One of the more divisive topics of conversation within the Boston College universe centers on the game day experience. There's the ever present talk of tailgating, the never-ending need to request the indoor practice facility, and the desire to renovate both Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum. We want more, whether it's extended hours on a parking lot, easier movement throughout campus on game day, or less restrictive tailgating hours.
Working to make a better game day experience implies fans want to be there for game day. On Saturday, I sat back at halftime and watched Alumni Stadium empty out with Boston College trailing Virginia Tech, 20-0. I watched as the student section, the so-called "Superfans," filed out, no doubt to get sufficiently lubricated at an on-campus Halloween party. I watched this happen after they all sauntered in well after kickoff.
For the better part of the season, I've sat back and listened to people talk about the Eagles and what will make people come, and the onus always seems to be on Brad Bates and the athletic department. The second half of the BC-VT game was well played, and BC, shockingly, started moving the ball in the fourth quarter. There was some excitement to watching the game, watching the Eagles actually do something. And while it came on the backdrop of an entirely rough first half, I couldn't help but think that the BC football team wasn't quitting on their school, were still out there representing.
It's a shame the fans quit on them.
Boston College fans are notoriously fickle. A couple of bad seasons can murder attendance, and as BC's proven the last couple of seasons, it's extremely hard to get that type of support back. Attendance is down, and as much as there are justifications, it's incredibly hard to get it back. I'm not trying to conjure up memories of Gene DeFillippo's Twitter or the days of Spaz. I'm simply trying to vent a frustration and tie it into the the framework of several topics we discuss at length here.
In college sports, the students and fans are your life blood. They're the backbone of the college experience. They're supposed to be going to games to support Boston College. A place like TCU draws near-capacity crowds and sells out even during a 4-8 season. Wisconsin drew 79,000 for a home game against UTEP during a season in which they went 6-6 and finished third in their division. Those fans didn't go to "see the other team." They went to support their school and support their team.
(Disclaimer: Wisconsin "won" the Leaders Division that year by finishing third because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for the Big Ten Championship. Ultimately, they went to the Rose Bowl.)
The reaction is, of course, split when we say something about them. The students blame the team because nothing can ever be their fault. There was one tweet in particular where a student said something to the effect of, "Hey I'll stay when we learn how to kick a field goal." That student, to me, is the ultimate of what is represented in the modern day person. The one who can always go do something else and doesn't stick around, who shows up to a football game and then leaves because there's somewhere else to go. If you aren't winning, they aren't staying.
Students are supposed to be different. There's supposed to be that link between the players and the Superfans, the one formed by taking classes together or seeing them at parties. When I was an undergrad at UMass-Dartmouth, which honestly wasn't that long ago (2007), my friends and I didn't miss a single basketball game. Nobody went to those games except for us, but we never missed a home game. Those were our friends, and we wanted to ride to the end with them.
(One last note. Those UMass-Dartmouth teams went a combined 20-6 in basketball at home during the 05-06 and 06-07 seasons. They went a combined 8-18 on the road. Think we created a home court advantage? I understand it was only Division III, but the message is still the same. With the rarity I ever compare the two, look for the underlying message.)
In the modern era, there's sensory overload and the concept of a sports fan is different. You go to an event with your friends because it's the thing to do. When it's not the thing to do, you stop going. You go because it's fun to sing "Sweet Caroline" like you're at a Red Sox game or chant "Fire Goodell" when ESPN is broadcasting Sportscenter. When it's no longer worth the time and there's some other distraction that seems more interesting, you just bail.
Understand this, though. There are downstream impacts. For starters, college is about camaraderie. It's about making friends and connections that last a lifetime. It's about seeing the football player walking through the hallway on the way to class and knowing you have his back. It's about lifting up a team that's struggling because, to be honest, it's a lot harder to be a fan during the trying times. It shows your loyalty and willingness to stick by your team, the pride you have in your school.
Second, leaving early destroys home field advantage. BC came out in the second half and, at times, outplayed Virginia Tech. The offense scored on a five-play drive in there where they moved the ball with lethal efficiency, a stark contrast to anything we've seen. The Eagles played with heart and never quit. They're tenacious and gritty, something they lacked in losses during the Spaziani era (which, to be fair, the majority of students weren't here for). If the crowd could've actually injected a little bit of juice into the stadium, who knows what could've happened.
Last and perhaps biggest: leaving early makes it hard for the university to justify the initiatives everyone craves. We talk about the quality of opponent and the tailgating situation. We talk about how Boston College ruined Shea Field tailgating and how we want them to do things different. When you're not coming or staying for the game, it makes it incredibly hard for the school to justify any of those initiatives. It makes it virtually impossible for school administration to turn to athletics and say, "Here. Have what you want."
That rests solely on the Superfans. You can't do what you're doing and expect the world. The school won't invest if you won't invest in the team. There's an expectation that it's 100% on the university, but after a game like Saturday, I truly believe there needs to be some type of investment by the fans to support this team.
I stayed on Saturday well into the fourth quarter. I've been to games while on call for work, and I've rescheduled weekends so I could watch Boston College football. During hockey season, when my schedule is at its busiest working for several schools' teams, I get to BC football for a couple of quarters before I leave for work commitments. I always stay as long as possible. I make that dedication because I love Boston College football. I didn't go to BC or stand in the student section, but I appreciate the value of being at the only big-time Division I school in New England.
I just wish others felt the same.