Fall, Featured Column, Column

BC’s Athletic Revitalization Must Come From The Bottom Up

The Boston College Athletics experience revolves primarily around the “Big Three”: football, basketball, and hockey. Attendance is limited almost exclusively to the men’s editions of the latter two sports, so—wrongly, but for our purposes—exclude women’s basketball and women’s hockey from the most popular and engaging BC sports.

The “Big Three” gets the lion’s share of the attention, the revenue, and the scholarship money. But this year, it will not be all about them.

Let’s hear it for the fall Olympic sports.

As BC football has struggled—and looks poised to continue to do so with its starting quarterback Darius Wade out for the season—there is a void in the heart of the BC sports fan, and it is dying to be filled.

So far, BC men’s soccer, women’s soccer, and field hockey have made cases that they can step up and fill the void. And as we reach the approximate halfway point for each season, all three have been tough to ignore.

Men’s soccer has shown the biggest turnaround among BC teams from last season, matching its win total of five with more than half of its schedule remaining. The Eagles currently sit in a tie for second place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and seem to be hitting their stride just as they enter the heart of the conference schedule.

BC showed its first major signs of improvement by dominating a favored University of Connecticut squad on Tuesday night, as the Huskies have traditionally crushed the Eagles. Led by a career night from junior Zeiko Lewis, BC wore the Huskies down and capitalized on their mental mistakes. Lewis, who has played for the Bermuda National Team in 2018 World Cup Qualifying matches, single-handedly willed BC to score on two different occasions against UConn.

Lewis looked like the type of centerpiece that an inexperienced team can build around, the type of player that can alter the outcome of a game with a single masterful sequence. For one night at least, the Eagles looked like a team that could compete with the ACC elites, despite being the youngest team in the conference.

Meanwhile, BC women’s soccer boasts a Hermann Trophy candidate in McKenzie Meehan, a redshirt junior whose torrent scoring pace has electrified BC through 10 games. Historically one of BC’s most successful teams, women’s soccer has made the NCAA Tournament 15 times out of the 31 years the Tournament has been played, but has never made the College Cup Final.

Meehan looks determined to change that.

Despite spending all of last year on the mend with a freak Achilles injury in preseason, Meehan hasn’t lost a single step out on the field. She moves quickly with confidence around opposing defenses, presenting a challenge to even the best units that the ACC has to offer.

Finally, field hockey has been BC’s most competitive sport played away from either the solid or liquid state of water in the past five years. Currently ranked No. 11 in the nation, first-year head coach Kelly Doton’s team picked up right where it left off last season.

Already with a signature victory over the No. 3 University of Maryland Terrapins in overtime, the Eagles’ remaining schedule consists mostly of the daunting ACC gauntlet. Despite multiple NCAA Tournament appearances, the Eagles still have yet to advance past the first round of the ACC Tournament since joining the conference in 2005. A postseason run would do wonders for BC’s reputation in one of the ACC’s most competitive sports.

Speaking of reputations, BC’s is below average in the uber-competitive ACC for just that reason—it lacks championships. The Eagles have won only one conference championship since joining the ACC: a men’s soccer title in 2007. The fact that BC’s best sport, ice hockey, is not offered by the ACC does nothing to help this metric, but the point remains.

While BC has only been in the conference for about 10 years, some newer members have already jumped the Eagles—the University of Notre Dame and Syracuse University each have two conference championships in just two years of membership. In fact, the only two schools with fewer conference championships than BC are Louisville University and the University of Pittsburgh, which have each joined the conference in the past two years.

While it would be great to see BC football and basketball ascend back to the top of conference, each of those teams has a long way to go before that happens. BC currently doesn’t have the resources to compete with the bigger state schools in the football and basketball department—outdated facilities and a poor track record in the past few years are enough to deter even mid-level recruits. But there is no reason that BC cannot compete with the ACC in Olympic sports.

In order for BC to immediately establish itself as a member of the ACC that truly belongs, it needs a stronger showing from those sports, from soccer to field hockey to volleyball. I’m not saying the Eagles need to dominate the way the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team has—the Tar Heels are widely regarded as one of the most successful collegiate teams of all time. But BC’s Olympic programs could be the spark of a bottom-up revamping of BC Athletics.

Take the University of Virginia, for example. The Cavaliers have won 16 men’s national championships, tops in the ACC. Virginia is the reigning men’s champion of the Capital One Cup, acknowledging school-wide success in athletics. Despite the fact that its football program leaves something to be desired, Virginia is a respected and feared member of the ACC. Even though the Hoos have never won a title in football or basketball, they have one of the most impressive track records of any collegiate athletic program.

This is a model that BC should strive for—program-wide success, in both men’s and women’s sports. It doesn’t start with football—it should end there. BC’s athletic revitalization begins from the bottom.

Those teams have answered the call this season, and there’s still a long way to go. But they’re on the right track, and that’s all that matters.

Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor

September 24, 2015

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