[Ed. note -- Front Page'd]
In part I of our look at Boston College in a pro sports town, we discussed whether or not the fact that BC exists in what is generally viewed as a professional sports town is, for whatever reason, problematic.
You sure think it is.
An overwhelming 82% of you who responded to the poll believed that for BC to be more successful in this market, something needs to change.
So what is it we are trying to accomplish here then? What are our goals?
Goals come in many forms. As Brian Favat pointed out in his comments to the part I post, there are attendance goals, academic goals, monetary goals, marketing goals, etc and all of these play into what Boston College can reasonably expect to accomplish on the field or court. These goals are not the same ones that existed in 1940 when BC lay claim to its only national football championship, neither are they the ones that were around in 1985 when BC went to it's last major bowl game and owned the town with in excess of 25,000 fans travelling to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl.
The landscape of Boston College as a University, of Boston in general and of competition for social dollars has changed. It is not just about sports, it is about how you spend your social dollars. Don't think so...find me the Red Sox pink hats in the 70s or more than 10 people who would admit to being Patriot season ticket holders in the same period or tough mudder events...this is all part of the evolution of sports as part of overall society. What has happened, is that those activities have gained relevance. I think that is what Boston College needs to strive to do in this market, achieve relevance.
Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines the word relevant in three ways:
- having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand
- affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion
- having social relevance
There is it..social relevance. The pro teams are part of the fabric of this town and as I have stated before, if it's important, it tends to succeed. At one point BC had it, at least to a point..and lost it. Why? Well there are a million reasons and you folks in your comments on part I touched on many of them, but let's not think that BC was without blame in all of it. Far from it. The blame for much of this is laid at the feet of the athletic and university administration and the way they handled their affairs for years and years.
BC turned itself into an elitist institution. Partly by design (a national student population vs a local one) and partly through just poor people skills, BC systemically closed in its walls and removed itself from the fabric of Boston.
A call to the athletic department for assistance was met as if you were begging for money on the streets. They turned their backs on their loyal fans and one at a time turned off those peripheral fans who had no direct affiliation to the university. This is something that Brad Bates obviously is trying to fix, but this is not going to change any time soon. Those folks that Bill Flynn, Chet Gladchuck and Gene DiFilippo pissed off now have kids of their own, or are the kids of those who were scorned.
BC is it's own island at this point. Just drive to downtown Newton, a scant mile or so down the road and tell me if there are any signs of this being a college town.
You see heat maps showing who owns certain geographic areas...this is complete and total nonsense and forget about what the rest of the country shows for loyalties. BC doesn't even own the city of Newton. What it should show is an area of 200 acres as a dot where campus sits..and then microdots around Massachusetts in the homes of alums..because reality is, that's it. BC no more owns New England then the Revolution do.
Add in years of neglect of the general public and a downward slide in on field performance and you've got the current condition.
So for the sake of the topic, let's create a vision statement for BC athletics: Boston College will be an integral part of the fabric of the sporting society in Boston. By the way, I couldn't find a vision statement, but a real mission statement actually does exist for the athletic department...here. It doesn't care too much about relevance. It was definitely written by one of the Jesuits!!
BC athletics is never going to equal what the pro sports teams do in this town and that's ok. What it needs is to be relevant, to be respected, not to be ridiculed, which for many is the only way they can speak about it.
As fans, it is tough to totally assimilate some of these athletic department goals listed above, but there is one goal it is pretty easy for all of us to discuss and there is one goal that unless it is met, can guarantee that these programs have no chance of gaining relevance and that is winning. It sounds so simple...win and they will care....but the thing is I don't think it is that simple. A lot goes into your ability to win on the field and we will touch on what goes into that in part IV of the series, but without winning there is no chance.
So my question to you is, to what level do you have to win to be relevant?
Assuming for a moment that winning is ultimately what is going to make BC relevant in this town, how big do you have to win..and for how long?
We talked that #2 in the USA in 2007 didn't do it. So what would?
This is where Boston College has to understand it's local pro sports roots. In this market we have seen a prolonged stretch of pro sports excellence. The Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics have all won titles in the past decade and consistently are in title contention. Why would people already inclined not to be Boston College fans suddenly show interest in a program not playing for all the marbles? And I don't mean conference titles, I mean national titles and on a consistent basis.
From 1999 to 2010 BC ran off winning season after winning season and actually lost ground in the public eye. People are just not impressed by bowl trips to Charlotte and Detroit to play games against teams they wouldn't pay to see in a regular season. Watching 7-5, 8-4 teams play, who aren't playing for titles, when their heroes (or those they have been conditioned to think are their heroes) are playing for them simply doesn't make sense.
Can BC do this...can they play consistently or consistently enough for national titles to gain relevance? And even if they could do this, would it come at a cost that either the university or you as a fan or alumnus of Boston College would want to see them take?
You may have already told yourself that I'm nuts and that there is no way BC can win to that level...and maybe that is my point. I think BC may well be in just about the best position that can be hoped for. Bates will continue to try to do what he can to improve the athletic department, the Dazzler hopefully will improve the product on the field, but will it drastically change anything? If all goes well, attendance will improve slightly, but Alumni won't consistently sell out and sports radio, television, newspapers and the average guy on the street who has no affiliation at all to BC won't be talking them up.
So you tell me, should a goal...or even the goal of the athletic department be relevance in this market? Will it help the overall product on the field to be relevant? What would this cost the university in terms of their educational goals?
In part III we will take a look at role models that BC can emulate to become relevant in a pro sports market and in part IV, those steps, outside of winning that can be taken to advance relevance in Boston.