Saturday, November 14, 2009

Can a College Basketball Team Win on a Neutral Court?

Earlier this fall, I had a golden opportunity.  I could pick a couple of Boston College basketball games to go to during the 2009-10 season.  "I'm not giving you Duke or North Carolina, but pick any other games."  I was told.  I didn't want my children to hear me hurl expletives at the opposing teams anyway, so I was thankful that the temptation to take those two games were taken away from me. 

I couldn't take UMass because I was going to be in Florida that week.  Florida State?  Virginia?  I couldn't decide.  Finally, wth four tickets at my disposal, I chose the Eagles' opening night game against Dartmouth.  Being a UConn guy, I was luke warm on BC to begin with, but against the school that rejected my college application 20 years ago despite the seven essays that I wrote?  Hell yeah.  I would relish the opportunity to shove it back in their face, even though the "Big Green" and their fans would have no idea who the hell I was.  Plus, my wife was going to be at work, so I had the kids cornered.   

6pm.  Chestnut Hill, MA.  Even though I have been to Conte Forum at least half a dozen times in my life, I couldn't for the life of me find the place.  Was the "Dartmouth curse" coming back to haunt me?  Not a real curse, just what I coined a harrowing evening at the school's baseball frat back in 1992.  Driving back and forth on Beacon Street, I was looking for a right to take.  I asked three guys for directions and used my GPS on my phone (yeah, you're right, I should be keeping my eyes on the road).  Finally, I relented and took a left instead and parked at the Alumni Stadium garage exactly where I should have parked; in fact, when I showed the parking attendants that I had a parking pass, they were as surprised as I was that I had no idea where I was going.  "Right this way" they said, as if I was Matty Ice or Doug Flutie.  I'm still not sure how I got there.  Luckily, I had fed the kids into a comatose state (tw fthem were assleep by the time I parked) so the only problem involved an unfortunate barbeque sauce issue that could only be remedied with winter hats and "blankies."

Well our problems finding the place didn't stem from traffic jams or a tremendous demand for tickets  We walk in a couple of minutes before tip off and the Forum, usually able to accommodate about 8,500 fans couldn't have more than 1,000 people in the building (and that includes the volleyball tournament going on in some other nook and cranny of the building).

Despite the lack of a crowd, I was still apprehensive, since my daughter had expressed a fear about both loud noises and people dressed up as characters (in this case, the BC Eagle).

But the question I posed to myself was this - can BC, in front of a sparsely populated home court, still use that home court to their advantage?  The study isn't as compelling as if they were to play, oh say, Kansas, but after watching numerous UConn butt kickings against the Sacred Hearts and the Central Connecticuts of the world in front of packed Gampel Pavillion or Hartford Civic Center (nee XL Center) crowds, I am convinced that it can make a difference versus playing the same team in Hawaii or some other neutral site.

Well, after about 10 minutes of play, and numerous questions from my boys about what I was taking pictures of (I was trying to get either a clear shot of how empty the Forum was, so my camera was constantly pointing away from the action, or I was trying to get a picture of this 45 year old guy in his BC student T-shirt hugging all of the other regulars like it was Thanksgiving.), the "crowd" had encouraged the Eagles to a fifteen point lead.  These guys Tyler Roche and Reggie Jackson (seriously) led the Eagles throughout the First Half and most of the Second Half.  Despite the lack of support through most of the game, I could tell that the Big Green weren't going to have it tonight.  During the pregame warmup, I was impressed by the complicated four way passing drill they were executing - and frankly from an Ivy League school I would expect nothing less - they were missing jumpers and layups of every sort.  The crowd was also buttressed by a loud PA system that was constantly blaring music, amidst requests to clap and chant "Defense." 

To a certain extent, I don't think the crowd mattered as much as the timing of the loud noise.  Sort of like a football crowd being particularly loud when the opposing offense is backed up against its own goal line, the music played the loudest during Dartmouth's offensive possessions.  How do I know?  My daughter always asked me to turn the music down when Dartmouth had the ball, never when BC had the ball.  Given that the place was otherwise silent when BC had the ball, it had to be jarring.  I concluded that maybe, just maybe, home court advantage had more to do with technology, than human causes.  Wait, is it a conclusion to say "maybe?"

Ultimately, after all of the popcorn, Doritos and M&Ms were eaten, it was time to go home.  BC was winning handily halfway through the Second Half, and we were all getting tired.  I think even Dartmouth was ready to leave, as they were just dragging their bodies up and down the court, biding time until the final whistle.  My beliefs were confirmed as we walked out of the stadium with BC up by 25 with 10 minutes to go in the game.

"Look guys, there's the bus that Dartmouth took to come down here from New Hampshire."  I relay to my boys (my daughter I asleep in my arms at this point).

"If that's their bus," my oldest one asks "then why is it on like it's leaving?  Do they wanna get dinner at home?"

"Good question." I say as I slap him on the shoulder.  "Good question."

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