CROSSPORTS / Men's Basketball / Archives / 08-05-2006 / Globe\'s Ryan on HC-BC

Topic: Globe's Ryan on HC-BC
May 19th, 2006 06:34 AM
HC13 It should not be a cross to bear
By Bob Ryan, Globe Columnist | May 19, 2006

No, no, no, says Boston College director of athletics Gene DeFilippo. It's not forever. It's temporary, I tell you, temporary.

''Holy Cross," he insists, ''is a team we will play again."

Just not this coming season. Or the next. For at least two years, Boston College will not be playing its supposed Jesuit soul mate, Holy Cross, in basketball.

Say it isn't so, guys.

The teams first met on the court in 1905. BC dropped basketball following the 1924-25 season, not resuming until 1945. They have played every year since, with annual home-and-homes being a featured part of each school's schedule from 1947 through 1981. Holy Cross dominated at first, winning 21 in succession before BC finally won in 1957. For the first decade, the Crusaders were a national power, winning a national championship in 1947, filling Boston Garden the next three years with Bob Cousy as a star attraction, then winning the then highly prestigious NIT in 1954, the marquee players being Tom Heinsohn, Togo Palazzi, and Ronnie Perry Sr.

BC began to establish some semblance of parity when The Cooz himself took over as coach in 1963, and as time went on, the fortunes of the teams shifted, the turning point coming when BC joined the new Big East Conference in 1979 and Holy Cross did not. BC is, of course, a much larger school and it probably made sense for Holy Cross to pursue a more modest athletic path (this viewpoint is not a universally held Holy Cross alumni opinion, of course). It has culminated in recent BC dominance, at least in terms of final scores. The Eagles have won 14 of the last 15 contests.

Dropping the Crusaders from the schedule is no casual matter. The athletic rivalry began on the football field in 1896. For the first 70 years of the 20th century, the schools regarded themselves as equals in every way. There are vast numbers of alums on both sides who harbor fond remembrances of great games in both sports, and Lord knows there are innumerable instances of, shall we say, ''mixed" marriages featuring Eagles and Crusaders, not to mention fathers who went to one school and the offspring to another. I mean, I'm working with one right now. Dan Shaughnessy went to Holy Cross, but his son, Sam, will be playing baseball for Peter Hughes at BC next year. These schools have an unbreakable bond, it seems to me.

''Believe me, I understand," says DeFilippo. ''My father was Holy Cross, '49. I grew up pulling for the Crusaders. I understand the history of the teams, but the schedule should be mutually beneficial, and, in my eyes, it's not beneficial for us to play Holy Cross the next couple of years."

If that sounds fuzzy and vague, you're on the right track. ''It's the continuation of a trend, I guess," maintains Crusaders coach Ralph Willard, Holy Cross Class of '67. ''The BCS conferences have a magic formula. They need X number of wins, and they need to schedule outside schools at home they can beat."

But BC is beating Holy Cross. Fourteen out of 15, remember? So if the Crusaders don't mind showing up, shouldn't BC be willing to keep playing them for the sake of, oh, you know, tradition?

Not if you're Al Skinner, apparently.

''Al told me right away," recalls Willard. ''He said it was a no-win situation for him."

''It should be a win-win for everybody involved," acknowledges the BC mentor.

The Holy Cross people think they know what's going on. Since BC walloped Holy Cross by a 75-51 score in December 2001, the games have been, from a BC viewpoint, disturbingly competitive. BC needed to go into OT to subdue Willard's gang two years ago, and each of the last five games the Patriot League club has been hanging around and around and around against the Big East/ACC behemoth.

Draw your own conclusion.

''The big schools are better than us," says Holy Cross director of athletics Dick Regan, a fourth-generation Holy Cross man, ''but not that much better. Look at last year's NCAA results. But the big schools have the power, and they wield it."

''Let's be honest," says Willard, whose teams threw gigantic scares into Kansas and Kentucky during recent NCAA appearances, and whose current league champion, Bucknell, actually beat Kansas a year ago. ''The gap between the BCS schools and the mid-majors has diminished dramatically."

Skinner denies he's running from the Crusaders. ''I don't know that they're any more difficult to play than any other mid-major," he says. ''I realize it's a big game for them, but it just doesn't have the same dimensions for us. The landscape of college basketball is changing. It's not all local anymore."

The 2006-07 BC schedule is exciting and challenging. BC will be playing Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the Eagles will be initiating a home-and-home series with Kansas. But somewhere in there a few cookies will be put on the menu, you can be sure of that.

