I greatly appreciate the mostly positive response to yesterday's BCI piece, reminding everyone that BC's problems in football and basketball aren't new - they're the product of disastrous decisions made by former athletic director Gene DeFilippo from 2006-2010.
But I don't like being the kind of person who assigns blame and offers criticism without offering something resembling solutions. So to follow up to yesterday, I'd like to offer my thoughts on the way BC can dig themselves out of the hole GDF left behind.
Here are the steps I'd like to see BC take in the short term future.
1. Show Patience (To a Point)
I know -- this is the least satisfying answer imaginable for sports fans. Everyone wishes there was some sort of short term fix where you could immediately turn the program's fortunes around.
To some extent that's possible (though difficult) in pro sports, but it really just doesn't work that way in college. There are plenty of things BC can do to improve the attractiveness of BC athletics, and we're going to get in to some of them in this piece, but ultimately nothing is going to cause huge changes overnight.
During the last round of hiring football and basketball coaches, BC was not shy about committing resources. Steve Addazio is paid well - in the top half of the ACC. BC approached higher profile basketball coaches than Jim Christian but they didn't necessarily want the job or the task of trying to climb out of the ACC cellar. BC has also committed time and money to finding the right assistants in basketball, football and baseball in an attempt to improve the program.
The point here is that it isn't just a money issue, though more resources would help. If you axe BC's football and basketball coaches now, the only people interested in the job would be people who are either unproven or desperate for a gig. There will be no savior walking through the door who will immediately turn things around.
As I mentioned yesterday, if BC is going to contend for ACC championships, they need to get back to respectability first. It's not going to happen if the programs stay in a state of instability. So we need to wait it out, and let these coaches get in their recruits and implement their system. It takes time. If the current coaches can at least get BC in to a respectable position when they next hire a coach, that will be worthwhile progress.
Even the most successful BC coaches haven't always found immediate success.
When Al Skinner took over in 1997, he had three straight losing seasons before the magical 2001 season when BC won the Big East and returned to the NCAA tournament. 15-16 in year 1, 6-21 in year 2, and 11-19 in year 3. Jim O'Brien didn't make the NCAA tournament until his 8th season in 1994, the year BC made the Elite 8.
In football, Tom O'Brien went 4-7 in his first two years. The great Jerry York didn't have a winning season until year 4. While we're not ready to crown BC baseball just yet, it's worth noting that Mike Gambino is in year 7 and he's been much maligned; not only did people want him gone, they wanted the program gone.
This isn't to say BC should wait around forever. We need to see progress. Steve Addazio's seat is warm because last year's disaster was a huge step backward from the previous two years. We need to see the program moving in a positive direction. But the expectations need to be kept in check. BC is in a deep hole and it's going to take time to dig out.
2. Progress on facilities - including details on the $200 million plan and a blueprint for the next 25 years
BC's recent announcement of $200 million in facilities investments was a huge, important step. The construction of an indoor practice facility for football - seen as a luxury 10 years ago - is now a necessity to compete at the ACC level. A baseball/softball facility is absolutely essential for the future of the programs, given the state of Shea Field. And while most have looked at the new Plex as something that mostly benefits the general student body and not varsity athletics, it's worth pointing out that swimming and diving, track, fencing and tennis are among the varsity programs that either practice or compete inside the Plex. A gorgeous facility along the lines of what BU has would instantly elevate all of those programs.
The next step now is more details on the rec plex and the timeline for the practice facility. My hope is that the plex will include some amenities that will serve as an upgrade for the basketball program, like additional space to practice or lift. If the plans aren't finalized, BC should strongly consider making sure such accommodations are part of the plan.
The next step after details of the $200 million come out should be a visioning process that engages all BC athletics stakeholders in identifying facilities needs for the next 20-30 years. How do we modernize Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum? (Do we replace either one? Probably not.) What else do we need to keep up with the Joneses in football? If practice facilities for basketball aren't included in plans for the Plex, where can they go? What about a practice sheet for hockey - something BC lacks, along with the hockey-specific strength and conditioning facilities that BU, North Dakota and Minnesota boast?
