In the world of college athletics, there are constantly questions that need to be answered. There are questions about players, coaches, administrators, rules, violations, wins, and losses. When teams win, the questions are typically easier and less intense. When programs lose, the questions are typically ruder and more pointed. People always have to ask, people always have to answer. It’s the constant relationship that occasionally supercedes and overwhelms the games themselves.
When a program begins to lose games and fails in success, things always happen that cause different questions. This year, as Boston College football limped to a 4-8 record, hampered by injuries, offensive ineptitidue, and other details, the questions shifted from the easier side to the more difficult side.
There were questions about the players (How could they fail to execute?). There were questions about the fans (How come they all disappeared as the team started losing?). There were questions about the coach (How could he have a job with the levels on ineptitude within the team gameplan). And there were questions about the administration (How could they sleepily walk through the season as ignorantly as they did?).
In the time period since the season, the questions have turned to full-blown anger. Questions weren’t answered or weren’t answered to the fans’ like. And in a futile attempt to do damage control, the players in the battle for answers began seemingly using the instruments at their disposal. But the anger, instead of being appeased, turned into full-blown fury, and a battle has instead erupted between two very distinct sides over who’s right, who’s at fault, and who can fix the issues within The Heights on Chestnut Hill.
In the war for Boston College athletics right now, the two very distinct parties are characterized almost by a governmental relativity. On one side is the establishment (the government, if you will). There’s the athletic director, Gene DeFilippo, the man who at one time charged Boston College out of the Big East and into the Atlantic Coast Conference. With Gene, affectionately referred to as “GDF” for his initials, is embattled head football coach Frank Spaziani, the man who took over the team after its best run ever, which included a temporary stay at the #2 ranking and back-to-back trips to the ACC Championship Game. With GDF and Spaziani, affectionately known as “Spaz,” they have the backing of the establishment of the athletic department, including the connections at the major media outlets of the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. Among those journalists is Mark Blaudschun, referred to as “Blauds,” who covers college athletics for the Globe.
On the other side of the coin is the symbol of the new era of journalism. Like myself, there are a number of these guys who are, for lack of a better term, Boston College die-hard fans with computers. In the blogosphere, there are a number of Boston College fan blogs, serving as the unofficial voice and sounding board for BC fans. Sites like Eagle in Atlanta, BC Interruption, and the Boston College student newspaper, The Heights, reflect the student body and growing fan displeasure with the way Boston College’s football program is being run, from the top down.
Since the middle of the season, when questionable coaching tactics arguably cost Boston College four games (two directly and two via ineffective game plans that NEVER changed), the blogosphere grew increasingly displeased with GDF and Spaz. They started asking for changes in the way the teams were thinking, and when it didn’t happen, it became increasingly apparent to them that Spaz was not a very good football coach, although he was a good guy, and his hiring merely fell to the topic of loyalty after the issue with Jeff Jagodzinski. Spaz’s offensive game plans were horrendous, and his inability or unwillingness to adjust and deviate from what was inept was both annoying and tiring.
In response, there were a number of articles where Blauds wrote about the reasoning why Boston College did something. On the surface, at first glance, Blauds’ musings sounded like analysis, but when his tweets were increasingly pro-other schools and not pro-BC, the blogosphere jumped on him for being nothing more than a sounding board for GDF, who had control over what went out through the major press, where media coverage is in the minority because of Boston College’s standing within the athletic specter of the city.
Each time the blogosphere took a shot back at GDF, Spaz, and Blauds, there seemed to be another sympathetic article in the major outlets, geared towards being BC’s administrative apologists. There was never an article critical of Boston College in either media outlet, and it turned the blogosphere completely against all three parties involved.
That leads us to this past week. Blaudschun wrote an article that took a direct shot at the “Internet chat rooms.” He specifically touched upon the BC student newspaper and its sports editor, calling his column a “sermon-on-the-mount.” It was the first time a major media outlet threw a shot back after absorbing blow after blow from the blogosphere. Where the blogosphere was vicious at times this year to Spaz and the crew, this was the first time, in plain sight, a major media outlet took a willing shot back at the little guy.
Blaudschun wrote about the blogs as “Internet chat rooms,” where “it is easy to throw grenades without attaching a name to them.” He admitted and confronted the fact that the football team was subpar this year, and the basketball programs have the potential to be downright abysmal, but he pointed out that Boston College is better at producing upstanding citizens in society more than anything. He admitted that a 4-8 record next year is unacceptable, and he pointed out that Spaz knows that better than anyone.
This is where I jump into the fray. I’ve had several articles about Boston College athletics that “didn’t make the cut” to be posted (actually I’ve had about three dozen articles between myself and our staff at Excalibur that didn’t ever get completed or printed in the past few months). It’s just how this works; I understand that sometimes articles get written in anger and out of spite, and our staff has tried, sometimes with success, sometimes without, to keep as much personal vitriol out of the media. Don’t get me wrong; we’re great a slamming things now and then, and we do it with gusto at times. But on this topic, we’ve largely stayed out.
