It’s finally here.
Saturday, for many of us, will be about loading up on tailgate supplies, lining up to get in to Alumni’s lots as early as possible, and soaking in the joy of a Boston College football Saturday.
This is always one of my favorite weeks of the year. It represents both hope for the new season, and the opportunity to reconnect with so many friends through the experience of supporting BC athletics.
For the third straight offseason, though, it feels like the buildup to the year hasn’t really been about what we expect to happen on the field.
The last two seasons were played under the cloud of COVID, while this year, the offseason storylines were predominantly about realignment, NIL, and the impending major changes to college athletics.
As I talk with friends both online and in real life, the talk is as much about what’s going to become of the ACC and where BC will land in realignment, as it is about whether BC can overcome the 7-win hump this year.
To be clear, many of these changes are probably good and overdue. Athletes being fairly compensated for their name, image and likeness is a bare minimum and appropriate response to the vast sums of money being made by others not actually playing the games.
And while we don’t know yet how realignment will shake out, it’s theoretically possible that in 5 years we’re actually happier about where BC is in the world of college athletics than we are now.
Maybe BC finagles its way in to one of the super conferences. Or perhaps the post-realignment world puts BC in a conference where all the schools are roughly playing under the same set of financial parameters, and while the “power 2” dominate, the quality in leagues like the ACC (or whatever it’s called then) is good enough that fans still enjoy it and it ends up being more enjoyable and competitive.
But the fact of the matter is we really don’t know what things are going to look like five years from now, or even two years from now. BC’s future could look a lot like its present; it could be better; or it could look a lot like, say, Temple. We really just don’t know.
What we do know is that right here and now, despite the frustrating moments that come along with BC fandom, we are and have been pretty lucky to enjoy BC’s place in the last ~15 years of college football, in the era that started with the last big round of realignment - and we get to enjoy it yet again this fall.
To paraphrase what I wrote the day after the Big Ten/USC/UCLA bombshell:
The current Power Five setup and participation in the ACC is great for BC, despite the challenges we’ve faced competitively in recent years. Think about it:
-However unlikely it may be, we still get to preserve the dream of having a Matt Ryan-type year of being in the top 10 and competing for a spot in the ACC championship game/playoffs. We’re connected, in some small way, to what’s happening at the very pinnacle of college football.
-Just about every year, we get the excitement of a big time game between BC and a national powerhouse.
-Sometimes, those games happen while BC is competitive, fueling hopes of a lifelong memory of an upset like the USC game. We’ve had College Gameday, ESPN primetime, and other marquee moments on campus, and these kinds of opportunities for exposure are fundamental to the BC experience, both for students and alumni. It’s also no doubt a recruitment tool for prospective students across the country.
-We regularly get to see BC alumni playing in the NFL.
-BC has gotten to be in the upper echelon in terms of athletics revenue, which has allowed the school to support its robust offering of non-revenue sports at a high level. That’s helped fuel the rise of lacrosse, recruit Olympic-tier athletes to BC, and generally support the health of the program.
-While BC is at a competitive disadvantage compared to with deep-pocketed boosters that spend tons of money on the program - now including direct payments to players - it’s still existing in the same universe as them, and able to ostensibly compete on the same playing field. In a future, more professionalized college football world, this will probably not be possible.
-Additionally, without waxing too poetic about BC’s commitment to the academic aspect of student-athlete, because we’re far from perfect and certainly far from, say, the Ivy League, I do think it’s a fundamental part of why alumni enjoy supporting the program and why many student-athletes enjoy being at BC. The future of big-time college athletics is going to look even more like pro teams that happen to share the school’s branding... which may well be fine, but it’s going to be different.
All of which is to say, with us really not knowing what the near future is going to hold, I’m going to really appreciate this season, appreciate these Alumni Stadium Saturdays, and appreciate the crowds, atmospheres and moments that make us fortunate as BC fans to be part of big-time college football - even if that role has mostly been one of a bit part in recent years.
After what will likely be a big crowd and a fun opener against Rutgers, we have a trip to Lane Stadium to look forward to one week later, which will forever remind those of us of a certain age of a magical Thursday night in the fall of ‘07.
Not long after that, we’ll welcome Clemson to town, hopeful that the atmosphere matches College Gameday from a few years ago, but with a better actual game. Later in the year, BC will be at Notre Dame, hoping to rekindle memories of ‘93 in one of college football’s most famous stadiums.
Enjoy it, and appreciate it, because for better or for worse, things are going to look a lot different - a lot sooner than you think.
We’ll see you at Alumni Stadium this Saturday.