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Alumni Stadium: Boston College football’s best investment

Alumni Stadium Patriots

Nobody will ever confuse Boston College’s Alumni Stadium for The Big House or Death Valley.

But for a long time, BC fans have probably greatly underestimated what a fantastic and foresighted investment it was by BC to both build out an on-campus stadium, and grow it along with the program as college football evolved into a national product.

BC’s 1990s investment in keeping the biggest games on campus, rather than going the route of other Northeast programs that have had stadium upheaval or have tried to share a field off-site, is probably right up there with the decision to join the ACC in terms of actions that have helped BC’s athletic program stay relevant and financially solvent.

The College Football Tour – a website/book project working on documenting the game day experience at every FBS college football stadium – recently visited BC and offered a glowing review of the warmth and environment of the game day experience on week 1 against Colgate.

Contrast Alumni with the stadium situation of our last two road games – at UMass, and at Temple – and you can clearly see why Alumni is so important to BC.

When UMass announced they were going to the FBS, their plan was to play most of their ‘big’ games at Gillette Stadium, figuring it’s a world class facility and they could draw reasonably well in an area where plenty of their alumni live, even if it’s a long haul from their actual campus. Their on-campus facility was (and remains) too small to be a legitimate FBS stadium.

But if you attended the BC-UMass games at Gillette, you know that the experience of attending a game there simply falls flat. It doesn’t feel like college football.

Even a fairly decent 25Kish crowd feels tiny in the hulking stadium. The seats are far back from the field compared to the intimate environs of Alumni. And, most importantly, the gameday experience at Gillette is simply devoid of some of the things that make college football special – students tailgating in front of their dorms, alumni reliving the ‘glory days’ by walking around campus where they made so many memories, the sound of the band blasting through the stadium and the lots.

UMass’s most loyal football supporters – the ones who haven’t been driven away by the bungling of a once very successful FCS football program – cried out for games to return to campus, and they finally have, which is ultimately good for the program. But Amherst’s McGuirk Alumni Stadium is likely not a viable option should UMass hope to get into a conference and regularly play in bigger games.

Temple has been playing at Lincoln Financial Field since 2003, and played regularly at Veterans Stadium before that; they elected to move out of their former, 20K seat “Owl Stadium” in the 1970s. And again, if you were at Saturday’s game or watched on TV, you can see that the experience there is not great. There’s no emotional draw for Temple alumni to go back to campus, and the atmosphere falls flat. Pitt faces this issue as well, playing at the home of the Steelers. Even during BC’s worst years, attending games at Alumni offered the draw of being in the shadow of Gasson and being a short walk from students’ dorms.

UConn faces a similar challenge . Even when their program was doing better than it is now, they ultimately had to rely on fan shuttles to get students to the games. When they are having a down year, there isn’t even the draw for alumni of getting to enjoy being on campus.

Alumni Stadium represents a significant difference between BC and other programs in the Northeast – which no doubt has aided in recruiting, attendance, and stature of the program.

It didn’t have to be this way; for a long time, BC regularly played home games at the old Foxboro Stadium, particularly prior to 1994 when Alumni was renovated and expanded to its current capacity of 44,500. In the mid 90s, as college football was growing, there may have been a certain logic to keeping this arrangement rather than expanding the on-campus facility.

We should be glad that at the inflection point when BC could have chosen to keep the on-campus stadium small and play bigger games in Foxboro, that they wisely elected to keep college football where it belongs – on campus.

With the current iteration of Alumni Stadium now over 25 years old, the stadium does need some work in the years to come, particularly to modernize the fan experience to meet 21st century expectations. But we shouldn’t lose sight of how important Alumni is to the program, and where we might be if BC had chosen a different path.