Judging from the positive reaction, Boston College athletic director Brad Bates knew he had energized the school’s football fan base when it was announced Friday the Eagles had agreed with Holy Cross to renew their long-dormant rivalry with games in 2018 and 2020 at Alumni Stadium.
It will be the schools’ first gridiron meeting since Nov. 22, 1986, when the Eagles traveled to Worcester and beat the Crusaders, 56-26, in muddy conditions at Fitton Field. BC leads the series, 48-31-3.
“I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve gotten from people who were at that game, thinking that would be the last time we ever played,” said Bates, who struck an agreement with Holy Cross AD Richard Regan, who served his final day on the job after 15½ years.
“It just felt good because I’m a third-generation alum [of Holy Cross] and my father went there and my daughter is fourth-generation,” said Regan. “I told Brad it would be a nice note to end on, with a BC football game coming back.”
When they parted ways in 1986, the BC and Holy Cross programs were headed in opposite directions, with the Crusaders undergoing a phased elimination of scholarship commitments to football. But when the Patriot League agreed to allow member institutions to begin offering scholarships, Regan said the timing was right to explore a renewal of the BC series.
But a deal could not be struck until the Crusaders, who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, agreed to be at a minimum scholarship level a year in advance of the game.
“The rules are this: we have to be at 90 percent of the limit and that’s 56.7 scholarships, and you have to average that for two immediately preceding seasons,’’ said Regan, who expects to be at 30 scholarships by the 2014 season and at 90 percent by 2017. “If we do, and BC gets a win, then it counts [in the eyes of the selection committee]. If we’re below the level, and they win, because of the championship ratings, it will be as if the game never even took place.”
So what compelled the schools to get back together on the gridiron?
“The main reason was that we have two institutions that have a long and storied rivalry,” Bates said. “And the opportunity to renew that rivalry really seemed to us to be an exciting chance to merge the two institutions and bring us together for a couple of games.”
For many years, Holy Cross was BC’s traditional opponent to end the regular season. For the next two meetings, however, the Crusaders will serve as BC’s season opener.
BC faced Holy Cross 82 times from 1896-1986, its most games against one opponent.
“It’s exciting to already hear people talking about that last game and the history of the rivalry,” Bates said. “I know it’s been a catalyst for people’s memories who are familiar with the rivalry.”
That includes BC coach Steve Addazio, who guided the Eagles to a 7-6 season in 2013.
“At his introductory press conference, Steve talked about when he was growing up [in Connecticut] he would make the trek up every year to watch the Holy Cross-Boston College game,’’ Bates said. “So you can only imagine how excited he is about the history of it.”
Said Addazio: “I just love it. I just love the geographical ties. I’m all for it. Whether it’s BC playing Holy Cross, BC playing Syracuse . . . I just think it’s really important.”
In reaction to the new playoff system, many Football Bowl Subdivision programs have moved away from scheduling non-FBS opponents. But BC continues to support series with smaller New England programs. The Eagles host Maine of the FCS on Sept. 20.
“You know, the landscape is changing with a lot of these power conferences going to nine-game conference schedules,” Bates said. “So it’s minimizing some of these nonconference games against non-BCS opponents.
“This is uncharted territory, so we’re really analyzing as much historical data as possible to try and project what future scheduling might best position you [for a playoff berth], which is what I think most institutions are doing right now.”
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Harvard announced its 2014 football schedule Friday. The Crimson open with Holy Cross under the lights at Harvard Stadium on Sept. 19, and close the season Nov. 22 by hosting Yale.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.