You can forgive our own resident seamhead Dan Rubin for feeling a little more upbeat these days. After two years of providing dedicated, blow-by-blow coverage of awful, not-at-all-encouraging Boston College baseball seasons, he's now covering an Eagles team that seems to be putting it together and has every opportunity to qualify for both the ACC and the NCAA tournament if they continue playing well. In a recent story, he pointed out that just a year ago, every article about baseball seemed to only end up focused on the "drop baseball" question; now, people are talking about the team's play.
Well, New Guy kicked the hornet's nest, because his pithy comment revived another round of "baseball vs. lax" talk on Twitter. Yesterday, Eagle in Atlanta added to the conversation by arguing that even a strong finish by the baseball team this year won't and shouldn't quell the discussion of dropping baseball. Dan has been in these debates a million times before and doesn't want to wade in to them again - so I'm going to do it for him.
For years now, the argument of "baseball vs. lacrosse," and the arguments people make for dropping baseball then adding lacrosse, have been a pet peeve of mine. Let me go through my objections to this false debate.
Baseball vs. Men's Lacrosse is a false choice
Unless any of you out there have inside information that I don't have access to, nobody in anything resembling an official capacity has ever said that Boston College is making a choice between baseball and lacrosse. There is zero evidence that, should BC decide for whatever reason to eliminate the baseball program, they would backfill with a lacrosse program, as opposed to just trimming the amount of sports offered overall - a reasonable consideration for BC, given its current oversized 31-sport offering.
There is also no specific evidence that says the #1 obstacle to BC fielding a varsity lacrosse team is the existence of a baseball team. After all, BC did once field a varsity men's lacrosse team while also having a baseball team, and the decision to drop it was not incumbent on the continued existence of BC baseball. BC could theoretically add a lacrosse team by adding another women's sport. They could also eliminate one of a bevy of men's sports that are noncompetitive. I am not calling for any of these sports to be eliminated, and admittedly I am sure some of them have limited scholarships, but golf, tennis, swimming & diving, and the various running sports are all out there facing huge obstacles to long-term success. And yet these are never targets of the "add lacrosse" crowd.
I get that lacrosse vs. baseball feels like a nice simple narrative to cling on to, but until anyone at BC suggests the two have anything to do with one another, they should be discussed independently on their own merits. Should we have a baseball team? Should we have a men's lacrosse team? They are two separate questions.
There's no such thing as a slam dunk at BC, not even men's lacrosse
The other lazy part of the lacrosse discussion that drives me up a wall is the idea that we could drop in to the #1 men's lacrosse conference in the country and immediately be successful, whereas baseball has no chance of ever being on the big stage. I am all about seeing BC win and so I get the argument that if we are likely to be successful in something we should go for it, but it is not a slam dunk that BC would be a national player in men's lacrosse.
The fact of the matter is that BC is only really a legitimate national contender in one men's sport, hockey, and the reasons that hold BC back in other sports would exist in lacrosse, too: weather, recruiting territories, facilities, the depth of ACC competition etc. Massachusetts may be a budding lacrosse hub, but it's not Long Island or Maryland. BC would be recruiting head-to-head with other power programs that have been on the lacrosse stage for a long time, many of whom offer up better weather and facilities than BC can offer. And the path to the top of the ACC is daunting. It's absolutely true that there's enough local lacrosse talent to field a strong team even without beating out the Dukes and Syracuses of the world for NY/mid-Atlantic talent, but there's a lot of Massachusetts talent in baseball and basketball, too - that doesn't mean they all end up at BC.
None of this is to suggest that BC *couldn't* be competitive in lacrosse. After all, despite the challenges, BC has on occasion been a big time player in basketball, football and soccer. But it's not always the case and there's no reason to think that lacrosse would magically be any different. Lacrosse would not be a quick free ride to national contender status; it would be a long building project. That doesn't mean BC shouldn't add the sport, but let's be realistic about the prognosis. If BC wants to add lacrosse, it should be because the school thinks having a men's lacrosse team adds value to the university in some way beyond whether or not they are winning championships.
And as for dropping baseball...
As far as I can tell, the "drop baseball" heat really turned up in the last few years following Mik Aoki's departure, when the Eagles fell hard from respectability and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2009 to the doldrums of several consecutive bad seasons.
I would argue that being bad, even for a stretch of several years, is not really a good enough reason to drop a sport. BC faces a very difficult path to competitiveness in basketball, too. Should we be discussing dropping it? And again, I would point out that the sports I mentioned earlier - golf, tennis, etc. - have struggled to compete too.
I don't think BC views its sports teams as entities that should only exist if they are national contenders. At this point, we're wading in to a matter of opinion, and ATL is right on when he says the discussion here comes down to what your view is on the point of having D1 athletics in the first place.
To me, the value in BC having D1 athletics is largely three-fold: 1) development of high quality student-athletes, which BC does very well; 2) adding to the richness of the university by providing a rallying point and a source of pride and entertainment for students and alums; and 3) exposure for the school.
Your mileage may vary on what counts toward #2. But it's a point of pride for me to see BC fielding teams in all four of the "major sports," and I enjoy being able to watch them all on campus throughout the year. I find it unfortunate that our neighbors on Comm. Ave decided to shed their football and baseball programs. Particularly in Boston, home of such a proud baseball tradition, to not have a varsity baseball team would just feel wrong.
When it comes to exposure - yes, BC is not exactly Rice or Texas and isn't playing on ESPN every year in baseball. But the baseball team has provided a level of exposure that few BC sports exceed. Tony Sanchez playing in Major League Baseball is a great point of pride for BC and obviously provides more exposure than probably 20 BC sports teams combined. Playing in an event like the Baseball Beanpot at Fenway Park is a wonderful event for the team and for the fans who attend. Facing off against the Red Sox each year in Ft. Myers is a proud BC tradition that many alums follow and look forward to, and occasionally gets the baseball team on to TV/radio. And of course Pete Frates has become a regional and national icon for his incredible work, shining a light on everything that's good about BC.
Based on buzz, discussion and interest, baseball is honestly probably already the fifth biggest BC sport after the three obvious ones and women's hoops. There's no guarantee that a men's lacrosse team would match this level of exposure. I'm sure crowds would be good in the first few years due to the novelty, but after that tails off, interest and exposure will depend on winning.
If BC makes the ACC and/or NCAA tournaments this year, there will be plenty of interest from BC fans. There'll be even more interest if BC does get to the finish line on a new baseball facility, which the school has hoped to build for a long time now (a separate discussion for a separate post, obviously).
If BC ever gives even the slightest indication that the fortunes of baseball and lacrosse are intertwined, we can revisit this. Until then, let's discuss baseball and lacrosse separately. And let's hope the Eagles take home the Baseball Beanpot today.