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Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Location Is Boston College Athletics' Biggest Achilles Heel

As we pass the halfway mark of college football season, the familiar cry to fire Steve Addazio rings throughout Chestnut Hill. As someone who grew up watching Boston College sports, I can hardly remember a time when the BC student body wasn’t clamoring for a new coach. 

The same is true for the basketball team, who has yet to see an NCAA tournament bid since Al Skinner was fired in 2009.

While BC claims to have sports at the epicenter of its culture, its football and basketball teams––which garner the most media attention and create the most revenue out of its Division I teams––have consistently been unable to find success. Their struggles could be attributed to inefficient coaching and poor fan support, but what most tend to overlook is the effect of BC’s geographical location on the teams' inability to compete.

Since the start of the 21st century, Boston has experienced a renaissance in the world of sports. The city’s domination is unparalleled, and the numbers back it up. Boston teams have won 12 championships across the four major sports since 2001, with each franchise winning at least one. The Red Sox and the Patriots are widely considered to be the greatest franchise in their respective sports over the past two decades.

Yet, with all this success for its professional sports teams, Boston's collegiate teams have seen little benefits. As the premier collegiate team in the state, one would think some athletes would be drawn to play in a city of champions. In reality, the prosperity of the professional teams may have actually had a negative effect on BC sports.

Generally speaking, college football and basketball programs do not thrive in major cities. New York City is a basketball hotbed, but St. John’s University is far from being considered an upper-echelon program like its upstate counterpart in Syracuse.

The USC football team produced some great seasons in the 2000s, but its time has come and gone. Even at its peak, the team was nowhere near the level of dominance exhibited in less urban schools such as Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, or Ohio State.

Of teams currently ranked in the top 25 in football or basketball, only two are in major cities (Seton Hall and Villanova men’s basketball in New York City and Philadelphia, respectively).  Boston College hasn’t had a ranked basketball team in over a decade, and it has only been ranked in football once in that same span. So why is it that city schools, particularly Boston, struggle to produce success at the collegiate level?

With the culture of winning so well-established in Boston, most fans don’t understand what it means to root for a non-contender. While the Patriots are winning at least 75% of their games every year, why would someone bother watching a BC team that’s lucky to go 7-5? With the Celtics having only missed the playoffs once since 2008, why would one torture themselves rooting for BC, who has only made The Big Dance once since then? 

With the past 20 years’ sustained success across all sports, people tend to neglect Boston’s bandwagon culture. The cheapest Patriots home game this year is against the winless Dolphins in late December, where a seat in the nosebleeds will cost you $169––before fees. Very few in New England would pay that much for a ticket against any team before Tom Brady brought home six rings.

Just as the Patriots established their fanbase by creating a dynasty, BC would need to forge its own fanbase through success, as well––not like the two great years with Matt Ryan under center in Alumni Stadium or Jared Dudley and Craig Smith’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2006. To get Boston fans truly interested, BC needs five years as a consistent contender. Unfortunately for the Eagles, this is unlikely to happen any time in the near future, due to the difficulty of attracting student-athletes to Boston.

Recruiting elite athletes to Chestnut Hill always has been, and will continue to be, a difficult task for coaches. Most athletes, excluding snow sports, come out of warm-weather states such as Florida, Texas, and California. These states’ lack of real winter conditions facilitates outdoor training throughout the year. 

The cold New England air, on the other hand, makes outdoor training harsh on the lungs for five months each year and nearly impossible from December to February due to a thick layer of snow blanketing the ground. With significantly better training conditions in their home states, it's illogical for athletes to move hundreds of miles to play at BC.

BC’s biggest draw is the allure of playing in front of a 40,000+ seat stadium against some of the best teams in college sports. Yet, even those from cold-weather environments can hardly be convinced to come to Boston. When only considering programs in colder climates, Big Ten schools such as Ohio State and Michigan State can promise far more consistent coaching, superior facilities, and more fans and scouts present in the stands. 

For these reasons, BC needs to rely primarily on local or under-recruited athletes.

While getting a talented and underappreciated recruit like AJ Dillon or Reggie Jackson once every four or five years is nice, it simply will not cut it for what BC students demand in exchange for their attendance. There is a cyclical nature to the relationship between BC’s fans and elite athletes. The students would support their teams if they were more successful, but the athletes won’t come for an empty stadium.

Why would a highly-touted prospect choose a team like BC when he could enjoy a superior coaching staff, fan base, and training conditions elsewhere? With BC’s coaching struggles being nearly as inevitable as its poor climate, it is unlikely that the football and men’s basketball programs will see a turnaround any time soon.

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