Brad Bates and Changing the Boston College Culture


When Brad Bates was named Boston College’s new athletic director in the middle of October, following the football team’s devastating loss to Army, the general consensus was “Who?”

If any Boston College fans didn’t know who he was then, they do now.

In a month and a half on the Heights, Bates has lifted a great weight from the shoulders of the football program by correcting his predecessor’s biggest mistake, Frank Spaziani. Far more than that, however, Bates has come to Boston College with a vision.

It is one thing to fire a bad coach who wasn’t getting results, because any athletic director can do that if he or she is so inclined, and it is another to hire a good replacement. That is Bates’ next duty, and one which he is doubtlessly taking with the same seriousness and thoughtfulness that we have seen from him since October. It is on an entirely different plane when you’re talking about an athletic director taking steps to change the culture around a program.

This is a culture that needs changing. For too long, a sentiment has pervaded Boston College sports that “we are what we are” — a mediocre program that has all sorts of artificial limitations and can never hope to achieve anything in live competition, so we should settle for less and be happy with it. The BC “fans” who espouse this loser mentality would tell you that strong academics and sporting success are mutually exclusive, winning at the highest level of competition will corrupt the academic and ethical integrity of the university, and that Boston College “belongs” with traditional rivals like Holy Cross and Fordham in the nether-reaches of intercollegiate athletics. All of that is patently ridiculous and the first two are provably false. The third speaks to a nostalgic remnant of times long past, and ignores the fact that BC has a ‘first-tier national university’ profile to maintain.

There is also a crowd — some call them “whalepants,” others “Big East fans,” and others “disgruntled ACC fans who don’t know why BC is here” — who feel that the last several years of BC sports proves that last point that BC can’t compete. These same people were notably silent only a few years ago when BC football was winning or contending for ACC Atlantic titles and won 49 ACC regular-season basketball games between 2005 and 2011. The revelation that BC “isn’t cut out for the ACC” is pure revisionist history, made possible by a standoffish former athletic director who protected his friend, that same failed head football coach, and recent instability in basketball. It is unmistakable that the stench of death surrounded non-icy BC sports at the end of Gene DeFilippo’s tenure.

What is important now is that the new athletic director, Brad Bates, does not seem to be accepting things the way they are. Last night on Boston local sports radio, Bates reiterated his desire to bring in a head football coach who is committed to both academics and winning. He understands that it is not an either/or proposition, as schools like Notre Dame, Duke (basketball), and Stanford are demonstrating now. Bates also spoke about Boston College becoming a “destination job” for coaches, which is a confident attitude that has not been seen around these parts in a long time. A great deal of work has to be done to improve conditions to make it one, but one gets the sense that Bates will do everything in his power to try. Bates knows that Boston College has won before and can win again.

Whether or not Bates succeeds in changing the culture will be open for debate in future years. He got off to a very good start by firing Frank Spaziani the day after the 2012 season ended, but must now make a good hire to replace him. Bates will also have to keep an eye on all of the other programs and monitor developments there, though football has dominated his attention now. One thing is certain, though: Bates has barely had an opportunity to walk the walk, but he is talking the talk. If he backs up his positive, upbeat words with actions in the years to come, he will have a very successful tenure at BC. If he continues to refuse to accept “we are what we are” mediocrity, the program and university will be better off for it.