The BC coach says he understands why someone might be disturbed about BC dropping Holy Cross, however.

''Anything that has a history like this, and there's a change, well, someone's going to take notice," Skinner says.

In the last couple of years, Skinner has raised another objection to the game, one the Holy Cross folks find amusing.

''He says BC kids are getting hurt," says Regan. ''He thinks we're too physical."

''I like Al," says Willard. ''Don't get me wrong. But I was not happy when he said the referees weren't protecting his players from the 'less talented' players."

Skinner isn't backing down on this one. ''I've heard them say that their kids were getting hurt, too," he says. ''So you start asking yourself why you should be playing."

There is something else at stake here for Holy Cross. It's a game it needs to replace, and that isn't as easy as one might think, primarily because everyone in the business respects the job Ralph Willard does with his kids.

''I don't have to be reminded how good Ralph is," says DeFilippo. ''We were at Kentucky together."

''It's an important game for us, for a lot of reasons," explains Regan. ''Here is a traditional rival, 45 minutes away. And it's important for us to find good teams to play. When Ralph came here, the last thing I thought I'd be worrying about was scheduling. But it's becoming a problem."

Willard wishes to clear the air about one thing. He's a Holy Cross guy himself, so he appreciates the history aspect. He just doesn't want anyone to think he's obsessed with BC.

''Look, we don't get any more up to play BC than anyone else," he insists. ''I would be a bad coach if that were the case. I enjoy playing BC, because of the history, and because they're good. But if BC is sandwiched between Bucknell or Navy [two Patriot League foes] on our schedule, do we get more up for BC? No."

Does anyone besides me and Holy Cross really care? DeFilippo and Skinner point to a far less than full house last year at the Hart Center as proof that even the Holy Cross fans have lost their ardor. Maybe a timeout is in order.

I don't think so. The 1986 junking of football, where BC had won the last five games by a combined 161 points, was understandable. But there is no such gap in basketball and this is a tradition that should be honored. Al Skinner may feel it's a no-win if he wins and a mortification if he loses, but that's just too bad. He's getting well paid to play the schedule he's given. Gene DeFilippo should make him play this game.

Why? Very simple. It's The Right Thing To Do. You cannot put a price tag on history and tradition. No other reason is necessary.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.
May 19th, 2006 07:51 AM
hchoops way to go ,bob--it probably will have zero effect,but it's always nice to see the right view get some publicity(ok--there were a few errors--hart for last year's game.--omissions-arkansas,marquette games,but that's minor)
May 19th, 2006 08:10 AM
nhteamer Just wrote him an appreciative email. Perhaps we all should.
May 19th, 2006 08:21 AM
Sons of Spitler ''I've heard them say that their kids were getting hurt, too. So you start asking yourself why you should be playing."

@$$hole.

Kudos to Bob for stepping up.
(Edited by Sons of Spitler)
May 19th, 2006 09:02 AM
Ray Also sent an email to Bob. Great job by him.
May 19th, 2006 12:08 PM
HC93 Thank you Bob (a little unexpected). Here's what I wrote to him:

Bob -

Thank you for writing the column - it's not often that HC gets a fair shake from the Boston press (albeit somewhat understandably, being in BC's shadow), and I think you've painted a very fair picture of the situation here. The reality is that Willard is an excellent coach and he recruits great kids to come play for him. They are true student athletes and he gets them to leave it all on the court every time they go out there. That is what Skinner fears - yes, his players are more talented, but they are not as well coached, and every time his players step on the court and give 80% against a Holy Cross squad that gives 100+%, there is a chance they will lose. On one hand, I think it's a shame that the series is coming to an end. On the other hand, I personally hope HC never agrees to play BC again unless it is on a home-and-home basis - something BC hasn't agreed to in years. In fact, you misstated in your column that BC played HC before a less than full Hart Center last year -- the game was actually played at the much larger Worcester Centrum because BC has refused to play HC on its home court at the Hart Center - only in Chestnut Hill or at a neutral site. Now they won't even do that. I also think it is no coincidence that BC's decision to drop HC from its schedule coincides with the loss of all-american Craig Smith - if our undersized players were "too physical" for him, I can only imagine what a difficult time his replacements will have with HC's 6'8", 195 lb. power forward.

Regards,
May 28th, 2006 11:44 PM
Chu Chu I just saw this article, and I have also written a note to Bob Ryan. I asked what kind of feedback he has gotten, and I'll report if I hear back.

Perhaps a few more could write him, to keep the issue alive. Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is: ryan@globe.com