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Boston College fans weigh in on UConn and ACC

Some fans favorable about UConn potentially joining ACC, others adamantly opposed

By Mac Cerullo
On December 7, 2011

  • Boston College fans get moshed after a BC touchdown during the game against Virginia in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005. The Eagles defeated the Cavaliers 28-17. AP

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. ­– On Nov. 12, Boston College fans gathered in Chestnut Hill on a beautiful autumn day for the final home game of the season. Coming into the game, the Eagles stood at 2-7 and were in the midst of the program's worst season in over a decade, but for the fans in attendance, the home schedule would end on a high note. Led by the efforts of junior linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recorded 18 tackles including nine in the final 13 minutes, the Eagles were able to hold off NC State to win 14-10.

After the game, members of the Gridiron Club, a prominent BC fan group, gathered outside the stadium for the final tailgate of the season. During the postgame festivities, two Gridiron Club members named Rich Pano and Rich Callahan got into a debate over UConn, the merits of the school potentially joining BC in the ACC and the possibility of a rivalry budding similar to that of UConn and Duke.

"When you compare UNC to Duke, the BC-UConn rivalry is not at all close to that," Pano said. "People might think that they're comparable, but lets be honest, UConn just moved up to D1 how many years ago?"

"They've been in a BCS bowl," Callahan responded.

"They went to a BCS bowl, but lets be serious," Pano said. "They definitely have the advantage in basketball, but at the same time they can't compete yet in football."

"Why do you figure they can't compete?" Callahan said. "They've been to a BCS game. They're more successful than Boston College at this time."

"In the Big East," Pano said.

"In the Big East? What against powerhouses like Duke?" Callahan said.

The debate raged on, and it continues throughout the BC fanbase. Whether the issue is recruitment, market dominance, perceived superiority or sheer spite, what is evident is that the community is not unanimously in agreement with the school administration's view that UConn must be kept out of the ACC at all costs, and the reasons for people's views vary widely.

"We wanted to be the New England team."

It's no secret that the Boston College administration is adamantly opposed to the thought of UConn joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. In a Boston Globe article that ran on Oct. 9, BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said so, point blank.

"We didn't want them in," DeFilippo told the Globe. "It was a matter of turf. We wanted to be the New England team."

When the ACC formed its expansion committee to explore adding new teams, the two schools initially targeted were Syracuse and UConn, thanks in large part to their geography and their success in basketball. But while Syracuse was welcomed with open arms, DeFilippo, who was on the 12-man expansion committee, objected.

According to the Globe, BC argued that Pittsburgh would be a better fit with their long-standing tradition in football and a great basketball program of their own. While schools like North Carolina and Duke, who have thrived together as rivals, didn't understand the passion in BC's argument, they accepted Pittsburgh as an alternative, leaving UConn out in the cold.

There have been a number of reported reasons for BC's objection: Bitterness over a 2003 lawsuit, recruiting concerns, media market concerns and simple unwillingness to let UConn gain any more credence.

But do ordinary BC fans agree?

Turf war

In general, the most common objection that fans seemed to have was that UConn could potentially steal recruits away from BC.

"Recruiting would be impacted because then a lot of the players who might come to BC could go to UConn," said Phil Weber, a BC fan who has had season tickets for over 20 years.

But Pano had a blunt assessment about the quality of the recruits that UConn would be stealing.

"There are no recruits in the New England area!" Pano exclaimed.

Callahan agreed, explaining that BC and UConn are already competing for recruits out of the same markets anyway.

"It's not worth fighting for recruits in the New England area," Callahan said. "Everyone is fighting for recruits out of New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania."

As far as the impact that UConn would have on BC from a media standpoint, the opinions tended to skew towards the extreme, either it would be great for both schools and would foster a healthy rivalry, or it would be horrible for BC because UConn would steal part of the New England market from them.

Matt Moran, a 3rd-semester biology/pre-med major at BC, was in the first camp.

"Personally, I think it'd be a good thing to have UConn in the ACC," Moran said. "I think it would be a good rivalry and it would bring much needed positive press to BC. Eventually one would hope the recognition of such a rivalry could bring good recruits as time goes along."

David Groman, a 3rd-semester communications major, flatly disagreed with Moran's view.

"As much as BC fans hate to admit it, UConn football is growing ever slightly," Groman said. "Does it benefit us to have UConn take even a small number of college football fans away from BC in an already small New England college football market? No."

The notion that BC should be "The New England Team" is one that is held at all levels of the school community, but the group at the Gridiron Club had their own view. Namely, BC needs to become "The Boston Team" before it worries about being "The New England Team."

"Another major difference is UConn is a state institution, Boston College is a private institution," Callahan said. "As far as UConn in Connecticut, the Hartford area, you're going to get support from the entire community, whereas at Boston College it's more of a centralized alumni-based, community-based fanbase."

Michelle Curran, also with the Gridiron Club, added that BC faces competition from a whole host of other prestigious schools in the city, most of whose fans are not always fond of BC.

"You have colleges all around you," Curran said. "You've got Harvard, you've got all these other colleges in the area."

Callahan contrasted the BC fanbase to the fanbases of big state schools down south to emphasize the point.

"If Boston College wanted to create rivalries, if they wanted to create that regional interest, it would be more encompassing of the community," Callahan said. "It would be more welcoming to non-grads, they would expand that base and make it more welcoming for everyone, instead of just making it the Boston College community vs. UConn, or the Boston College community vs. Clemson, or the Boston College community vs. any of the other state schools. I mean if you go to other states, the state schools are such that everyone in the state roots for them. Most of the people who go to a University of Georgia game never went to the University of Georgia, but it was all encompassing. That doesn't exist here so it's hard to create rivalries."

Sour grapes

For many fans, the reason for not wanting UConn in the ACC have less to do with concrete competitive or economic reasons and more to do with hard feelings stemming from a lawsuit filed against BC in 2003 shortly after it became involved in the ACC's expansion plans. The Big East football schools, led by then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, filed lawsuits against not just BC, Miami and the ACC, but against ACC Commissioner John Swofford, BC President William P. Leahy and Gene DeFilippo personally as well.

Eight years later, it is evident that many BC fans have not forgotten this.

"UConn should never, and will never be allowed to join the ACC," Groman said. "When BC underwent the process of becoming a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, UConn took legal action towards BC that the administration, students and all Eagle fans won't easily forget."

Mosi Kelly, a BC alumni, felt the lawsuit was a major factor, but also recounted a story about the last time BC played at Rentschler Field back in 2003.

"When we went down to play at the Rent right after it was all announced, it was – I mean the story is a legend, beer cans, rocks, bottles being thrown at the buses, the people, it was just an awful, awful situation. I think that's why."

Kelly's story couldn't be verified in any account of the game or in any postgame write-up, but the incident has been referenced in numerous online discussions over the years, particularly recently since the new round of conference realignment began.

Despite the hard feelings, Kelly said he thinks UConn will probably wind up in the ACC eventually.

I think eventually Connecticut will be in the ACC, down the road," Kelly said. "They're going to have to do a lot of sucking up, and I think there are going to have to be some checks written to cover legal expenses."

With Wednesday's news that the Big East plans to expand, the immediate future of the Big East appears to be on much firmer ground than it did after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced their intentions to defect. And with a new round of TV contracts for the Big East on the horizon, the main economic driver that caused six teams to leave the conference in eight years could soon be rectified as well. As such, UConn may never have to leave the Big East, and it may never end up sharing the same conference with BC again.

But the speculation will likely continue regardless, and even though the BC administration is adamant in its opposition, it's clear that BC fans have all sorts of different opinions, it just depends on who you ask.

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