When Pat Kraft stepped into the role of Boston College Athletic Director last spring, he faced two unenviable tasks: replacing an AD in Martin Jarmond who was very popular not only among BC fans, but with a strong reputation nationwide; and starting up in the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown of college sports.
With fundraising and marketing being such critical parts of the AD job, Kraft was dealt a difficult hand - but appears to have played it about as well as anyone could have hoped.
Let’s take a look back at some of the past year’s successes:
Securing the funding for the basketball practice facility
Yes, the basketball practice facility has been a priority for years, dating back to Martin Jarmond’s time as AD, when BC went deep on exploring options for where and how to ramp up basketball and hockey facilities.
But some have been too quick to dismiss the importance of Kraft’s fundraising and relationship building work in moving this project closer to the finish line, with some of the social media commentary suggesting this was purely a Jarmond initiative.
Ultimately, no matter how far advanced any fundraising conversations were before COVID-19 and before Kraft’s arrival, the pandemic and associated economic challenges impacted development across the board. Not to mention the additional challenge that came from traditional fundraising avenues like galas, dinners, and in-person meetings limited throughout the year. Getting $20+ million in commitments, including the lead gift from the Hoag family, is a major accomplishment and a significant step for the future of BC athletics.
We have already seen in just a few years how the Fish Field House has impacted BC’s football recruiting. BC was even further behind in basketball than it was in football, and the new facility will put BC in a stronger position to return to competitiveness in the ACC - regardless of who the coach is.
Upgrading BC’s apparel deals
After Under Armour pared back from college athletics, BC moved on from the relationship and landed a unique combination apparel deal with Adidas and New Balance that positions BC well across the full spectrum of its 31 varsity sports.
The New Balance deal was unique, making the Eagles a flagship partner for a brand looking to grow its presence in basketball; giving BC a closer partnership with a major local company in Boston; and securing a much larger pool of revenue from BC’s non-football apparel deal. It also connected BC hockey and lacrosse with one of the most well-established brand in those sports in Warrior.
But the deal required BC to strike a separate partnership for football, and they did that with Adidas - once again driving more revenue to the program and also giving BC football a better brand on the recruiting trail than they had with Under Armour.
While not necessarily as important as the revenue or the equipment, it’s clear that Adidas and New Balance will also look to lean in to a more ‘retro’ brand look for BC, including what seems likely to be a full shift to the “block logo” most BC fans love, and away from the maligned italics.
A win all around.
Navigating COVID-19 and the challenges of 2020
While BC did have some issues with COVID, particularly in basketball, the school ultimately can be proud of how its teams navigated the pandemic and successfully completed their seasons. The football and men’s hockey teams were particularly prominent examples of this, making it through the entire season without COVID-19 complications in sports that saw so many major games and teams disrupted. Everyone involved in making that happen should be incredibly proud, and Kraft deserves credit for steering the ship.
Beyond COVID-19, 2020 brought with it many challenges - from the national racial reckoning to mental health challenges for college students facing traumatic times - and BC athletics appears to have responded well. One of Kraft’s priorities was expanding access to mental health services for student-athletes, and establishing the Eagles for Equality initiative. Providing a supportive environment for student-athletes is obviously an important part of the educational and formational missions of BC athletics, while also being important to competitiveness and recruiting, too.
Additional facility development
While smaller in scope than the basketball news, 2020-21 has also seen plans move forward for a shooting room for the hockey teams, new nutrition and training resources for Olympic sports, new athletic trainer positions, and additional fundraising for athletics scholarships across the 31 varsity sports.
Moving on from Jim Christian
While the jury is still out on Earl Grant as BC’s next men’s basketball coach, and while this was probably the most obvious decision he had to make, finally moving on from Jim Christian as head coach of BC men’s basketball removed the cloud of inevitability over that decision and will allow the program to move into its new era with a fresh start. The timing of having a new coach, a new apparel deal, and a new facility deal coming on line should help the program move past the morass of the last decade and hopefully restore competitiveness in the years to come.
While Kraft still has a lot of work to do - including work to retain and/or grow BC’s ticket base after an unscheduled year off from live events, continuing to bolster the somewhat aging Conte Forum and Alumni Stadium to keep them viable in the years to come, ensuring the investments in basketball are working, keeping an eye on the long-term future of hockey, and keeping together a strong football staff - his first year in charge has been a successful one.
Here’s to us being able to look back next summer and say the same.