BC needs to properly inventory all of the facilities needs that are going to come up over the next few decades and make sure there's a comprehensive plan to address them in a planned manner, rather than leaving things as they have been over the past few years, with people screaming for news that seemed like it would never come. The school needs to be proactive and show it knows what it needs and what needs are most pressing.
3. Create an athletics advisory board to oversee the department
Say what you want about Fr. Leahy and whether he puts BC in the best position to succeed; I personally don't want the University president meddling too much in the day to day of the athletics program, and I also don't think the University president should spend too much of his time focused on sports. I know sports are an important marketing tool for the University, but I also wouldn't want leadership of a company focusing more on marketing than on the quality of the product. Academics are the product.
That said, athletics are an important part of BC and deserve to be treated as such. A way to do that would be to create an advisory board or subcommittee within the Board of Trustees to oversee athletics and focus on the long-term.
I'm guessing there are successful people who are current or prospective trustees who would jump at the opportunity to volunteer to be part of this advisory board. It would be a potential prestige position.
Let's be honest, in this day and age it's going to be rare to have athletic directors last decades. People are always going to be looking for the next opportunity, and the high stakes world of college athletics means there is more and more pressure on ADs to produce quickly or move on. But there should be people who take the long term view of the program, who are involved in the hiring of ADs, who have an advisory role in the hiring of coaches, and who help oversee long term projects like a facilities master plan, or major fundraising campaigns.
This type of advisory board would help ensure a more seamless transition when ADs and coaches move on. There's the potential that an extra layer of bureaucracy makes the AD's job more complicated, but I think what this board would mostly do is serve as the kind of focused, day-to-day oversight that just isn't likely to come from the University president's office.
4. Be frank about addressing BC's diversity issue, without resorting to tokenism
This is an uncomfortable topic to broach because you inevitably get tied in to bigger cultural and political issues that we really don't need to get in to on this site. So we won't. But I will say this: whether you like it or not, and whether it's fair or unfair, the perception exists that there's a diversity issue at BC, and this perception has hurt BC athletics. Not just in recruiting, but also in terms of fan and media perception.
I suppose it's possible that some people may disagree with the above statement, but where there's smoke, there's fire. It's referenced in the Hohler piece; it's been referenced in comments here and on social media. It's part of the conversation on campus. Maybe class has a bigger role in this perception than race does; maybe it's religion... whatever it is, there's a perception. And perception becomes reality, especially in the recruiting-driven world of college sports.
BC needs to take a frank and honest look at what causes this perception without attempting "quick fixes" that won't really work, like simply hiring an African American head coach for one sport just for the sake of it and changing nothing else.
This is more of a university issue than an athletics issue, but athletics has a role to play too. BC has had plenty of successful black alumni (in sports and otherwise) who love BC and whose ideas should be solicited on how to counteract this perception on the recruiting trail. BC also needs to have open ears and an open mind about what changes might need to be made to help people who aren't white, Catholic and relatively well off from feeling uncomfortable or not part of the fabric of the University.
You're entitled to your opinion if you don't think BC needs to do this soul searching, and that people from outside the traditional Catholic school demographic should adapt to BC and not the other way around. Holding that opinion doesn't make you a bad person. But it is counterproductive to the goal of advancing BC's athletics program.
As I said earlier, I don't want to see token hires. I want to see BC attract the best coaches and best players and best administrators, regardless of race, gender or anything else. But when 0 out of 31 head coaches are people of color, as are very few assistants and high level administrators, and zero members of the board of trustees, that means BC is realistically probably not attracting the very best candidates; it means there's likely a blind spot that's preventing the best candidates from being found. Sheer demographic statistics suggest there's just no way the most qualified person would be a person of color 0 times out of 31. Not to mention, say, 2 times out of 100 if you're expanding this to talk about administrators and other high-level staff.
5. Find a unique identity and a way to beat the system, especially in basketball
The combination of athletics and high level academics, and the combination of being in a major city while also offering a campus environment, is already in and of itself a unique package to sell to recruits and staff. But at their best, football and basketball have also had other defining aspects that helped them stand out and attract particular recruits. For football, "O Line U," mental toughness and a "pro style" that prepares to send players to the NFL have often served as selling points.
