As mentioned earlier today, tonight was the first of two Town Hall style meetings hosted by new Boston College Athletic Director Brad Bates at the Yawkey Football Center, specifically focused on the football program and the overall game day experience. I was in attendance with approximately 180 people, pretty much all season ticket holders and their friends or family members, the vast majority of whom were not only season tix holders but also BC alums, moderated by Bates and members of the athletic department staff.
The event was video taped and Bates mentioned at least portions of it will be available to view in the near future on BCEagles.com.
Let me say that the clear goal of the evening was not to provide answers, but to gather information. Bates, who does come across as a great listener, communicator and someone who is genuinely happy to be at Boston College and interested in what his constituency thinks (a major departure from the previous regime), stated he has already had numerous internal meetings on the topic of the state of game day at Boston College, but wanted to hear from those most passionate about BC football and felt a good number of those people were in that room. From the way people spoke tonight, it was tough to argue he didn't get what he asked for.
After an initial welcome from Bates in which he mentioned that the two sessions sold out in under 24 hours, which both surprised him while showing him the passion of the BC fan, the format was broken into three phases:
1) what don't we do well now? - this was a complete group discussion where several microphones were worked around the room and people gave some rather lengthy dissertations at times of their opinions.
- I felt that people came at this part far too narrowly in most cases and focused on smaller topics specific to them personally and not broad enough in general.
The most discussed topics were improving the parking and overall tailgating experiences, in particular the number of hours that were allotted, the accessibility to those spaces (why isn't more of campus opened up to tailgating like Newton and Brighton Campuses and even all through main campus) and of course the heavy burden of donor base seating as it relates to parking. Many expressed that based on the small number of hours that they could tailgate that the cost simply wasn't worth it to them.
Another interesting comment echoed more than once, when it came to the game day experience, was the lack of student involvement at the games. This actually spilled for a moment into basketball as well (something that was clear at the Miami game later on where there couldn't have been 100 students in attendance).
There were several people who commented on broader topics such as facilities, in particular the expansion and continued growth of Alumni Stadium and scheduling, as Stony Brook came up more than once.
On the Alumni Stadium topic, there was talk about the "completion" of Alumni to close in the corners and give it a more finished look. The upgrade of the video board system (Wake Forest was mentioned as a good example there and Bates was in agreement as to how good theirs was), opening up the Yawkey Center as a club seat level with views into the stadium and in general a focused effort not to rebuild Alumni but to continually improve it to keep it current in the eyes of recruits while remaining responsible to the costs of construction in the Boston market.
One other topic mentioned by more than one was the value of the BC football ticket and how tickets on the secondary market, tickets sold to non BC people in season ticket areas and the lack of monitoring of who gets into these seats on game day, was troubling.
2) what do we do well now? - another complete group discussion, but with a far different tone. To say it was a struggle for people to pinpoint things of significance would be an understatement. When you are talking about the Eagle statue or that the ticket office people do a good job or that the general atmosphere to take your family was good was overshadowed by everyone wanting to end their statements or even start their statements with things that weren't good.
One smaller contingent who spoke up on the positive side though were some of the more recent grads, the GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) group. They mentioned reduced season ticket prices and some of the regional events held in conjunction with football games that they enjoyed.
3) Suggestions. Following the open forum, one member of the BC athletic staff who sat at each table, Tom Peters was at mine, lead a small group discussion of suggestions, really an extension of the what needs improvement topic. He took notes and offered people his business card and a form for submitting more thoughts. Bates made it very clear that he was there at any time and any place to interact with and share our thoughts on the program.
I found the comments to be off base for what I expected in general, once again kind of self centered and not broad topic. I was able to bring up my feelings around the change in demographics surrounding the BC alumni base and how without a change to reach out the general public, adding 3000 local grads each year just wasn't going to cut it to grow the program and that seemed to resonate. They do seem to understand that although their primary customers are like the people in that room (sports fans who are BC grads), that base won't be enough to grow this in the long run.
Where didn't this go? There were no concrete answers or commitments given to address any topic. I think that was ok. Any good business man respects the process and does their due diligence to get to the desired state, but make no mistake about it, Bates believes he has the resources and believes in what BC is as an institution to make this program a winner and one that we will be proud of as well as something we will want to be part of on game days.
There also was nothing specific to the football program itself. Not one direct mention of Steve Addazio (although after the meeting I talked to Bates and he gushed when he spoke of him) and nothing about items like recruiting, style of play, etc.
In summary, I believe the biggest thing to come from this is simply that it happened. As I mentioned in the post earlier today and for those of you who know the workings of the BC athletic department in the past, it was not a welcoming one. The BCAA made you feel that they were doing you a favor by buying tickets, being part of the Flynn Fund or even having an opinion on a subject. Keep it to yourself please...we will do it our way. I am not saying that Brad Bates will make every change and be able to answer every issue brought up tonight, but he has started the process (and it most likely will be a long one) of humanizing the face of Boston College athletics and making people believe that it really could be 'our program' and in the long run 'Boston's program', one that will win and as he told me, will win with integrity.
I know it sounds like I drank the Kool-Aid and maybe I did, but I am thirsty for someone who listens and then can summarize and act. Bates does the first part really, really well, something we have never had in my 43 years of watching BC athletics and now we will see if he can turn those into tangible actions. I will caveat this with one small warning though...Bates may run the athletic department, but we need to hope that his visions are not blocked by the Board of Trustees and University politics...if the same 'old boy network' that has existed for the past 100 years gets in the way, all this could be for not.
Thank you Brad Bates!