It started like every other upset—7pm, Thursday night, ESPN 2. Syracuse led Boston College by thirteen in the second half. The Orange had won twenty-five games in a row to start their season, and the Eagles, 6-19, came to the Carrier Dome as number twenty-six. But Olivier Hanlan kept gunning. With 3 second-half threes, Hanlan led a 21-8 run to tie up the game. Syracuse’s shots hung in the air too long, the ball bounced at just the wrong angles, and BC upset then-undefeated, #1-ranked Syracuse. The Orange would go into a tailspin, losing three of their six remaining regular season games and losing the first round of the ACC tournament before the Dayton Fliers put them out of their misery during the round of 32. The NCAA then suspended Syracuse from the next postseason. The Decline and Fall of Jim Boeheim’s Empire spiraled out of his control, and BC was the snowball that started the avalanche.
Next academic year, then-undefeated and #9-ranked USC came to Chestnut Hill. The Eagles missed a field goal, an extra point, threw incomplete on eight of their thirteen passes (including a pick), gave up a stat line of 31/41 for 317yds & 4tds to the Trojans, and didn’t get one turnover or force one missed kick. Against all odds, in front of a massive TV audience and raucous, packed-in home crowd, BC ran their way to victory. The Eagles piled up 452 rushing yards to USC’s 20. It had rained, but the real storm came with the students piling onto the turf after the game. USC lost again two games later, and their national title aspirations evaporated—another drought for California.
At the school’s best, BC plays spoiler; the Eagles stay in games until halftime, leading the home crowd on and striking fear into the Krzyzewskis and Pitinos of the world. Notorious control freaks with a lot to lose and nothing to gain by playing the Eagles—let me describe their worst nightmare. Their team comes out flat, tired from the trip north and unprepared for the 11 inch Massachusetts greeting. A future NBA player, their star, commits three fouls in the first half, including a dumb reach-in with seventeen seconds before the break. BC leads 33-31. The guys in the visitor’s locker room tell themselves they can press and win the ball back and they’ll start hitting shots. They remain calm until the rim tightens up and the ball goes halfway down before spinning out. Less movement on offense leads to sticky hands. Shooters feel disengaged. A ref makes a bad block/charge call from the wrong side of the court, and BC scores again to go up 67-66 with one minute left.
In Cameron, the Crazies would roar for their boys to slap the floor and get after the ball. At the Pit in Albuquerque, the Lobos would howl for one more stop. On hallowed ground in Hinkle, ten thousand Bulldogs would bark so the refs swallow one more whistle.
But in Chestnut Hill, the gusts of wind outside drown out the meager crowd. The student section lies vacant. Rumor has it that ghosts patrol the upper-deck bleachers in Conte during basketball games, but nobody has ever been up there to check. The players know better than to throw their hands up and rile up the crowd for some noise. They’ve heard all the Eagles can muster. Back when they were sixteen year old recruits, coaches of small-conference schools tried telling them that Rhode Island or Northern Iowa or Middle Tennessee would be a better playing environment, but who could believe that?
And who could fault them? An ACC team—one with graduates playing in the NBA right now—only averaging 4,000 people in attendance per game? Boston is a pretty big city and the university has 9,000 undergrads, but our attendance compares with UWGB (Green Bay, Wisconsin) and Wright State University (see if you can guess where that one is). The Missouri Valley Conference puts BC’s attendance to shame. Grand Canyon University played their first season in Division-I last year, and 300 more Antelopes went to GCU games than Eagles went to BC games. Want to go with the excuse (because that’s what we make: excuses) that Boston has more colleges, so more basketball teams to support? Of Philadelphia’s Big Five, the Eagles only flock more frequently than La Salle. Even St. Joe’s and U Penn draw better crowds. BC doesn’t even control the state; the Mullins Center of U Mass-Amherst, with one tournament appearance since Calipari left, averages 33% more than Conte Forum.
So BC has room to improve. Hockey nights, by comparison, draw 6,100 on average. They’re played on the same types of nights as men’s hoops. If you want BC to succeed on the hardwood, then show your support in person. Do it for yourselves because you’re paying tuition that goes toward the team. Do it for the players who deserve a better atmosphere while they bring in money, entertainment, and soon, prestige. Do it for the coach, Jim Christian, who had 1,000 more fans per game at his previous job. TCU hadn’t been to the tournament since ’98, or the Sweet Sixteen since ’68. Christian thought BC would be a step up. It’s the Eagles job to prove him right.