Gene DeFilippo Shrinking the Footprint of Boston College Athletics

Dave DeBlasioCorrespondent IApril 8, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 26:  Rich Gunnell #18 of the Boston College Eagles runs against the USC Trojans during the 2009 Emerald Bowl at AT&T Park on December 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Seven years after Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo brashly announced the Eagles would abandon the Big East and move to the ACC, BC has failed to establish an identity in the Southern league, failed to achieve excellence in football or basketball, and failed to win over the Boston marketplace.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford had grand visions of TV sets across New England popping on to ACC football and basketball. It hasn't happened.

DeFilippo has three styles of addressing the public: He cheerleads to bring his audience to his way of thinking; he blusters and blows his opinion as law; he doesn't respond at all. In handling the diminishing footprint of BC athletics under his watch, he has demonstrated all three.

Derision of the Eagles by bloggers on Boston.com's web site is shocking even to those who are indifferent to BC and the ACC.

For example, when DeFilippo announced the BC band was not allowed to accompany the team to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco this past season, 90-plus bloggers wrote scathing comments about DeFilippo. If DeFilippo was sincere about winning over hometown fans, he made a horrible decision.

Then he dispensed Jack Dunn to spin the truth that the school just couldn't afford the trip by saying the BC administration did not want to impose upon band members' holiday. How embarrassing for an AD and school planning to reap big financial awards from the 12-team ACC to lack the resources to bring the whole package to the Emerald! 

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Fans saw right through his subterfuge and lambasted the AD. 

The word is out in coaching circles too: treat DeFilippo with deference bordering on servility. Football coaches by nature just aren't deferential people.

In an unparalleled display of pomposity and egoism, DeFilippo fired popular coach Jeff Jagodzinski for interviewing with the Jets. Of course DeFilippo had to make BC pay for his arrogance to the tune of $3 million. Is this how a Jesuit college plays?

The incident played so poorly in the press that DeFilippo bashing became a new sport in Boston far more popular than the Eagles' athletic teams.

Derision is not limited to Boston.com.

Statesnation, North Carolina State's athletic blogsite, devoted an entire article to the "BC rule," engendered to compensate for the Eagles' lack of traveling fan sport. The site blasted the Eagles for causing the ACC to lose the Gator Bowl and questioned why they ever were admitted to the ACC.

BC left the Big East for financial security, better TV payouts, and increased fan support. The Eagles have benefited from the TV contract, and the payout of $11 million per team is much better than the Big East's $5.5 million.

However, the ACC is negotiating a new television contract hampered by several prominent negatives, including poor bowl performances, a dearth of intersectional victories, and lack of dominating teams. BC's dwindling home attendance in football and basketball is not helping the conference.  

In Boston, BC football and basketball are putting fewer fans in seats. This past season BC averaged 35,716 per home game, ranking 62nd out of 119 FBS schools. In 2003, BC's final year in the Big East before announcing ACC membership, the Eagles averaged 42,604 per home game and ranked 51st out of 115 Division I-A schools.

Conte Forum used to rock with 6,000 to 7,000 fans for Big East games. This year 3,000 to 5,000 fans were the norm.

So where is the big bump in attendance membership in the ACC was supposed to provide? 

BC fans travel in a small pod to away games, championship games, and bowls. DeFilippo has not inspired crowds to fly away with the Eagles. Instead, they are flying away from them. Not only are the fans not traveling, they are not turning on TV sets in Boston to watch them either.

Even with yesterday's cheerleading to introduce Steve Donahue as the Eagles' new hoops coach, DeFilippo did not quell the unhappiness this hire has generated in fans. Will he ever address why Boston has not become an ACC basketball town as promised?

DeFilippo has steered BC to what most likely will be its final home. There is no turning back—he is too stubborn to ever admit the ACC move was a blunder, and the Big East really doesn't want the Eagles back—if there is to be a Big East football conference in the future.

BC is not mentioned in any Big Ten expansion plans, and it is too far from the Big 12 and Pac-10 to become part of their expansion plans.

If DeFilippo were a good AD, he would put his ear on ground level and listen to fans who want a less restrictive tailgating experience and better home football schedules. He should be smart enough to reason that building a larger fanbase will only occur when he takes fan-friendly actions and begins to listen.

Observing DeFilippo is tantamount to watching a runaway train. 

No more compelling evidence demonstrates the cultural disharmony between Boston and ACC destinations like Virginia and Virginia Tech in Virginia, Clemson in South Carolina, and Georgia Tech in Georgia than these states proudly announcing Confederate History Month celebrations.

BC engages four universities housed in states celebrating the war for slavery. Boston's cadre of abolitionists and underground railroaders must roil in their graves.

Did DeFilippo naively believe there are no differences between the North and the South? Did he believe the two regions' cultures easily intermix?

If he has ever driven through Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina, he would see Confederate flags for sale along the highways. That would be his first sign.

If Father Leahy is too detached or too weak to make it happen, BC fans need to demand it. Those who write about his mistakes and have cancelled season tickets or limited donations must speak. Boston College deserves an AD commensurate with its academic excellence, athletic legacies, and beacon of enlightenment in the Northeast USA.    

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