[Ed. note -- Bumped, and Go Giants!]
So, its about 2 1/2 hours before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLVI and unlike most of my fellow New Englanders I am not yet parked in front of the television or at some party. Yes, come 6:30 I will watch the game and enjoy the homemade chili and assorted munchies I have put together, but in all honesty, to me..it's just another game.
I am a college sports fan and in particular a Boston College sports fan and although I am proud of the fact that no school will be better represented in today's game than BC, what I know even more is that this game and the continued success of the vast majority of the Boston professional sports teams, will only serve to push the teams and the sports I love the most further into oblivion.
It hurts me to say this, but in my heart I know it's the truth, Boston College athletics and college athletics in general in the northeast and in Boston specifically are no more than a niche market. I don't believe it was always that way, but since 1993, despite unparalleled success on the fields, BC athletics has slid the way of Pro Tennis and the Tour de France. You can find it on TV, but no one cares. It has been relegated to internet web sites, ESPNU and other non-national network venues.
What changed in 1993? Well Boston College football was in the midst of one its greatest seasons ever. It had just knocked off #1 Notre Dame in what arguably was one of the greatest college football games ever played and had narrowly missed out on a Sugar Bowl berth, dropping a heartbreaking 17-14 decision to undefeated West Virginia a week later. Tom Coughlin (yes, that Tom Coughlin), had the Eagle program soaring. Ticket demand was at an all time high and the expansion of Alumni Stadium was all set to be completed for the fall of 1994.
Down the road in Foxboro, there was also a revolution taking place. Bob Kraft took over the Patriots and hired former NY Giant Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells to resurrect what was arguably the worst franchise in the NFL.
Unbelievably, BC owned the Boston area football market at that time. BC had more season ticket holders than the Patriots, demand for tickets was higher and more BC games were available on TV than Patriot games, because of the NFL blackout rule.
All the major television news stations and newspapers not only had BC beat reporters, but they attended and reported on both home and road games and even practices. BC-Notre Dame in both 1993 and 1994 dominated the media airwaves, even WEEI, spent significant time covering BC athletics.
Think of how absurd that all sounds now.
Boston has become a two sport town, with the Red Sox and Patriots completely dominating the market since that time. WEEI, since 1993, the driving force behind Boston sports talk, went out of their way to push BC off the cliff, doing everything possible to discourage any discussion of BC athletics, including open ridicule. Since that time the television and print media have followed, offering virtually no coverage of BC athletics through their mediums. It was unheard of that a BC football game was not on the front page of the Sunday Boston Globe, now that is almost always the case and when was the last time there was a weeknight television sports report which contained anything on the Eagles?
The fall out from this has been that an entire generation of potential fans have little or no knowledge of what BC has to offer and as was shown from the Reddit post of the other day (Map of College Football Fan Domains), BC has not just become irrelevant in the landscape of Boston sports, but actually despised and these are from the few people who actually are into college football. I believe it can be argued that Boston is the single worst college sports town in America. The Northeast has typically been looked at as a pro sports bastion, but in the other major cities, there is at least some area of college sports that has a foothold in the culture, most notably basketball in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Here, outside of college hockey, which is a classic niche market, there is downright scorn and if you don't believe that this impacts the perception of recruits, ultimately the life blood of all programs, think again.
The people who work in my office, those I share a commuter rail ride in daily, have no knowledge or interest at all in what BC is trying to peddle. I mention going to the game over the weekend and they ask what game. I bring up the Beanpot or the NCAA basketball tournament coming to town and they honestly either don't know anything about them or ask when they are. A former co-worker lived within 2 miles of campus and had no idea games were played there, he only knew that there seemed to be a traffic spike for some reasons on Saturdays and forget about getting people to go with me to a game. My stepchildren, all of whom are in their mid 20s, have never shown one bit of interest in attending a game and if they do come to the house on a Saturday will go out of their way to avoid watching college football, but they will never miss a Patriot Sunday.
Still don't think its the case, look at the dwindling attendance at home football games and home basketball games. The anticipated bump from the move to the ACC just has not materialized. Even the 2007 football team or 2005-06 basketball team, both of whom had big runs in their respective seasons, were met with a less than lukewarm response. Who can forget the Florida State game in 2007 when rain was to blame for the #2 team in the country not being able to sell out a home game? Both Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum have turned into a place where a family can take in a cheap night out, where the kids care more about getting on the video board than anything else. I never recall there being that many small children at games at least when I was in school, the demand to see a Georgetown at Roberts Center for instance, was just too great.
So how does it all change, or can it change?
Sports are a cyclical business, so I do think it's possible, but it is going to take some effort and some luck. The Patriots and Red Sox are entrenched in this society more so than any two teams in Boston sports history and rooting them out of their stronghold or even being able to share the stage with them (how is it done in NY with 9 pro teams!!!) won't be easy.
- BC has to win on a major level. This means trips to Final Fours in basketball and National Championships in football. This is a pro market and in the pros you play for titles, not for trips to the NIT and to bowl games with no significance toward championships.
- BC needs dynamic leadership. This is both at the AD level and at the head coach level. Tom Coughlin came to BC with a dynamic personality and got people to hear and heed his message and results followed. No one in any role since has been able to do the same.
- BC football needs the move to a national playoff system. Given the ability to play for a title immediately gives college football credibility. A current ESPN poll lists the NCAA Basketball Tournament as the second favorite sporting event of the year behind the Super Bowl while the BCS is fifth, this despite football's overwhelming dominance as a spectator sport. America loves playoffs! I have always believed a playoff will also engage the traditionally apathetic Northeast market's interest in college football as it does with March Madness.
- BC needs to be there to capitalize when the Patriots and Red Sox falter. Both teams won't win forever and when they struggle BC needs to be in a position to grab the attention of those fans.
- Maybe most importantly, BC needs to win back the local media. The push of the Eagles to the back pages and to the internet started when WEEI as the voice of Boston sports said through their programming and through their conversations that they had no interest in BC athletics. BC needs to work to change that. With fewer and fewer graduates from Boston proper each year, the number of built in Eagle fans is decreasing year over year, so you need to find a way to convert those who have no allegiance to BC. I am convinced that the various media outlets in conjunction with the success of the pro teams, controls how the people view sports in Boston.
I am not so delusional to think BC will become the top sports entity in Boston, I would happily settle for not being despised and simply being relevant.
As always, interested in your views.