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Bob Ryan

College sports do matter in Boston

In 2007, Matt Ryan led Boston College to the first of two straight ACC championship game appearances. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File/2007/Boston Globe

Brother Shaughnessy recently applied a two-by-four to both the Boston College athletic program and college sports in general. Guess the Boss can save a little money by not sending him to either the BCS championship game or the Final Four.

Friends can agree to disagree and still remain friends. So it is that I trust he won’t take offense when I say I will forgive him for simply being a collegiate sports infidel and that we shall just have to seek common ground somewhere else. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want the Red Sox to sign Josh Hamilton to anything more than a one-year contract, either, so we can begin with that.


But as far as this college thing goes, it’s difficult to conceive of two sportswriters being farther apart on an issue. Let’s just say I doubt he joins me in having a copy of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook next to his TV clicker so he’ll know who the guy is shooting that free throw in the Creighton-Northern Iowa game. (You doubt this? Ask my wife.)

Mr. Shaughnessy’s basic premise is that it doesn’t matter whom new BC athletics director Brad Bates hires to replace Frank Spaziani as football coach, because, and I quote, “Nobody cares.” He said in terms of local sports stories the BC football hire was a “scrawny birch tree toppling in a forest of mighty oaks” and said that it doesn’t matter because “that is the state of college sports in our region.”

I give the birch tree metaphor an A. Very clever. I might steal that one for myself. It’s sheer hyperbole, and I love hyperbole. I just wouldn’t use it in this context.

“Nobody?” Really? BC is down now, no question. Football was 2-10 and basketball recently lost to Bryant. Thank God for Jerry York.


It’s easy to downplay BC football now, but it is totally inaccurate to imply that it’s always been like this or that college sports in general do not have a place at the Boston sports banquet table. Do pro sports dominate? Well, yes. What fool doesn’t know that?

But college sports always have been, and always will be, an important adjunct to the sports experience in this town. In fact, we have so much going on here with college sports, it’s impossible to keep track of it all. And at the top of the food chain is Boston College, our primary link to the world of big-time football and basketball.

With regard to me and Mr. Shaughnessy, it’s obvious there is a DNA discrepancy. When I was very small, my father was the assistant AD at Villanova, and for two years I was taken to college basketball doubleheaders at both the Palestra and the Philadelphia Convention Hall most every Friday and Saturday nights.

You may not know where you were on the night of Jan. 8, 1954 (Elvis’s 19th birthday), but I know I was present in the Palestra to see Villanova’s Bob Schafer score 46 points against Baldwin-Wallace (Bud Collins’s alma mater), breaking the venue scoring record established a year earlier by teammate Larry Hennessy.

Along with Major League Baseball, college sports represent the foundation of my entire sports being. It’s as true today as it was the night Schafer went 15-16-46.

So, yes, I’m very defensive and proprietary when it comes to college sports.


I know the experience is sometimes the equivalent of being in love with a woman of ill repute. I know how sleazy things can be. I know how hypocritical the whole NCAA is. I know there is scant justification for an institution of higher learning to be in the full-time business of providing sporting entertainment for the masses. I know we’re the only country that does this (Canada’s college sports basically being the equivalent of Division 3).

I also know that it has become an irreplaceable part of the American sports smorgasbord, and it is growing, not diminishing. Simply put, America has this because America wants it, even with all its chicanery. Yup, even in these here parts, college sports are an integral part of the deal.

One reason college sports are somewhat submerged in this town is that sports talk radio ignores them, and discourages people from introducing them into the conversation. I have friends at both WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub, and I don’t mind telling them that they would all benefit by broadening the dialogue to matters beyond the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins, and they might even consider matters that take place outside 128 every now and then.

I always thought part of a talk show host’s mission was to educate, not merely to tolerate boring, repetitive, ill-informed callers, but what do I know?

Brother Shaughnessy is entitled to his opinion, of course, but I don’t want to hear that “nobody” cares about what goes on at The Heights. BC has played many important football games, home and away, and people cared, all right.


In the two decades starting with 1991, BC has beaten the likes of Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Penn State, Stanford, Georgia, Kansas State, and Michigan State. It has also defeated That School From South Bend no fewer than nine times, including one run of six in succession. Somebody went to those home games.

In the two decades or so previous to that, BC defeated the likes of Tennessee, TCU, Georgia, California, North Carolina, Clemson, Stanford, Texas A&M, Penn State, Texas (yes, I said Texas, Michael Vega), oh, and let’s not forget, twice defeated Alabama, once in Tuscaloosa and once before 58,047 at Foxboro Stadium.

That wasn’t even the largest crowd BC drew down there. BC clinched the 1984 Cotton Bowl bid with a 24-16 win over Syracuse before 60,890 nobodies.

The BC basketball team sold out the Boston Garden to beat a Patrick Ewing Georgetown team and continually packed the gym for games against such Big East foes as Syracuse and Villanova, not to mention subsequent Georgetown teams. When the right team (i.e. Duke or Carolina) comes to town now, good luck getting a ticket. Somebody cares, all right.

Nobody cares about college sports? All I know is that we have upward of 70 colleges and universities in the Greater Boston-Worcester area and I’d love to know what the cumulative annual attendance is for every football, basketball, hockey, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, etc. game. The truth is, we are awash in entertaining college sports, male and female, at every level.


By the way, what about Jerry York? What about those four BC NCAA hockey championships since 2001? What about Jack Parker and Boston University, whose 2009 triumph enabled Boston to go back-to-back-to-back? Have you ever checked the attendances at some of these games? And what other city could provide us with a Beanpot? Nuf said.

The fact is that the BC football hire is a big deal to many people. There is no reason why BC cannot be what it had become for 20 years: a Top 30, annual second-tier bowl participant that could defeat anyone on its schedule on the proverbial given day. The next Brian Kelly is out there somewhere, and perhaps Mr. Bates knows exactly who he is.

There is also no reason why BC cannot be the consistently good basketball program it was under Al Skinner before the whole thing fell flat. I’d like to think Steve Donahue is the right guy, but losing to — no offense — Bryant does scare me.

Right now, it’s not that Nobody cares about BC. It’s that the many who do care are frustrated and angry. Big difference.

The mighty oak has fallen, Dan. That’s the problem.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.