Yesterday, I had the privilege of being invited to attend the Boston College basketball town hall meeting as the guest of a donor. For starters, let me say that I am glad that Athletic Director Brad Bates is holding these, as it is a refreshing commitment to soliciting the opinions of the fans and boosters. In fact, Bates warmly greeted me and all other attendees at the door.
The crowd was decently-sized; there were probably about one hundred people in the crowd as the function room at Walsh Hall was full. This assembly included donors, season-ticket holders, a few average fans, and a number of Boston College Athletics personnel. At least one representative from the Athletics Department was seated at each table; after Bates’ question-and-answer session, attendees broke down into groups for more individual discussion and note-taking. It was clear that they were seeking as much feedback as possible on the gameday experience.
That’s all it was, too: gameday experience. You know and I know that most of the people who went in there had what one man called the “five-million dollar question” in mind, but that was not going to be asked or answered. Bates stated in his opening monologue that “this is not about coaches or recruiting” and specifically asked about how Boston College can produce the best possible basketball fan experience.
You cannot fault him, either. There is no way one could expect Bates to publicly pass judgment on his head coach in the middle of the season, much less an hour before a game and in a setting such as that. It would have been a no-win situation for him. Questions on Donahue’s job status would have also completely dominated the event, smothering some of the other important issues which were raised. Everyone in Boston College Athletics knows that the coaching situation is paramount in the minds of fans, but that is an issue that will be handled elsewhere, most likely this spring.
Some topics raised by the attendees included:
• Student involvement. This topic was widely discussed, and from several different angles. One young alumnus spoke of how many of the alumni of the last few years are completely disengaged from the program, while others praised the concept of the “Gold Passes” while lamenting that there has not been a dramatic uptick in basketball attendance. Bates and other Athletics officials stressed that the process of developing and refining incentives is ongoing, and he acknowledged that winning is a big part of the equation, though not necessarily all.
• Donor-based seating. This was a subject of ire for plenty of the older fans, with complaints on “pricing points” and how the program was deployed by the previous administration.
• Scheduling. This was a facet of this particular season that we could discuss, and sentiment seemed to skew in favor of the tough schedule Boston College had this year (as opposed to a “winnable” non-conference slate). Some preferred that the Eagles play more of those big non-conference games in their own building to generate buzz; the 2008 meeting at Conte Forum with the Kansas Jayhawks was an example cited.
• History. Bringing notable Boston College basketball alumni (names mentioned included Jared Dudley, Troy Bell, and Reggie Jackson) back into the fold as public ambassadors for the program was mentioned; Bates seemed highly receptive to the idea.
In addition, women’s head coach Erik Johnson briefly spoke to the assembly and encouraged fan support for his program, speaking of the camaraderie amongst the various Boston College head coaches and players.
From being in the room, I was encouraged by the number of people who are legitimately considerate of the program’s well-being and want to see the product get better. I have confidence that Bates will listen to this feedback and do what he can to help build a sports culture here and improve the fan experience.