Steve Donahue thought his team could handle the pressure.
Following a year in which the Eagles improved their record by nine wins, the former BC head coach wanted to test his youthful team with a hellacious non-conference schedule—one of the toughest in the nation—before putting it through the always-difficult ACC gauntlet. He scheduled road games against Purdue, USC, Providence, and Auburn, with neutral games against VCU and Connecticut.
With ACC Rookie of the Year Olivier Hanlan and All-ACC Third Team honoree Ryan Anderson leading the team with their spunk and energy, Donahue had reason to believe that the schedule would benefit his team in the long run.
It backfired. Miserably.
BC lost 24 games, Donahue was fired, and Anderson led a list of transfers that flocked away from the Heights. With a new coach and a new system, BC was set back years in its rebuilding process—it wouldn’t be overly pessimistic to predict today that it will be around five years before BC is seriously competitive again.
“It was a very ambitious schedule,” Director of Athletics Brad Bates said in an interview with The Boston Globe, “and obviously it didn’t work out well for us.”
Donahue’s team was fairly inexperienced, untested against top competition, and unable to garner the support of its fan base.
Bates seemed to be careful about preventing that same situation from repeating itself in BC football this season by scheduling two FCS teams: the University of Maine and Howard University.
Granted, Bates wasn’t given much of a choice in this situation—Howard was scheduled very late in the process following a contract breakdown with New Mexico State—although there were a select few FBS programs available at the time for a matchup with the Eagles, like Georgia State.
But this is the type of schedule that will benefit a young team lacking confidence and experience.
Bates’ biggest scheduling detractors argue that the decision to play two FCS teams in one season will cause an already apathetic fan base to lose further interest, resulting predominantly in fewer ticket sales. They aren’t wrong—last Saturday’s game against Maine had the lowest season-opening attendance since at least 1996, according to data provided by BC Athletics. Although the game was played on Labor Day Weekend, the weak opponent likely had a lot to do with it.
Against Maine, the Eagles debuted a new quarterback in Darius Wade, and head coach Steve Addazio has not been shy about Wade’s need for further development. Addazio has been hard on the sophomore from Middletown, Del. in practice, looking for more grit and competitiveness from the first-year starter.
The last thing Wade needed was to line up against a strong Power Five defense in his first meaningful collegiate action. Premier teams (and probably even mediocre teams, judging by the offensive line’s performance against Maine) would’ve eaten Wade alive, resulting in the formation of bad habits that could’ve persisted for the Eagles.
By playing Maine and Howard in his first two games, Wade gains beneficial repetitions in what essentially amounts to glorified practice. He gets to experience running out of the Alumni Stadium tunnel in front of thousands for the first time being “the guy” at BC. without the pressure of playing in a high-profile game.
Other fans will note that the Eagles now have to win seven games this season, rather than the usual six, to become bowl-eligible. Six wins for this team wasn’t a guarantee in the first place—most pundits expected four to six wins for BC this season—but BC’s road to the postseason got slightly tougher because the Eagles scheduled two FCS games.
Making a bowl should obviously be a goal for every FBS team. But if, year after year, BC is only making middling bowls against weak competition in unimpressive locations when half of the FBS teams are making the postseason, is it really worth it?
This team’s long-term goal needs to be not only to make the postseason, but to get back to the top of the ACC. That kind of ascension does not happen in one year. By taking it slow and allowing this year’s youthful team to build up some confidence against a fairly weak schedule, Addazio and Bates are ultimately setting it up for success next year, and the year after that. Once BC has established a strong team with a fearsome reputation, Bates can move on to scheduling tough games out of conference against Power Five teams. This year is not the year when that happens.
A few years back, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus imparted some wisdom on the game’s younger players about learning how to win. In his time, Nicklaus did a fair share of that—his 18 career Major championship victories stand as the most ever. Among other pieces of advice, Nicklaus offered this to his listeners: you have to make certain mistakes so you can learn how to overcome them and how to avoid them later.
Learning to win, for BC and in general, boils down to more than just making a series of good plays. Winning takes a philosophy—a mindset shared by an entire organization. Winning takes the implementation of a It takes a heart surgeon’s precision and a perfectionist’s persistence. Nicklaus mastered it during his time, but Donahue never perfected the art against superior competition during his time on the Heights.
The weak scheduling by Bates and Addazio might look like a defeated strategy in the short run, but it is a move that will advance the best interests of BC football going forward. Having turned over much of the roster last season, the Eagles are paving the first of many miles of the interstate highway that leads straight to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor