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A Response to The Heights’ “In Defense of the Superfans”

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This won’t be pretty.

Weber State v Boston College Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Following Monday evening’s men’s hockey game with Boston University, I filed an analysis to be posted on Tuesday morning. One of the points made in the post was that, despite noticeably high student attendance, the student section was largely subdued, especially considering the opponent.

On Thursday, BC’s student newspaper, The Heights, released the following.

In the article (which mentions yours truly by name), newly minted Associate Sports Editor (and former Assistant Sports Editor) Annabel Steele wrote a counterpoint to my argument about the student section.

Let’s just say it’s not a newspaper clipping I anticipate my mom posting on our refrigerator.

There’s a few problems with Steele’s argument, and I’d like to take this time to point them out.

As a matter of housekeeping, all text that is in italics is direct quotation from Steele’s article, which can be read here.

Now:


A decade ago, Matt Ryan was leading BC football while Jared Dudley ran the court at Conte Forum. Ever since then, students have had little to celebrate for these big-name sports. For the past several years, football and both basketball teams have struggled to remain competitive in the ACC, a conference the Eagles joined in a controversial manner after walking over all their opponents in the Big East. Back then, it seemed that BC would remain competitive and a top threat in the ACC even as a newcomer to the conference. A harsh reality soon set in as the highest-profile teams began to suffer. Fans walking out early or skipping games altogether sent a message: We don’t approve of this.

That’s all well and good, but someone should probably point out that this was not a football or basketball game, but a men’s hockey game. You know, the team that has won three national championships since Matt Ryan took his last snap for the Eagles, and was additionally in the Frozen Four another two times. The team that hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since I, currently a senior in college, was in eighth grade?

I don’t think we can make the “perennial loser” argument on this one.

That’s not to say football or basketball performance doesn’t have a tangible effect on school spirit, but on the other hand, there are two other Hockey East programs in Boston with middling basketball programs that have strong student sections, soooooo.

Also, those programs aren’t in first place in the league. BC is.

But discussing football and basketball is a separate issue for a different time.

So why did you bring it up?

USCHO.com ranks BC at No. 14 on its list of men’s hockey attendance across the country.

It’s probably worth noting that USCHO’s attendance stats take into account total attendance, not just student attendance. As long as non-student attendance is strong (and it has been ok as of late), the total attendance will not obviously reflect a downturn of student attendance.

That said, take a look at where BC was on the attendance list in, say, 2013. Its ranking at that point was powered by huge student attendance.

Only two Hockey East schools were ranked higher than BC in total attendance per game—Connecticut and Lowell—but Connecticut’s percentage of seats filled was actually lower than BC’s, clocking in at 57 percent.

Yeah, it’s almost like UConn plays at a professional arena a half hour from campus or something.

These attendance numbers tell a significant story. Yes, BC may struggle to fill seats in football and men’s basketball, especially when compared to other conference schools. But BC is actually one of the best schools in the nation for filling seats at hockey games. And this brings me back to my original point—that Bailin’s argument against the student section falls flat.

You have provided absolutely zero evidence that the student section has seats filled (seriously, read the article, she doesn’t). Every point that you make talks about total attendance.

If you want evidence, here are pictures I took during the third period of the UMass game Friday evening.

Moving on.

I disagree that the student section was listless on Monday night. Hockey is what BC does best, so hockey is what draws the crowds.

Except for that part where you basically defended why attendance would be low at the BEGINNING OF YOUR ARGUMENT.

As the players from each team who represented their countries at World Juniors late last year were recognized, BC students cheered on their Eagles and loudly booed the Terriers. This stands in sharp contrast to the game played at Agganis Arena several days before, when BU fans cheered for the Eagles who’d played at World Juniors.

You’re saying this like this is a thing that BC fans should be proud of.

The fan treatment didn’t get much better for BU from there, with students alternately cheering for BC and insulting BU.

That’s the thing. Just chanting “Let’s Go Eagles,” and “Sucks to BU,” a couple times during the game doesn’t create a good atmosphere. By and large, students seemed disengaged throughout the game. Even when BU students tried to bait the students with a “Sunday School” chant, nobody even acknowledged it. It was almost as if everyone was just quietly apathetic.

Seriously, look at the picture The Heights used:

There are five students with arms crossed, and one person turned to talk to a friend while Jordan Greenway had a chance in front of Joe Woll. And that’s just in the first row!

I saw students wearing BC hockey jerseys, BC hats, and BC socks, ready to cheer their beloved Eagles to victory.

Too bad no one wore BC pants, or BC would have won in a blowout.

I’m not alone in thinking that the student section made their presence known on Monday night. York wrote a letter to the editor to The Heights. In it, he cited an attendance of 7,884 fans—likely an underestimation, given the amount of people standing—and thanked the students for their support. Regardless of the official number of fans, it’s clear that Kelley Rink was jam-packed on Monday night. York even characterized the student section as “possibly the best [he] has seen in [his] 23 years as head coach” of the Eagles.

A message like this is significant. York was under no obligation to say anything like this. It wouldn’t have looked odd or bad if he hadn’t said anything about the student section at all. But he chose to write this letter and thank the student section.

Yeah, it’s almost like he’s trying to get more students to attend more regularly or something.

Seriously, he literally said in the letter:

“We hope that all of you maintain that enthusiasm for our club going forward as we try and channel your passion to victory.”

Another aspect of Bailin’s argument is that the fans weren’t passionate because they didn’t attend games up until now. It reads like a bandwagon accusation—nobody cared until the BU game rolled around, and even then nobody was all that passionate.

Yeah, funny how a bandwagon accusation reads like a bandwagon accusation.

During the stretch of time between Halloween and Christmas break, students are overwhelmed with midterms, essays, and assignments. This is especially true of the period leading right up to finals.

This is the case at literally every school in the country.

It’s also crucial to recognize that BC’s student body is no-longer comprised of lifelong hockey fans.

Oh?

As the University has jumped in academic rankings, it has attracted students from across the country, and even across the sea. College hockey may be huge in New England and parts of the Midwest, but it’s not very popular elsewhere in the country.

Huh.

BC’s numbers are quite different. StudyPoint estimates that 76 percent of the student body comes from other states and countries. CollegeBoard estimates that 74 percent of BC students are out-of-state.

A quick look at BC’s enrollment statistics (which by the way, were a quick Google search away) tells a much different story than the one that Steele is telling. Of BC’s 9,714 undergraduates, 6,371 come from states with a Division I hockey program. That’s 66% of the student body. 36% came from New England and the Midwest, and if you add people from New York, which has 10 Division 1 hockey programs, the percentage goes up to 50%!

This is by way of saying that the argument that the majority of BC undergrads haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to college hockey is simply false.

In addition, there are other forms of hockey other than college, like professional. BC students who have come from states with NHL teams make up 72% of the student body, and that doesn’t include the New England states other than Massachusetts that most definitely have a major contingent supporting the Bruins.

Essentially, the “I don’t know what hockey is” argument doesn’t really work either.

Also, I know, it’s totally impossible for top academic schools to have good student sections for sports, which is why Duke basketball (No. 8 in the US News rankings), Notre Dame football/basketball (No. 15), Southern California football (No. 23), Virginia basketball (No. 24), Michigan everything (No. 27), UNC-Chapel Hill basketball (No. 30) and Wisconsin football/basketball (No. 44) all have generally apathetic student sections.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, the make up of the student body is virtually the same now as it has been. In 2013, when the student section for hockey was strong (check out box scores and YouTube clips to prove it), there was no significant difference in representation by state. Here’s our data to prove it, from BC’s own self-reported numbers:

Having eight less students from Massachusetts shouldn’t make the student section that much worse.

The point is, I don’t think the student section was low-energy or apathetic on Monday night. And it does no good to criticize the students when they do turn out in full force and make their presence known. (This is a lesson I learned the hard way last year.)

You mean that column where you criticized fans at a game you didn’t attend or even watch on TV? Yes, we noticed that.

Well, the student section has another opportunity coming up to prove that it is far from apathetic. February is fast approaching, and you know what that means …

It’s almost Beanpot szn, y’all.

There were three home games between the BU game and the Beanpot (lest we levy a bandwagon accusation). Last night was the first. A quiet crowd greeted it, even as BC put six pucks in the net.


And that’ll do it. A ridiculous argument, debunked.