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Boston College in a Pro Sports Town: Part I - Is There a Problem?

Jared Wickerham

[Ed. note -- Front Page'd]

On Wednesday, Dan Rubin wrote an article discussing BC's place in a pro sports town. Just the fact that the article was written seemed to indicate that at least one person thought there was something to bring forward, although Dan didn't go as far as saying that BC's place in Boston sports was problematic for the athletic programs in general.

Even Brad Bates' blog post hints at there being a problem. Yes, it is framed from the perspective of it being a strength of the university in sharing geography with some of the legendary franchises in each of the major sports, but didn't it hint that there was an issue?

Clearly, there is a sufficient population of sports fans in New England to support our professional teams AND the only FBS institution in Boston.

Why capitalize AND if you aren't trying to emphasize something?

While I agree with the sentiment, once again the fact that it needed to be discussed at all indicates something isn't quite right.

Like an alcoholic, one of the first steps to recovery is admitting there is a problem. Then you can go through figuring out how to address it. As part 1 of a 4 part series...I ask you...is there a problem?

I think you know my answer to this is yes. Programs that are considered important in their communities are the ones who are generally most successful. Pressures build from both inside and outside, similar to what they would in a pro sports franchise to produce and that drives change and accountability. Boston College has little of that beyond its own walls other than folks like us.

There is empirical evidence in the form of wins and losses, attendance, recruiting class rankings and local media coverage. Some of these can definitely be tied to leadership at the AD and Head Coach level, that have translated in to poor performance, but others not so much. Boston College football and basketball in specific, being the two major revenue generating sports, are simply not important enough in this community. That is irrespective of the pro sports teams in town. As Bates accurately points out, there are certainly enough folks in the region to support all the pro sports team and BC...then why doesn't it happen?

I contend that although there does not need to be a connection between BC athletics and the professional teams for entertainment dollars and attention, there is. BC is needlessly ridiculed or ignored in the media and if you don't think this feeds the monster then you simply don't understand. Out of site, out of mind, hrumph, hrumph, join the masses and bash...it's a mob mentality and it works. The Dan Shaughnessy article after Bates fired Spaz last year sums it up nicely.

It's only college sports. It doesn't matter much around here. And that's a good thing.

This mentality didn't exist in the 70s and 80s and into the early 90s. BC had a place in this town, it wasn't always equal footing, BC rarely was the lead dog, but in the mid 80s for example, BC football eclipsed the Patriots in popularity. BC had in excess of 25,000 season ticket holders for football, many more than the Patriots had during the same period. So it has been done and BC had a niche in the market.

BC filled or drew 50K plus to Sullivan Stadium for games with Notre Dame, Penn State and Syracuse. BC filled the Boston Garden for hoop games against Syracuse and Georgetown. BC had local print and electronic media follow them to away games and BC was in the eye of the general consumer, day after day, through regular stories in the Boston Globe and Herald to visits to practice by local sportscasters for reports on the daily news. Those things don't happen anymore.

Then there are the eye tests. What do your eyes tell you is going on in the market these days? My step son once again turns down a chance to go to a game with me this week, saying he's just not really into it. My step daughter's husband just says he flat out hates college football. Waiting for the commuter rail at Back Bay, I hear 20 somethings talking and blasting BC and how no one cares. Even the supposed most loyal supporters BC has, those that are paying the freight to the Flynn Fund, simply don't show up for home games, with dozens and dozens of empty seats in section D where I am.

BC doesn't have a co-existence problem with the professional franchises themselves. The Red Sox are marketing partners, the Celtics played pick up games at Roberts Center for years in the summers against BC players. Yes, the Patriots may be directly involved with UMass, but they aren't anti BC. What BC has a problem with is the perception of who they are and what they represent and what they are told by others, the media most specifically fueling the flames.

So I ask you...does BC have a problem trying to exist in a pro sports market?

Part II: What should the goals be for this program to be relevant in the market?
Part III: Who are the role models in college athletics that BC can emulate?
Part IV: What is the solution?

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