Football, Featured Column, Men's Basketball, Column

University Leadership Must Show Commitment to BC Athletics

You know what’s tough?

Being a D.C. sports fan is tough. Every year, without fail, my hometown’s major professional teams either suck (a lot) or dominate throughout the entire regular season only to collapse and fail miserably in the playoffs. (I still wholeheartedly believe this year is the year for the Caps to win it all, though.) To be honest, I’m not sure which hurts more—getting blown out of every game or going up in flames at the very last minute. Either way, it isn’t ideal, not by a long shot. So when I began to look at colleges, I knew I wanted one with great school spirit and talented teams I could enjoy watching.

My first year at Boston College hasn’t shaped up exactly how I expected, though. When you take hockey out of the equation, the big-name sports have been pretty awful. I didn’t expect football and men’s basketball to combine for exactly zero wins in the ACC. I really didn’t expect any completely humiliating games like football’s 3-0 loss to Wake Forest last fall. I never in a million years thought men’s basketball would at one point drop to a 37-4 deficit in a nationally televised game (also against Wake Forest, one of the other terrible teams in the conference). In my first year here in Chestnut Hill, BC football and men’s basketball have been reduced to a laughingstock in the media.

So, yeah. I went from living in the tough, heartbreaking world of D.C. sports to living in the tough, depressing world of BC sports. The worst part is, other people are taking notice. Just a few days ago I was sitting at the airport when I checked my email and saw a link to a Boston Globe article about the “sorry state” of BC Athletics.

Bob Hohler, who wrote the article, criticized a lot of aspects of BC Athletics. In the 10 years since the Eagles joined the ACC, neither football nor men’s basketball has managed to consistently compete with the conference’s established powerhouses.

Sure, there have been odd seasons when the teams play well and qualify for either a bowl game or the NCAA Tournament. But in general, it’s been a rough time for the teams, and the dry spell has led to an unprecedented drop in attendance, disinterest among students, and added pressure on University officials to improve the situation.

In the article, Hohler mentioned the huge drop in attendance at football and men’s basketball games. According to the report, the attendance has suffered since BC joined the ACC. Football’s season ticket sales have dropped by at least an astounding 60 percent, leading to the lowest fan turnout in 25 years. Men’s basketball has suffered similarly, with half as many fans coming out nowadays as in the pre-ACC era. People just don’t want to come out and watch these teams play, and who can blame them?

The student disinterest surprised me a lot when I first arrived on campus in the fall. I was really excited for my first college football game. I got to Alumni Stadium early, worried about finding a spot in the student section. I shouldn’t have been concerned. All throughout the season, fans didn’t straggle in until well into the first quarter—if they showed up at all. I heard a lot from my high school friends about the insane game-day atmosphere at schools like Penn State, USC, and Georgia, and I wondered why the same didn’t exist at BC. But as the season dragged on, I understood more and more why so many students just didn’t care about being there for the full game. The all-in football culture just doesn’t exist here, and when the team is struggling so much, there is absolutely no motivation for students to go sit in the sun for a few hours and watch a sorry excuse for a game. And as for men’s basketball games, even fewer students showed up to them than football.  

So with attendance dropping and students less and less interested in the teams, the clock is ticking for University officials to fix the problem. It’s not easy, though, when people are second-guessing how committed the administration is to athletics. Hohler suggested that University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. is lukewarm at best toward sports, even when it comes to the school’s most popular sport, hockey. At #JY1K Night last month, I was too dazzled by the video messages from the likes of Bill Belichick and Mike Krzyzewski to notice that Leahy did not record a message for York, let alone show up to support one of the most beloved figures at BC. But looking back, it seems highly significant that Leahy was completely absent from the night. It really does seem like he doesn’t care for sports.

This is a huge problem, for obvious reasons. Two of the biggest sports here are suffering, bringing a lot of unwanted negative publicity to BC. Leahy needs to show that he really cares about sports to appease students, alumni, and the Board of Trustees. After all, he’s the one who pushed for BC to abandon the Big East and join the ACC, a move that greatly endangered the Big East’s stability. BC benefited from the move, gaining the prestige of the ACC, fame, and money. Now that the teams are struggling to even slightly succeed, Leahy should show the same investment in athletics that he showed when money and fame were on the line.

Leahy can show investment in sports in smaller ways, too. He is the University’s president, the face of BC, but he doesn’t really make himself accessible. Showing up to games is an easy way to boost his public persona and demonstrate that he cares about athletics at the same time. Coming to events like #JY1K Night is imperative and will show his interest and investment in more than just academics. After all, right now Leahy has given students no reason to believe that he is invested in the actual success of the big-name, revenue-earning teams.      

The administration counters claims like these by mentioning the plans to build new facilities, including a fieldhouse and new fields for baseball and softball. These additions will make it easier for teams to practice throughout the year and may appeal to potential recruits. And sure, I’ll concede that new facilities will probably be helpful. But they won’t magically solve all of BC’s problems.

Students can help, too. People complain all the time about the gameday atmosphere and bemoan the lack of spirit at games. Sure, BC may not stack up against the likes of Alabama in terms of football talent. Yeah, maybe the Eagles aren’t exactly at the same basketball level as UNC (even if they did inexplicably give the Tar Heels a scare last month). Still, there’s no reason why Superfans can’t create their own rollicking game day experience. If that’s what fans want, then they have to show it. Sure, it’s easier to do this when teams are winning, but showing up and creating an intense atmosphere can actually motivate the teams to win. Bolstered by the student section, my high school men’s basketball team made an improbable run to states last year after a lengthy period without any success. The same can work here, too. Coming out in droves to support the teams and boosting attendance will show the University that the students prioritize athletics. It will force the administration to begin to prioritize athletics, too.

Let’s face it—the administration absolutely must start to show that it values athletics. First and foremost, this is a school. People come here to get an education. I get it. But a lot of factors go into choosing the right college, not just the academic record, and athletics is absolutely one of them. I was definitely influenced by sports when I narrowed down my choices and made my final decision, and I know my closest friends were too. BC will lose a lot of prospective students by continuing to put athletics on the back burner. I highly doubt the administration wants to lose students to the likes of Notre Dame, but that’s what is going to happen if emphasis isn’t placed on improving football and basketball. Hockey alone is not enough to pull students in, especially because it isn’t overwhelmingly popular outside of New England.

Rebuilding is never easy, but it’s absolutely necessary in BC’s case. Leahy, Director of Athletic Brad Bates, and the rest of the administration need to prioritize improvement in order to garner more interest from top recruits and steadily improve BC’s teams. I firmly believe that if the right steps are taken, attendance will rocket right back up and students will create an intense atmosphere at Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum. Otherwise, BC sports will continue to resemble D.C. sports.

And I promise you, that’s something that no one wants.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

March 16, 2016

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “University Leadership Must Show Commitment to BC Athletics”

  1. well done…why can’t BC get corporate sponsors for each home game and create a fun family atmosphere with giveaways (e.g., tee shirts fired from a sleeve into the stands before kick-off) and kids attractions on the field so everyone is incented to be in the stands before kick-off…also, make each game a unique experience, a themed experience…not that hard to do and would make BC a destination experience even for non-BC fans looking for a fun day for the family…invest a lot in the experience while the team rebuilds to become competitive…also, cause every season ticket holder to buy an extra ticket for the end of season bowl game so that the pre-sale is high even if those tickets are given away