adrenaline coursing through their veins, few suspected the mind-bending and career-defining moment they were about to witness.
CBS announcer Brent Musburger described the scenes in the Orange Bowl: “Three wide receivers out to the right … Flutie flushed … throws it down … caught by Boston College! I don’t believe it! It’s a touchdown!

“The Eagles win it! I don’t believe it! Phelan is at the bottom of that pile! Here comes the Boston College team! He threw it into the end zone! There was no time left on the clock! The ball went between two defensive backs of Miami!”

This moment—the downing of the defending champion Miami Hurricanes on their own turf by the Eagles—sealed the legacy of Doug Flutie and cemented the significance of the game, known forever after by the “The Hail Mary pass,” creating a phenomenon which has then since garnered notoriety as the “Flutie Effect.”

“In 1982 Boston College received 12,000 applications for its incoming freshman class,” said the Sept. 9, 1985 issue of The Heights. “Three years later that number reached 16,000.”What was the cause of this sudden spike? Were athletics the main factor? Had the University undertaken a new agenda to promote BC more effectively? Or, had the phenomenon simply risen due to the absence of a concise theory to explain a complicated event?

Since Rev. Donald Monan, S.J., took over the presidency of the University, BC had seen a steady rise in both academic and athletic prowess to previously unreached levels. Greater student diversity was one of the goals of the administration of the time, as the institution began shifting toward becoming a national research institution in the vision of its Jesuit leaders. As such, for some years at the time, recruiters “relied upon its 4,000-member volunteer network composed of alumni and students to promote the University [nationally]” according to the same issue of The Heights.
Charles Nolan, the admissions director at the time, said, “Flutie and the BC athletic program have increased the University’s name recognition across the nation.” Moreover, the Spring 2003 edition of the Boston College Magazine stated: “These jumps [in applications] were not anomalous for BC, which in the previous decade had embarked on a program to build national enrollment using market research … strategically allocated financial aid, and improvements to residence halls and academic facilities.”

The increased interest in the University at the time of the paradigm-shifting game did indeed provide context to a theory, which can be plausible at best. It seemed to gain enough attention that many large media outlets such as the New York Times began citing it as a given, however link.

Another factor that is cited as increasing the intrigue of the University is the endless number of opportunities for career advancement in the city of Boston. The city had always been a burgeoning center for academic expression and development, coupled with the unique identity that truly mark the “city upon a hill” as an epicenter for higher education in the world.

“Boston College is a vibrant, alive place,” the same issue of The Heights said. “What the Flutie era has done is bring it to people’s attention more quickly.” For BC at least, the Flutie factor seems to have had less of an effect on increasing the desire of students to attend the University in and of itself than in showcasing the opportunities available to a wider audience. Then, when coupled with the extraordinary efforts of the admissions office, among others, BC entered a new age of competitiveness and prestige.

Nevertheless, a different Flutie Effect is felt around campus. One simply needs to approach Alumni Stadium to see the large statue of Flutie in front of its main gate, or go to the academic quadrangle and find the easiest way to identify one building from another is by remembering “Doug Flutie Loves Girls.” The 1984 Heisman winner will always have an effect on the community—it simply is not the expected and widely attributed one.

Featured Image courtesy of Gary Gilbert / The Chronicle

November 16, 2014