In basketball, I think BC has a much more challenging path to success than football, and the Eagles are going to need to find something that makes them stand out if they're going to swim with the ACC sharks. The women's basketball team has taken to finding far flung recruits from Italy, Greece and Nigeria. The men's team should also step up its international recruiting and establish pipelines to hoops-rich but under-recruited areas like Canada or Latin America.
Another thing BC could do in basketball is maybe go the route some teams have gone in college hockey and see if they can find some players who are a little bit older and more polished for whatever reason, be it due to additional prep/junior college years, being on a different timeline due to being an international recruit, and transferring in 5th years or players who need to sit out a year due to transfer rules.
6. Go on a charm offensive with the fanbase
To some extent, this is already happening, but it doesn't matter for much because the teams have been so bad. But BC has done a much better job over the last few years of making their fans feel more valued, both in terms of how they're treated as customers, and in terms of the pricing and accessibility of the product.
But BC has a lot of work to do if they're going to undo years of damaged caused by DBS, skyrocketing ticket prices, crazy tailgating prices and policies, and poor/nonexistent marketing.
I know BC is limited by what Newton and Boston allow them to do, but BC is going to have to figure out some sort of major gift to offer to the fans as a token of appreciation for their support during this challenging time for the program. Maybe it's selling beer at the stadium. Maybe it's a one-year waiving or halving of tailgating fees for alumni or fans who have had spots for 5+ years. Maybe it's randomly selecting season ticket holders for travel on the house to an away game. Something to build loyalty and extend and olive branch to thank people who are sticking it out.
Fair or unfair, it feels to most run of the mill fans that the cool stuff BC makes available to fans is pretty much only accessible to the highest level donors. You can get away with that when demand exceeds supply, but when BC is facing the attendance and interest situation they are, they need to be sure not to alienate any of their fans. (Here's a hint: calling a football/hockey season ticket holder and saying "as a valued supporter of BC athletics, we'd like to offer you a VERY SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY!!! to purchase BC vs. Syracuse basketball tickets for just $80!!!" is alienating.)
Basketball tickets need to be made widely available to kids - young kids, as well as high schoolers, and even college students at other schools that maybe don't have a basketball team. Take the hit and give the tickets away for free at least for one or two seasons - again, as a goodwill gesture, and as an apology for this past season of complete failure. Maybe you'll sell more concessions. Maybe you'll make some lifelong fans. And hey, maybe you'll even improve attendance and get some energy in the building (though realistically that will take winning).
BC needs to be out and about in the community, making its presence known through giveaways, promotions and guerilla marketing that can attract new fans. They also need to price the product appropriately given the current quality of the teams they're putting on the field/court. Simple, right?
7. Don't panic, and don't betray institutional values
I'm sure the reason why most of you read this website is because you love BC, and loved your BC experience. BC is a special place, and although it has its limitations when it comes to athletics recruiting, it also has a lot to sell. When BC has found coaches that are the right fit for the institution, they've had no problem selling solid players on the prospect of getting a great education, living in an awesome city, playing sports at a high level, and leaving school with a chance to either go pro in sports or have strong career opportunities outside of athletics.
BC can't betray or second guess the institutional values that make BC what it is. It's easy to say you're magically going to make things better by lowering academic requirements or making wholesale changes to the way BC operates, funneling more money and focus in to making a splash in football than attracting world class students and faculty.
But not only would that fundamentally change something good about BC, it also likely wouldn't work. BC sports at its best sells BC for what it is - it doesn't try to mimic other schools.
BC isn't necessarily "better" than NC State or Clemson or Florida State, or BU or Northeastern, or Harvard or UMass. But it is unique, and has its own character that makes it very appealing to so many people, including all of us.
In short: don't panic. Don't go crazy and start sending people to the guillotine left and right, or blowing everything up. It's tempting to do so right now, but the good things about BC are what's going to bring back success in football and basketball - not trying too hard to be a bad cover version of another school.
In no business is panic and overreaction a smart move. That goes for college athletics as well. Ride out the storm, make needed course adjustments, and guide the ship back to calmer waters. In the meantime, let's get excited and hope for a pair of national hockey championships in the next few weeks. Go Eagles.