The Beanpot – a Victim of Bad Timing or a Fading Tradition?

I, like most New Englanders, slid into an apoplectic, depressed state after the Giants dethroned the Patriots in a sequel that even your worst nightmare couldn’t compare to. The non New York and Boston markets viewed the game as somewhat of a snoozer but as die hard Boston fans know, it was a grueling, intense, heart attack special that sadly we have grown accustomed to. After two weeks of hype, pomp and circumstance and utter anxiousness, the game was over in an instance and New England fans everywhere were in utter shock. This was not how the Brady + Belichick script was supposed to play out in the Revenge Bowl but in an unfathomable and eerily familiar fashion, it did just that, leaving a zombie like Patriot nation in a state of mourning.

Early Sunday I wrote about how grateful I was that the Super Bowl and the 2012 Beanpot tournament would be played out on consecutive nights; a Boston sport fan’s dream come true. What didn’t cross my mind, however, was the dazed and confused state of mind I would succumb to and the effect this would have on my outlook of such a great hockey tournament like the Beanpot. To transition from the most hyped and intense sporting event in the world like the Super Bowl to virtually ANYTHING else is utterly impossible to do. No matter what the event, the precipitous emotional letdown will simply not let anyone enjoy whatever event comes next, unless the Pats and Giants lined up for a do or die rematch perhaps.

Fast forward to  Monday at 4PM CST as I was forcing myself to try and get pumped up for the Beanpot; which would help in the grieving and recovery process…or so I thought. As I turned on NESN and popped a Domaine Dupage Ale, I was still mired in a depressed like state that couldn’t be shaken. Now I am fully aware that the opening act in the Beanpot

Empty Seats have been the norm recently

faces off at 5EST and typically has a late arriving crowd but this year seemed a bit less frenetic for some reason…chalk it up to the Patriots Hangover?? Not sure about that. To add insult to injury, Harvard and their seemingly nonexistent fan base were Boston University’s foe in this contest which always lessens the vibe.    

The crowd for the opening act between the Terriers and Crimson was sparse at best. The BU faithful certainly did their part as their band and student section rocked the usual chants that echoed through the Garden. Somehow, there was a certain buzz still missing that is tough to pinpoint for some reason. The game itself was nondescript at best, although I was impressed with the play of BU as a whole from the goaltender on out and the Harvard power play was very fluid and exciting to watch. If Harvard can recruit some depth to add to the likes of Colin Blackwell and Patrick McNally, they will be as exciting to watch as the Ted Drury and even Ted Donato led teams were back in the 1980’s.

After a few of the beers kicked in I was eagerly awaiting the BC/Northeastern tilt as the building filled up and the energy level increased considerably. I must say the superfans were exceptionally loud even before the score tilted heavily in BC’s favor, so kudos to the maligned BC fanbase. Seven goals meant seven “For Boston’s” which in my opinion ranks right up there with “Hail to the victors” (Michigan) and the Notre Dame fight song. Somehow, I was still not feeling it yet, could not shake what I diagnosed as a Patriot’s Hangover. Now it certainly did not help that BC blitzed the Huskies 7-1 in a game that was never in doubt.  We were on our way to yet another BC/BU final that barring a first round matchup between the two schools now, more than ever seems somewhat inevitable.

As I stared at the television and even switched over to the Bachelor (no excuse – my wife was not even home sadly) as the clock wound down on the Beanpot nightcap, I wondered, was the lack of emotion in the 60th  annual Beanpot purely predicated on the proclaimed Patriot Hangover? Or is it rooted in deeper issues that are insidiously decaying the fervent interest in the provincial Boston college hockey tournament? I thought about this today as I drove around making my sales calls and I truly believe that there are some OTHER key reasons why the Beanpot is, in a sense, losing some of its luster.

Why it’s more than the “Patriot Hangover”     

I first want to point out that the Beanpot is not doomed to extinction and is still one of the greatest traditions in all of college sports. It’s an event that is truly “Boston” in every sense and one that is no doubt arcane; understood by only the obsequious born and bred Boston hockey loyalists. Some of the problems with this year’s Beanpot, which was not sold out for the first time since I can remember, were derived from purely situational/temporary factors that will change as players graduate and new recruits are brought in.

