Friday, April 18, 2008

Is Hockey Dead? and the Big Finish

/ crickets ?

Jeff, The Heights ran an article proclaiming that 2008 is not 2001 and that college hockey is dead in the collective consciousness of Eagles fans. Your thoughts?

Jeff: I wouldn't say hockey is dead, but I would blame Matt Ryan [on the supposed decreasing lack of BC hockey fan support]. Football was the thing on the Heights this year and 90% of BC students don't care about sports enough to get excited about football, basketball, and hockey. I am disappointed but if you think about it college hockey is not at all mainstream and BC students have other opportunities to storm the mods now during football season. Back in 2001 the national championship was it. Basketball won the Big East Championship over spring break and football was not spectacular.

Brian: (Don't drag Matt Ryan into this - he has nothing but the utmost respect for our hockey program!) I think you can look to two factors here. One is that there is just so much other stuff going on with students these days to get behind all of the big 3 BC sports. I also think this speaks to a larger trend of declining attendance across all of college athletics (perceived by me, not backed up with statistics ... yet). I agree with you though that its hard to support three sports with a small student body base. Add to this the fact that most alumni move away from Boston after their years at BC, so its harder for alumni to get to games unless you are in the area and/or a die-hard fan.

The second, as you rightly point out, is that football is again king at Boston College. In the late 1990s, football was decent and basketball had some mediocre-to-bad years leading up to 2000-2001. Plus the demographics of the student body are shifting from a predominantly New England student body base to a national university. I'm not sure how much this matters, but to some extent, students coming from parts of the country where hockey is a non-factor sport might be another contributor to hockey apathy. But I would say from experience (being freshmen at BC when we won a hockey title) that we probably will see an uptick in attendance and support over the next few years. Especially if basketball continues to struggle in the ACC ...

Jeff: Students are still supporting Boston College athletics as much as they used to. I remember when I was a student and Miami was #1 in the country and there were hardly any students there until the end of the first quarter and then many only showed up because the game was surprisingly close. Now the student section is much closer to full at kickoff of every game. Support has just shifted between sports.

Big Finish

Brian: We go to Friday's big finish on a weekend that marks the first real life BC Interruption meeting since the Champs Sports Bowl ...

Jeff: UMass beat Boston College 4-3 in the baseball Beanpot final. Your thoughts?

Brian: UMass closes out a great year head-to-head against BC, beating us in the NCAAs in soccer (a #16 seed beats a #1!), basketball, a few hockey games and now baseball.

Brian: BC drew Iowa in next year's ACC/Big 10 challenge, a game to be played at Conte Forum. That's a W right?

Jeff: The Big Ten will lose the challenge again and BC will get a W.

Jeff: Last one, The Carolina Panthers are rumored to be flirting with the idea of drafting Matt Ryan. Good idea?

Brian: Who knows how healthy Delhomme is, so sure, its a good idea. They'd have to trade up though as I don't see Matt Ryan falling past #8.


Andrew said...

I don't know if hockey is dead at BC or not, but I'd really like to think it's going to come back strong after a Nat'l Championship season. I've been a college hockey fan my whole life. I grew up in Albany, NY, and have been going to RPI hockey games for as long as I can remember. In fact, a huge reason I chose BC over other comparable schools was that they had a great hockey program (I saw them win the '01 Championship in Albany, definitely helped my decision). However, when I got to BC, and throughout my entire 4 years there, attendance and attention on campus were sporadic at best. People would show up for BU, but no one really seemed to care about the rest of the schedule. When UNH or Maine would come, it was like a home game for the opponent at times. Now, I think you guys were getting to the core of our problem. 1) Hockey in general isn't very popular. That's very hard for me to understand, but it's undeniable. Some people find it boring or whatever, so many incoming students have a predisposed distaste for hockey. 2) Every other school in the Hockey East has hockey as their only sport, while we have football and basketball. For Maine, BU, etc., hockey is all they have, so the support for their teams is going to be huge. No one cares about the crappy basketball or D1A football teams, so hockey becomes the sport on campus there. For us, hockey is the 3rd sport (1st for me, but I digress). So even if we have a great team, people aren't going to flock to games like they do at BU because there are other teams to take the attention away. It's sort of a weak reason, but I think it's fair to say. 3) We have a very frontrunning fan base. Look at the attendance of some of Bball games this year. Empty spaces, lack of attention, etc. I think next year, especially if Gerbe comes back, we'll have better hockey attendance. But I think 1 and 2 are the real reasons hockey is "dying". Hockey's popularity nationwide, pro and college, is down; incoming freshman simply don't care if we have the #1 or the #100 hockey team in the country, and bball and football dominate the sport scene. What can be done about it? That I don't know. If having the Nat'l Championship can't bring in more fans, I don't know what will. I know that when I was there, I had to drag my friends to some games, but once they went, they realized how exciting hockey is in person and what a great atmosphere college hockey has. I only hope that more people open their minds to hockey and realize what we've got at BC. All this being said, I don't think students' attention is going to effect the program. We're still going to attract top recruits whether Conte is full or not because of York, the chance to compete for the Nat'l Championship every year, and because BC is a great school. Again, I do hope students realize what we've got and how sweet college hockey is in the flesh. Whether that can be done, I don't know.

