Sports, Basketball, Column

BC’s Athletic Struggles Only Magnified by March Madness

Chances are, you filled out a March Madness bracket. Maybe you even filled out two or three or four. Maybe you filled out one on the women’s side as well, because the same drama—albeit tragically less covered—is present there, too.

This year, if you watched any games at Conte Forum, you saw plenty of future NCAA Tournament teams. For the men, Minnesota, Virginia, Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina all swung through Chestnut Hill. On the women’s side, Boston College squared off against North Carolina State, Florida State, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Syracuse—and these were just home games. Such is the life of playing in the ACC, one of the nation’s premier conferences.

But, come March, BC was nowhere to be found in either 68-team field. In fact, the men’s team last reached the NCAA Tournament back in the 2008-09 season, and the drought is even longer for the women—they last made it in the 2005-06 season. It’s been year after year of disappointment with both programs, and that trend doesn’t seem to be close to ending any time soon. Despite posting 19 wins reaching the NIT in 2017-18, men’s head coach Jim Christian failed to take the next step this season, even with an NBA-caliber point guard, an experienced 3-point marksman, a blossoming center, and newfound depth. On the other hand, one does have to give newly hired women’s head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee several years at the very least to instill her system and build a program from the ground up.

So, we find ourselves at a crossroads. March Madness is the most watched and arguably most anticipated event that the NCAA puts on each year, and it’s a joy to watch, but that comes with a small pit that forms in your stomach—when will I get the chance to have “my team” in the tournament? For the jaded senior, will it come five years down the line when they’re sitting in a corporate office, longing for a chance to be on campus when the chance to finally win on the national stage comes about? For the freshman, has the cynicism around blown leads and bad perimeter defense taken hold, dissipating hope already?

It’s pretty easy to make a bracket when you have no rooting allegiance. There’s no need to balance the thought of picking against your own school if you actually care that much—surely they can pull off an upset, it doesn’t matter if you went to North Dakota State and your first round opponent happened to feature a 6-foot-7 superstar in Zion Williamson. Naturally, your team inevitably loses several rounds before you picked them to, but such is the way of sports fandom.

It’s a lot less exciting to watch, though. March is still incredible and the tournament never ceases to amaze, but it means a little more when you’ve got a horse in the race. Back in 2013-14, I remember that my dad’s school—Arizona State—earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for for the first time since they had a certain current NBA player with a beard on their roster. There they were, printed neatly on the bracket, a 10-seed next to their name. It was exciting and refreshing, and naturally I picked the Sun Devils to make a Sweet 16 run. They tragically fell in the first round to No. 7 Texas by just two points, but the point remains: There’s something incredibly fun about having your team in that massive 68-team field, even if they have the smallest of shots to pull anything off.

All things considered, this might just seem like whining. There’s 356 college basketball teams, and only 68—that’s 19 percent for those counting at home—make it in a given year. The odds are even more stacked when you consider the fact that the Eagles play in the ACC, which sometimes sends double-digit representatives to both tournaments. However, when your football team has failed to win more than seven games since 2009 and the other BC sports have offered a healthy dose of lows as of late—following roller coaster scripts during the season before eventually meekly bowing out in disappointing manners—it’s painful that both basketball teams are mired in a decade of down years, and March offers no relief.

That brings us to this point: BC Athletics is mired in a unprecedented run of disappointments, casting shadows over plenty of strong years, and lord does this school’s fan base need that to change soon.

Covering these teams, or even watching them, plunges most into a steady pit of despair and missed chances. Lacrosse lost back-to-back national championships, the second in a heartbreaking manner by a single goal. Women’s hockey dropped consecutive overtime games to quietly finish this year, falling in the Hockey East final and first round of the NCAA Tournament, respectively. Men’s hockey was struggling for much of the year, made things interesting with a late postseason push, but fell a game shy of the NCAA Tournament despite a valiant comeback effort. Women’s soccer was a national seed after an impressive ACC season, but they too fell in an upset fashion.

This was just in the last year. Go back a few years, and things get even more grim across the board. Baseball was a game away from the college baseball world series in 2016. Women’s hockey lost a perfect record and the 2015-16 national championship game in one fell swoop. Men’s basketball didn’t win a conference game that same year, and to make it even worse the football lost eight straight games to end the year. Men’s hockey hasn’t been to the NCAAs in three years but they’ve been awfully close each time.

With this never-ending stream of tough endings in mind, watching the plethora of March Madness games—and realizing that BC might not be there, in either bracket, for years—is just another low in what has been several years full of disappointment for BC’s revenue sports. Sure, it’s thrilling to watch Purdue’s Carsen Edwards go off, or watch Duke tiptoe past opponents thanks to some fortuitous bounces, but, at the end of the day, there’s no bracket pool you can shamelessly put BC winning it all in, there’s no noontime tip to watch them play during class. And we might as well just call it a day.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

April 1, 2019