BC's rude awakening
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - It is a brave new world for Boston College.
The Eagles are not officially scheduled to leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference until next season, but they got a taste of the future yesterday when they played a non-league game here against Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons gave them a rude awakening when quarterback Cory Randolph threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Willie Idlette with just 1:09 to play to give his team, picked to finish ninth in the ACC, a 17-14 victory before a crowd of 29,461 at Groves Stadium.
This game took an emotional toll on a haggard-looking BC coach Tom O'Brien, whose team discovered the hard way there are no days off against teams from its future league.
"Does a game like this age you as a coach?" O'Brien was asked.
"I'm not going to answer that," the coach replied.
BC rolled to 451 yards of total offense in 75 plays, but the Eagles fell on their face inside the 25, missing three chip-shot field goals.
"We definitely had the better team, the tougher team," cornerback Will Blackmon said. "We just made so many mistakes."
O'Brien did not want to play this game, preferring another home game against a MAC team like Buffalo that would have given the Eagles (3-1) a chance at a 6-0 record going into an Oct. 23 showdown at Notre Dame.
But he had no choice. This was the back end of a home-and-home series and BC, sensitive to its new alliance, didn't want to haggle. This is an awkward time for the Eagles, who have been ostracized by the other Big East schools after announcing last November that they were defecting to the ACC.
BC still must compete in the Big East in all sports this season, but the Eagles have not been invited to any Big East meetings and had to go through an ugly, protracted lawsuit that attempted - and eventually failed - to extract a $5 million buyout from the school.
"We feel like a lame duck," O'Brien said. "So it's a tough year for us. But we did spend half of last year in this situation."
That lame duck could still win the Big East this season and earn $13 million from its participation in the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien, who has taken the Eagles to five straight bowls, has established a strong enough foundation to contend for a Big East title, especially with Miami and Virginia Tech, who owned BC before leaving for the ACC, out of the picture.
The ACC is another story. This year's Eagles would finish no better than seventh in that conference. That alone would seem like a good enough reason for the Eagles to stay put and continue to play geographically desirable rivals. But it's not that simple. BC's president, the Rev. William Leahy, has framed the decision as an academic one, claiming he likes being grouped in the same consortium as Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina.
Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo made the most compelling argument for the Eagles taking flight. The ACC offers BC the best chance at national exposure and long-term financial security. The ACC has a $39 million football contract with ABC and ESPN, almost $25 million more than the Big East's deal. This year, each ACC school is projected to make $11 million. "Once Virginia Tech and Miami left (for the ACC in the first round of expansion), we had no choice but to look at our options," DeFilippo said. "Other teams would have done the same thing."
Syracuse, we already know, was ready to jump. So apparently was West Virginia, which made an unofficial inquiry during the process. But the Mountaineers weren't invited to join the club. BC didn't want to take a chance on missing this gravy train.
If Miami and Virginia stayed in the Big East, the conference could have remained among the top three or four in the country. Now, with Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati joining next year, the Big East has an uncertain BCS future. BC also has an uncertain future in the ACC next year. The Eagles have benefited in recruiting from their new association, signing players like linebacker Brian Toal of Don Bosco Prep, the best prospect in North Jersey, but their lack of success against ranked teams indicates they have a long way to go before rising to the class of Miami, Florida State or Virginia.
Still, in O'Brien's mind, anything is better than the Big East. O'Brien came to BC from Virginia, an ACC school, and always felt the Big East was more interested in basketball than football. It didn't help when outspoken basketball coach Jim Calhoun announced after BC's defection became public that UConn would never play BC in basketball again.
And yet UConn football coach Randy Edsall, whose team is looking to establish an identity in Division I, understands the significance of keeping BC on its schedule as a New England rivalry game.
"Time heals all wounds," he said at Big East media day.
"No," O'Brien said. "They can sue us - but we're not going to play them."