Editorial: Early athletic departures a troubling trend

Boston College prides itself on having one of the highest Division I student-athlete graduation rates in the nation. However, two recent unprecendented cases of star athletes leaving a year early to go professional is a cause for serious concern regarding the long term future of the Athletics Department.

Last year, junior Reggie Jackson was the undisputed star of the basketball team, and his efforts contributed to a 21-win season, with the team narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament. Jackson then declared for the NBA Draft, and was subsequently selected in the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now, Luke Kuechly, star linebacker and a captain of the football team is foregoing his senior season on the Heights and is entering the NFL draft. He was universally regarded as the best linebacker in the nation and was one of the lone bright spots of a team coming off a disappointing 4-8 campaign. He is projected to go in the first round.

We at Gavel Media respect the decisions of both Jackson and Kuechly, are grateful for their contributions during their years at Boston College, and wish them well in their professional endeavors.  However, the defections of both Jackson and Kuechly may point to something bigger: that BC athletics is not living up to our proud University’s motto, “Ever to excel.”

Granted, there are some positives. Men’s hockey is as dominant as ever, packing Kelley Rink to full capacity, winning three national championships in the last decade.  Women’s hockey reached the Frozen Four last year. Sailing recently won a national championship, and both men’s and women’s soccer teams have made NCAA tournament appearances.

In addition, excuses can be made for the basketball team, despite Jackson’s departure. Donahue is a passionate coach who has a vision for the long-term future of the team. However, it will take some time for this vision to be fully realized. Jackson understandably did what was in his best interest, having nothing left to prove at the collegiate level on a rebuilding team. Regardless, in a rebuilding year, it is clear that the team is in good hands.

The same, however, cannot be said of Coach Frank Spaziani. When Spaz took over as head coach following the 2008 season, the football team was coming off back-to-back ACC Championship game appearances, and a nine-win season. During Spaz’s three-year tenure, the team has been characterized by an anemic offense due to atrocious play calling, declining win totals every year, and no wins against ranked teams, Notre Dame, or in bowl games. In addition, this past season was the first year since 1998 that BC did not make a bowl. This is not the fault of the players, but rather, Spaz himself. Spaz’s ineptitude, in combination with no real long-term plan, could very well have contributed to Kuechly’s early departure from the Heights.

Superfans may remember that in 2008, junior linebacker Mark Herzlich won ACC Defensive Player of the Year, as did Kuechly this past year. Herzlich, however, passed up a guaranteed first round selection and its associated lucrative contract to play out his senior season.  The main difference between the two decisions?  The 2008 Eagles made the ACC Championship.  This year’s  Eagles went 4-8.

The failings of BC football will have an adverse effect long-term, as evidenced by this year’s thin recruiting class and the anticipated decline in Flynn Fund donations. There is no reason why Boston College cannot compete on the gridiron with schools of similar academic caliber like Stanford, Northwestern, and Notre Dame.

It is time to hold Coach Spaz and, to a greater extent, Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo, to the same high standard, “Ever to excel,” that Boston College has for its students. One of the hallmarks of BC Athletics has been its historically high student-athlete graduation rate. Now that hallmark is threatened by incompetence from those in charge.