Winter Sports Giving BC Athletics a Spring In Its Step
By Mark Sullivan
To this winter of the Boston sports fan's content, add the success of BC's high-flying Eagles.
Men's Basketball, 23-3 and ranked fifth in the nation, closes the regular season this weekend with an eye on a Big East title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles' season has been highlighted by a 20-game undefeated streak, longest in Big East and school history, that put BC alongside the Patriots and Red Sox in national sports page headlines.
Meantime, the collapse of the National Hockey League season has left the college game the hockey fan's primary fix, and BC, first or second in the polls for much of the season, enters this weekend's final regular-season series against Maine ranked fifth in the nation and eyeing a Hockey East title.
It's the first time both marquee winter sports, Men's Basketball and Men's Ice Hockey, have reached the final week of the season ranked in the top five nationally.
Women's Basketball, meanwhile, enters the Big East tournament this weekend ranked 22nd in the nation, having closed out the home schedule on a high note with an upset of perennial power Connecticut.
The Atlantic Coast Conference that welcomes BC next season gets a school that has placed in the top 25 in football and men's and women's basketball with student-athletes who excel in the classroom: BC's 100-percent graduation rate among football players is tops in Division 1-A, and its graduation rate among all athletes is fifth among football-playing schools.
A report card released by the NCAA this week on the academic performance of Division 1-A football programs listed Boston College fifth-best.
"We're like Duke, with hockey," said Matthew List '05, a conductor and trumpet-player with the BC Pep Band that plays at men's hockey and men's and women's basketball games.
Hockey isn't played in the ACC, but the remarkable run of the BC men's basketball team has been noted along Tobacco Road.
"Most of the people in the Durham-Chapel Hill area I've talked with seem to be pulling for BC this season," said Frank Dascenzo, a sportswriter with the Durham Herald-Sun in North Carolina.
"The reason is obvious - people around here all become ACC cheerleaders in March and want the ACC to do well. It's their passion. I've seen it in NCAA Tournament media rooms where if Duke or UNC advance, so does the horde of media following the Blue Devils or Tar Heels.
"They don't have the Patriots or Red Sox here. College basketball is their World Series and Super Bowl."
Hockey isn't played in the NHL, either, this season, so the college game has been front and center for fans of stick and puck, with BC making a fair bid for the Hockey East title and a return to the Frozen Four to reclaim the national crown won four years ago.
US College Hockey Online senior writer Jim Connelly said: "In the Boston and New England region, there are more people who are 'hockey' fans rather than simply Boston Bruins fans. They'll stop at nothing to satisfy the fix for the game of hockey.
"Regionally, college hockey has benefited mightily. Attendance is up in among the Hockey East schools in eastern Massachusetts. That Boston College is putting together another solid run towards a conference and national championship has to be a positive for the school.
"When a recruit comes to Conte Forum and sees the stands packed and the electricity that accompanies, it makes it very hard to say no. That's something that helps not only build for today but also to solidify the program going forward."
Dave Hendrickson, Hockey East beat writer for US College Hockey Online, said: "For NHL fans who hadn't yet discovered college hockey, this season was the perfect opportunity to see a form of the game that many of us find more wide-open and exciting. Not only that, but you also don't need a second mortgage to afford tickets or a trip to the concessions stand.
"In recent years, Boston College has been one of the most entertaining teams to watch, consistently challenging for national championships."
With one league title in football and another looming in men's basketball for its Big East swansong, the BC athletic program embarks for the ACC to a positive buzz.
"It's been a fantastic run, starting with our fall sports, and continuing through to our basketball and hockey seasons," said BC Sports Information Director Chris Cameron.
"It's particularly special because it's our last year in the Big East, and we've really had a chance to showcase the programs we have to our new friends in the ACC."