In years past, Boston College vs. Florida State in Chestnut Hill was a license to print money. The teams would battle on national television with memorable results. There would be a more electric feel in the stands than usual, and it was a sign that the "new ACC" stretched the entire east coast with class and quality programs.
After all, in 2005, Boston College hosted ESPN Gameday for the first time ever, playing the Seminoles extremely tight before ultimately losing, 28-17. In 2007, Boston College ranked #2 in the nation and was coming off its most emotional victory arguably in program history with the Matt Ryan-led comeback at Lane Stadium in Virginia Tech. Florida State beat BC that day, dashing Eagle hopes for a national title. And in 2009, Gameday again came to Chestnut Hill to celebrate Mark Herzlich's heroic fight against cancer, a landmark event where Herz famously announced he had beaten Ewing's Sarcoma (BC would use that emotion to beat the Seminoles).
Each time, 40,000-plus fans came out and watched Boston College play. They sold out most, if not all, of Alumni Stadium, and the ACC's most recognizable face helped drive those numbers. College football enthusiasts could see the overall benefit of playing teams like Clemson and the Big East carryovers in Virginia Tech and Miami. But in terms of star power, Florida State had the mainstream crossover rivaled maybe only by the Hurricanes and, of course, Notre Dame.
So two years ago, when BC hosted Florida State on national television for an 8 PM start, it was probably as rude an awakening to the Frank Spaziani era as anything else. FSU marched out to a 28-0 halftime lead, and BC's stands were almost entirely empty by the time the teams came out for the third quarter. Losing 38-7, the loss eliminated BC from bowl eligibility, but, perhaps more importantly, killed the Eagles in the court of public opinion. National television cameras caught mostly empty seats through the first quarter, then again for the entire second half. The chants throughout the stadium were FSU fans doing their tomahawk chop. Even with attendance pushing the same mark as always, there was clearly a much larger pro-FSU crowd with definitive sections outcheering whatever was left in the BC fandom.
So, from my perspective and given recent history, it makes sense for Boston College to schedule Parents' Weekend around this game. For the new families who didn't know what BC football was all about and for the existing families jaded by the fact that the old regime didn't do a whole lot for the fans, it was a showcase game to bring them back into the fold.
For the view from the stands, that's exactly what happened. In my section, the seats next to my family's season tickets were held by a family who's son was in the student section. The father, a general football fan from Massachusetts who admittedly didn't know a ton about BC, was captivated by the energy of the Eagles, and the cheers and high fives extended to newfound fans for the next four years. Watching Steve Addazio run out to the hashes to blow a new tailpipe into a referee was positively awesome for him, and the energy in the stands was something he had never seen before. By the time he left, he was already talking about coming back to another game.
I know that there is a complaint by some (and mentioned by AJ in his Good, Bad, and Ugly column) that the start time didn't lend itself to people staying late because of dinner reservations, but I'll disagree. I'll disagree because people mostly left because they felt the game was getting out of hand. They left because BC was down 18 late in the 3rd quarter and 19 in the 4th. Since the Eagles had been outscored 45-14 since their field goal in the second at that point, there was no purpose for them to stay. For those that did, they were treated to a BC team that didn't quit. And even when those fans did leave, there were few FSU fans chanting and tomahawk chopping.
From my perspective, this will unquestionably help BC in the long run. Part of the view from the stands is to see the evolution. Brad Bates apparently understands that he needs to captivate his college before he can reach into the general public. This week, he posted online an article talking about the resources at BC in terms of real world talent. He talks about things like career placement, recruiting, personnel alignment, game-day growth, and student formation. He says that last part is the most important.
After recruiting back his die-hard fans, he is now reaching out to the more niche groups of faculty, students, and, families. Perhaps it's not what most of us would've expected, but, at the same time, it's a slow process to get everyone back on the BC bandwagon, and he needs to do things like this to develop new loyalties among young alumni, their families, and their future generations of students. And for what it's worth, before kickoff I mentioned out loud that there weren't a lot of FSU fans in the stands, meaning most of the 40,129 were there as BC fans, a stark contrast from two years ago.
It's a long road back for Boston College, one that Brad Bates knew was never going to be easy. While the athletic department made changes right off the bat that were evident, it's still only the beginning of a long road of turnaround. It's no longer a guarantee that national brands like Florida State can sell tickets on that draw alone. But, like the football team on the field, even in moments of defeat, there's still cause for hope and optimism. And if the football team on the field will never quit, then we know we'll see that the administration will exhibit that same attitude and never quit trying to build slowly a brand that was damaged so quickly.