Eagle in Brighton said...

I think Jeff is right on: I don't think BC fan support among students has waned; I just think it's collective force has been shifted (from basketball/hockey to football) regardless of whether this is "right" or "just" in terms of fandom etiquette. The nationwide draw of today's BC (from non-hockey areas) and the lingering effects of a strong, attention grabbing football run are the bigger culprits. As with most things, this works like the business cycle (with booms and busts). With another rebuilding year for Skinner, and perhaps a step back to 7-5/8-4 with the football program, Hockey's prominence among the BC fan hierarchy will surely be regained. Hockey at BC isn't dead: this is just cyclical.

Christopher said...

the other thing that i think has happened is that the fans at BC have started taking the hockey team for granted - i didnt miss a home game in my 4 years (03-07) if i was in the country, but most others just expected us to win and wouldnt really pay attention until we got to the national championship - in '01, as you guys said, the two other teams weren't that good and BC had some real stars and hadn't won a championship in 50 years. Now, we have been to 8 out of 11 frozen fours and won our second championship in 8 years and our other teams are much more attention-worthy than they were in the gionta era....I think the BC fanbase will remain solid but unspectacular, but if Gerbe comes back that might ramp up expectations and attendance

Andrew said...

OK, I just read the article (I probably should have done that before that first diatribe, because it covered a lot of the same things I did) and a couple of comments. One, it is incorrect that the freshman that saw the '01 team went to school with the class of '08- the freshman of '01 graduated in the spring of '04, and the class of '08 were incoming in the fall of '04. Not that it really matters, but who is editing this thing. More importantly, I think eagle in brighton and christopher are right in both their points. It's a combination of things, but I think it's really premature to call hockey dead at BC. If next year, with Gerbe back, we're not drawing anybody, it would be cause to worry. Let the Nat'l Championship sink in, and see how attendance goes next year.

Brian said...

great points all. i would just add that i hope we never are the #100 team in the country, as there are only #59 in I-A ...

i would go so far as to say with jerry york at the helm, we will always be top 15-20 (lone exception being 2001-2002 when we were decimated by the NHL).

Andrew said...

haha, I used #100 as an exaggeration, but you get the gist. Also, I was on a roll and didn't want to stop to look up the # of teams.

Brian said...

another frustration is that if the BC fan base has shifted to football, it is a casual fan base that still doesn't travel well.

as jeff points out, sure, we might be getting to home games on time now, but the trend is understandably less dramatic when it comes to attending away games, acc championship games and the bowl games (as f---ed up as the college football postseason is!)

Eagle in Brighton said...


I think the premise of this debate (and the article itself) had more to do with current BC students- not the fanbase as a whole.

As a (hockey) season ticket holder- general attendance throughout the season among alumni/casual fans was good, and even the students did a decent job. The only real surprise to me was the comparably muted on campus response the night of the victory (v. 2001). The immediacy of student support is what seems to by cyclical (effected by success/failure of basketball/football); for general support from the public seems consistent. (Don't forget: several thousand showed up for the victory celebration- mostly locals, alumns etc.- on a work day no-less).

Ultimately, I sincerely doubt "(BC) Hockey is dead" by any stretch of the imagination. And in RE: to Brian's fear, since adult fans seemingly were immune to this apparent (temporary) shift in fanhood priorities, I don't think that plays too much into the football issue of fanbase travel (a whole other issue entirely).

Brian said...

eagle in brighton - valid points. i would agree that alumni support in the area remains strong, since hockey is very relevant to the local sports landscape (see: all the pols and pro sports teams coming out in support of our title).

however outside of new england i would say its very much out of sight, out of mind (much to my dismay) ... even in new york.

i'll save the travel rep / casual fan gripe for another day, agreed.