What Blauds did was completely unacceptable. By directly mentioning the blogosphere and the student newspaper, he acknowledged that there is an argument on the other side of the coin. As long as he didn’t mention them, as long as he didn’t point out what they had to say, he wasn’t giving credence to their argument. They were just petty fans who paid the right amount for a domain, fans who banded together in their own support group, or anything else GDF and the boys could fend off with. By taking a pointed shot at them all in the largest newspaper in the Greater Boston area, he just put the spotlight directly on them, and as the arguments come firing from all cylinders in the blogosphere, people might be inclined to actually listen to what these people have to say.
But the argument is more complex than that. Every time he’s written about BC, it’s been very pointed towards the administration’s side of things. There’s been valid points that he’s nothing more than a mouthpiece, even though his college articles are, on occasion, quite readable, entertaining, and informative. Instead, now the lid’s been blown off, and it feels more and more like the growing resentment of the administration used him as the sounding board for the fact that they’re tired of dealing with said resentment; they used him to sound off and take shots at people who tweet and blog at them, and now the band aid’s been ripped off to reveal a bleeding wound.
In that regard, this actually feels like the administration finally fired back against the people who are extremely dissatisfied. What’s ironic about all of this is that these are the people that Boston College has, for lack of a better term, actively screwed in the past few years. From personal seat licenses, to limited tailgating, to donation-based parking, to shuttles from no-man’s land, Boston College has taken its loyal customer and, instead of rewarding them, gradually taken away from their college football experience. It did so under the guise that the on-field product was the central focal point. And while that’s true, this year proved that people will, indeed, stop showing up if Boston College fails to win football games. On Thursday night, on national television, as BC was embarassed by Florida State, the student section was nearly 80% empty at kickoff, never filled up, and the full stands were the result of very loud, very boisterous Seminole fans, not Eagle fan. With tweets about how Clemson is full before a game and BC isn’t, GDF successfully alienated his constituents this year, all while the team floundered on the field. It was the combustible element that led to the blogosphere finally and unequivocally sounding off on him with potshots from all sides.
It didn’t help that Spaz was not a very good coach, either. As coaches like Mike Leach and Houston Nutt became hot names for other coaching jobs, in the wake of their firings or inactivity post-firing, BC stubbornly stuck by a guy that proved, time and again, he’s not a great coach. BC didn’t so much win games as they did get an early lead and then pray to hang on. Whether it was due to injuries or not, there are over 100 college football teams who could complain in the same regard, half of which were decimated by injuries the way BC was. And yet they were still able to win games (see also: Florida State. EJ Manuel went down hurt, they bring in Clint Trickett – a true freshman – and competed for solid stretches with then-#1 Oklahoma). Clemson has a great freshman class, and the point of recruiting is to bring guys in who can anchor your program. The fact that the freshmen came in and were in over their head – well, let’s just say a good coach could reel that in and fix that problem. Spaz could not.
On the other side of the coin, though, the administration does have a point about the blogosphere. The blogosphere never intended to be professional, and their comments about Boston College have been extreme and unrelenting, bordering on downright vicious. They blog under their real names (unlike what Blauds wrote), and it’s clear that their comments took their toll on Boston College throughout the year, especially as Spaz seemingly welled up every time he took a microphone to speak with the media. Every single word they said was contorted and ripped to shreds, which I’m sure did nothing to help confidence during periods of a major slide.
But, at the same time, if you’re a Division I program, if you’re as big as BC expects to be or thinks they are, then you have to deal with the criticism and not look harried in the process. The building tension between the administration and its constituents has finally bubbled over, and the article from the other day in the Boston Globe has become their Fort Sumter. The shots were fired, the war is on.
The best thing to do for Boston College would be to remain quiet and not say anything about the web rings or the student newspaper. You’re supposed to be professional; act like it. If they remain quiet and come out next year to go 8-4, then the blogosphere will turn back to the positive side. Everyone can smile and move on. But a 4-8 season next year, or worse, and it’ll just get worse. The pressure to perform has never been as intense. The chance to perform is still a solid 10 months away, though, so it needs to stay in perspective, even as the basketball programs will slog through an absolutely disgusting season, and the baseball team will probably bottom out a couple of years after they went to the NCAA Tournament.
As a fan, I’ll admit that I think Boston College needs to make a change at football head coach. I don’t think Spaziani is cut out for this job, even though he’s a legendary defensive coordinator; it happens – some guys just can’t do this job. I think he works on the cheap, is loyal, and is a great guy. But none of these translates to success on the field, and his coaching abilities are, without a doubt, in question. I think Boston College is making bad decisions at the top, and as a fan, I’m hopping mad that BC caters to its high-roller crowd more than it does the die-hards who are the backbone of the fan base. I truly believe that Boston College does not care about me, even though I care deeply about it (and I’m not a BC alum).
That said, I don’t think a 9-win season next year, erases that. I don’t even think a bowl berth can erase the feeling that they don’t care about me, maybe even an undefeated season doesn’t erase that, but at the same time, if that were to happen, I’d feel markedly better about being a BC fan. Right now, being a BC fan isn’t a great thing to be. We’re at war with ourselves, a Civil War battle over right and wrong, a family squabble over a team that was once great and can be great again. And when it becomes great again, maybe we’ll look back on this and laugh, maybe we won’t, but either way, we’ll always remember this period as the great battle for which direction Boston College is going to be.
And, if not, we’ll probably be wearing red and white. Go BU.