There was nothing ordinary about Pat Kraft’s first year on the job as athletic director at Boston College.
He was hired in June 2020 in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic and spent the majority of his time juggling uncertainties.
With all sports suspended when he arrived, the biggest question was whether there would be a football season in the fall. Once the Atlantic Coast Conference decided to forge ahead, the most pressing task was keeping the football team quarantined, tested, and as free of COVID as possible.
Kraft remembered a late-season matchup against Notre Dame at Alumni Stadium — a highlight of football season in any other year, but a surreal scene last year. The typical game-day bus wasn’t there.
“[Coach] Jeff [Hafley] and I are sitting in the coach’s office in the locker rooms, and there’s kids playing tennis!” Kraft said.
Fifteen months into the job, college sports and the country at large have moved toward a new normal. The strict protocols that defined Kraft’s first year are gone. Fans are back in the stands. When Kraft walked through the tunnel for the football opener against Colgate, it felt like Year 1 all over again.
“Now it feels real,” Kraft said.
The challenges of the first year had him thinking outside the box about how to tackle them.
“My philosophy here is: How are we being creative with our resources?” Kraft said. “How are we spending our resources? How are we using our facilities? Instead of just saying, ‘Well, we just can’t do that,’ that’s not how I operate.
“We’re going to find a way and we’re going to be creative and we’re going to be positive. In any institution, there are different focuses. I think we’ve done a good job of being able to show we have a plan and here’s how we want to implement said plans and strategy.”
Once Kraft arrived at The Heights, he didn’t want to let the challenges of the pandemic stop him from diving in head-first.
“There was a really good plan in place, so we were able to hit the ground running,” Kraft said. “But that plan changed every week, no matter where you were. So the operation of it all was really good. The saving grace here for me in Year 1 was there are great people here.”
The program did 11 capital projects, all privately funded. Kraft added staff in strength and conditioning, mental health, and sports medicine.
“We got a good start on the foundational things that we needed to address, and we came out of the pandemic better,” he said. “That’s what I told everybody: Come out better.”
Kraft had to make the inevitable decision to part ways with men’s basketball coach Jim Christian in February of this year. Christian had made clear the urgent need for the program to have its own practice facility. In March, Kraft hired Earl Grant to replace Christian. Two months later, BC announced plans for the Hoag Basketball Pavilion, with a lead gift of $15 million from university trustee Michaela Hoag. The project is now 80 percent funded.
The facility was something Kraft emphasized the first time he spoke to university president Rev. William P. Leahy.
“We had to do it,” said Kraft. “And I think just being able to raise the money fast, that shows the people understand.”
Meanwhile, although the football program had added Fish Field House in 2018, the locker room and training room in the Yawkey Athletic Center hadn’t been upgraded since the building opened.
“They were urgent needs,” Kraft said.
Both rooms were done by the start of the season.
“That stuff is really important to the day-in-and-day-out life of the student-athlete,” Kraft said.
The pandemic underscored the importance of adding mental health experts, particularly in an age when student-athletes are inundated with social media.
“Mental health is real,” Kraft said. “It was real in the pandemic. It’s real coming out of the pandemic.”
Kraft saw the benefits of enhancing the strength and conditioning, mental health, and sports medicine staffs when the women’s lacrosse team made its national championship run last spring.
“They were healthy, they were playing better, and our strength team and our medical team were fantastic,” Kraft said.
While Kraft’s first year gave him a chance to take inventory, he didn’t see it as looking at all the ways BC needed to catch up to other programs in the ACC.
“It has nothing to do with anybody else,” Kraft said. “It’s everything to do with Boston College. We have everything we need. We have great people, we have great support, we’ve just got to focus on what we need to get better. We have to stay focused on what we need to do, what we need here to improve.”
When Under Armour cut ties in June with BC as well as several other schools, it opened the door for a partnership with a Boston staple in New Balance. BC then landed a deal with Adidas for the football team.
“I knew New Balance was big in Boston, but I had no idea,” Kraft said. “It’s everywhere. I’m at Mass, and there’s nuns with New Balance.”
While it may not get the recognition — or market share — of Nike or Jordan Brand, New Balance offered a wealth of gear along with creative input to student-athletes and a vested interest in carving out space in basketball apparel that made the arrangement enticing.
“I don’t want to be a secondhand,” said Kraft. “We are the brand.”
Getting so much done in the face of COVID was an encouraging sign for Kraft.
“For me, I’m like, ‘If we don’t have a global pandemic, we could do some really good work,’ ” he said with a grin. “It gave us time to really dive into the numbers, the finances, start to lay the strategy out.”
Looking back, Kraft said, his first year felt more like a springboard.
“It is a Year 1 all over again, but I feel like it’s a Year 1 with an extra shot, like we got a boost,” he said. “So I feel really good about that.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.