Brian said...

and bc hockey is certainly not dead, its just no longer top dog for the student body these days (jeff's point). as you said, if its cyclical, it might come around, or, if york retires and the program takes a downturn, it might further fade from the student body's attention. which would be ashame with 3 title banners hanging in the rafters of conte.

Jeff said...

eagle in Brighton - thank you for getting Brian back on topic.

There clearly was not crazy celebration on campus after the win and that tells me only a fraction of the student body watched the game.

Brian said...

meh. for a guy that doesn't know much about college hockey, you cover up nicely, jeff. i'll argue with you about this later tonight ...

Andrew said...

In regards to Jeff's comment about the end of the championship game and the ensuing non-reaction, I think the absence of rioting had way more to do with the style of the win in '01 compared to '08. In '01, it was an OT goal against the same opponent that had beaten us the previous year in the championship game. Anyone with a pulse is going to go crazy. This year, we were up 4-1 for the last 13 minutes or so. I'm as big a BC Hockey fan as anyone, and even I wasn't flipping out. I mean, the game was over before the final horn. I was elated, but I wasn't lose my mind happy because the feeling of victory slowly sunk in rather than instantly happened because of an OT goal. So, as for this one game, I think that has to be taken into account, especially if we are going to compare it to the theatrics of the '01 final.

Sebastian said...

Brian said:Add to this the fact that most alumni move away from Boston after their years at BC, so its harder for alumni to get to games unless you are in the area and/or a die-hard fan.

Notre Dame is a school of similar size, with a national student draw, and the majority of their alumni also move away from South Bend after graduation. However, they find a way to get rid of 80,795 each Saturday and the tickets they're alloted for bowl games.

It can be done at BC-- there just needs to be a shift in the mentality of the student body. I'm not sure why there's apathy, but perhaps BC should focus their attention on the freshmen and build on it each year until the student body has transformed.

Big Jack Krack said...

Good points, Sebastian. BC needs to promote itself with their own fan base at least - starting with the incoming freshmen. That's when I became absolutely hooked - and hockey was prominent then as well, and basketball under Bob Cousy was rising.

I have to believe that being located in close proximity to Downtown Boston - which is a professional sports town - and of course the success of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and also the Bruins (to a certain extent) this year has a lot to do with it. It's a different atmosphere completely than South Bend - and Notre Dame developed a true national following years ago - hell, even though I want to beat the Irish, I root for them in just about every other game. I remember landing on the West Coast on New Years Day 1971 when I was in the Army - being so excited to see Notre Dame beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl in their second bowl game after their self-imposed refusal to play in Bowl games.

As much as I love BC and as proud as I am of BC - it's tough to compete with the ND fan base, or the fan bases of many of our other opponents. Fans in Boston have too many options (and those who are not BC fans, hate BC) - including options that are outside of sports.

Plus, there is a saturation point to all this - like politics.

I notice that a team like Georgia Tech in some ways has the same problems as BC - Atlanta is a professional sports town. I think there is something to all that.

Brian said...

@ big jack - thanks for your insights. i think the pro sports town might have something to do with it. notre dame hockey is still small time though. joyce center only sits 2,857, compared to 7,884 for conte.

also, one of our readers mentioned to me that his daughter, who is a sophomore at BC, still hasn't been able to get a complete season ticket package for hockey over the last two years. a partial season ticket package is the best she has gotten so far. plus, a lot of the marquee games like BU and UNH fall over breaks which aren't included in the student ticket package. it seems like the athletics department is banking on gen pub and alumni tickets being sold over student tickets. if that's the case, seems backwards to me. the students are going to be the ones to support this team on campus, not the general public. obviously though, you are probably going to make more money with gen pub / alumni ticket sales than student ticket sales.

Big Jack Krack said...

Hello Brian:

Is some of this GD's fault? Students should be able to get those games that fall during the break if they want them.

Maybe I just don't understand how the student season ticket packages work, etc.

I don't mean to extend this conversation but I'm wondering if some of GD's policies are taking their toll on BC students and fans.

I live too far away to have a good feel for what is going on in Chestnut Hill. For example (although I noticed poor hockey attendence late this year) I was not aware that this might be a general problem. Of course with basketball and hockey there are something like 35 home games!!!!!

Students and their families should not have to shell out very much for student sports tickets.