Big game environments are what make college sports great; students screaming for their peers as they hope to see their team take down the goliaths of the league, the familiarity of a despised opponent in a classic rivalry matchup. Unfortunately, four of the best games coming to Conte this year will be played while the students are away, forcing many to question how Brad Bates and the athletic department allowed this to happen.
The two biggest games of every Boston College basketball season are Notre Dame and Duke. Notre Dame, a longtime rival, comes to Conte every year as part of an annual two game series. The Notre Dame game represents the Eagles’ one true ACC in-conference rival. One would assume this is a game the athletic department would like played in front of the student body.
On the other hand, Duke only makes the trip up north every other year. Two years ago, the contest against Coach K and company was one of only two sellouts all season. However, for Conte to sellout this game on January 2nd, they will have to do so without students. For a program that has been perennially last in the ACC in attendance, Bates and the rest of the athletic department should be trying to generate more sellouts, not scheduling the sellouts BC generally has when the students are all away.
BC hockey fell victim to this baffling scheduling as well. The Eagles will play No. 1 Providence and archrival Boston University January 8th and 15th, respectively. These are easily the two most important games on the schedule, and students won’t see either one. When scheduling, it may have been difficult to predict that the Friars would be 12-0-3 at this point in the season, but they are reigning national champions, and there is no excuse for the date of the BU game.
The BC vs BU hockey game may be the biggest sporting event of the year in Chestnut Hill, and one of the biggest games in all of college hockey. What makes the games between the two teams so special is the banter between the opposing student sections, something that will be largely hurt by the questionable decision-making of the athletic department.
Despite being far more successful, the hockey program is not without its attendance issues as well. They rank third in the nation in average attendance, but that is largely because Conte has more seats than most other college hockey venues. BC comes in at 35th (66%) when you look at percentage of capacity filled per game. Playing the two highest profile teams without many students present will likely hinder that percentage or at least allow more seats for purchase by BU fans.
This poor scheduling isn’t limited to winter sports. In his tenure, Brad Bates hasn’t shown the ability to provide the football team with schedules that might breed success. He has routinely set the Eagles up with very soft out of conference schedules, playing teams like Howard, Richmond, Buffalo, Maine, and UConn. These opponents do very little to draw attention to the programs or entice the fans the Eagles already have.
BC needs to be playing big time opponents, and they need to do so in front of students. Students have the ability to move BC out of the bottom in ACC basketball attendance and raise the attendance percentage of hockey games to an elite level.
“Our students are our top priority, so it is always our preference to schedule any games (let alone marquee opponents) when our students are in classes,” said Bates. “Unfortunately, we do not determine the conference schedule, but rather are assigned the games by the league office.” He affirmed that the University is not autonomous when it comes to conference scheduling. However, there is a difference between not being autonomous and having no control at all. Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and other ACC schools don’t play any of their marquee home games while students are away.
As for hockey, one would think that the Hockey East would want BC vs. BU, maybe the marquee matchup of the season, in front of student bodies. BC seems to get the short end for the stick time after time in different sports. It seems difficult to imagine that despite not being in total control, Bates would be totally out of the decision making process in both sports.
There is the question as to why the athletic department seemed to roll over and take what was handed to them, rather than fighting harder for a schedule that would better accommodate the students and, ultimately, the teams…
It is much easier to rally against a top-10 team when going .500 on the season or rally from three goals behind in a classic rivalry that goes back ages when you have your fellow students there to feed off of. The audience of games definitely affects the outcome on the court, ice, or field, and BC should have fought harder to give its teams the opportunity to play big games with big student support.
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