Simply stated, this year’s Pot rosters were devoid of exceptional talent and lacked star power. There is not one player on any of the four teams who is polarizing enough to take people out of their seats like a Brian Gionta, Tony Amonte or even Chris Drury would have

Stars like Amonte were few and far between in 2012

done in the past. Chris Kreider might be the one excpetion here but it without a doubt takes more than one superstar to sell tickets. There are some NICE players like Adam Clendening who is as polished as they come and truly will be an NHL talent one day…but he is not the flashy, Ovechkin-esque talent that we have seen in this tournament in previous years. Yeah, I know BU is #1 in the country this year but college hockey across the country is having a down year as parity presides in most conferences.

Every great production, whether it be a Broadway or Shakespearean play, a Major League Baseball game or even an Academy Award winning movie, needs a stage or back drop that adds to the allure/ambience of the event. Ever since the Old Boston Garden was taken from us in 1995, the non-descript Fleet center/TD Garden has played host to all of the teams and events that the hallowed “Old Garden” used to house. The new stage we call the TD Garden is, much like most multi-purpose arenas throughout the US, very movie theater like and certainly lacks some of the idiosyncrasies that added to the character of the old barn.

What effect has the absence of the Old Garden had on the Beanpot?  The one ingredient that the new arenas lack is the proximity to the ice of the balcony seats specifically. In the old barn, the student sections and the spirited bands of the 4 schools sat virtually on top of the ice as the balcony extended over the first level. I will take a few obstructed view seats to gain some of the intricacies and sightlines that were part of the old layout. Because the rowdy student sections are now relegated to the distant upper levels, kinda luck sitting in the back row of a stadium seated movie theatre, they truly lack the voice they once had and are not an inherent part of the atmosphere anymore.

 Imagine taking the Red Sox out of Fenway Park and moving them into one of the 1980’s/1990’s built cylindrical cement bowls like the New Comiskey Park or Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Pretty sure the atmosphere would suffer considerably and the event would simply not be the same. Well, the Beanpot is the victim of a cookie cutter building and as a result will never truly be the same in terms of energy level and overall atmosphere.

Lastly, I have preached about my distaste for the parity that has reigned over college hockey this year. That said, with the sheer dominance of BU and BC and the perennial non factors in Harvard and Northeastern, the Beanpot has become routine and far too predictable. Barring a BU BC first round matchup, it’s a mere formality that they will end up in the finals together. Public sentiment always favors an underdog as we inherently love to see the Dragon get slayed. The problem is we have 2 Goliaths and haven’t seen a formidable David since 1993. We do need the superstars and superstar teams to be relevant on a yearly basis but we also yearn for an underdog story to avoid the monotonous cycle of Terrier and Eagle success in the Beanpot.

BU and BC have won over 75% of the 59 Beanpots and their complete dominance has been more prevalent over the past decade. Northeastern last won in 1988 and Ted Drury’s Harvard team of 1993 was the last Crimson team to claim the title. I argue that if both either Northeastern or Harvard could get back in the mix it would not only make the tournament more competitive but would enhance the BC BU rivalry. To me, the rivalry seems a bit contrived and overdone, I can best compare it to the Yankees Red Sox rivalry which was at its height in 2004 but has lessened to a significant degree as of late. Something about the BU BC Beanpot rivalry specifically seems a bit too contrived and much too routine for my taste as of late.

 What can be done to reinvigorate the Beanpot?

I am sure a majority of the college hockey purists/traditionalists would not alter the sacrosanct format or parochial traditions of the Beanpot. To some extent, I agree with them as I am a sucker for tradition and storied history in general. Sometimes we need to evolve and adapt to the ever changing climate in order to truly survive and ultimately survive. Baseball is an excellent example of an organization that fell victim to its rigid adherence to the history and sanctity of the sport as it has failed to evolve and capture the attention of Generation X and Y. The college hockey landscape has changed dramatically in and around Boston but the Beanpot has failed to keep up.

What can be done to reinvigorate the Beanpot you might ask? Well, the BF has several ideas that we feel will ratchet up the excitement level and create a buzz around time like we have witnessed in years gone by.

 Dare we say- Bend it Like Beckham?

The English Premier League is arguably the most popular sports league in the world. Although soccer has not been able to transition over its success on other continents to the United States, it does remain the most popular sport in the world by a wide margin. The Beanpot should look at the defining characteristic of both the English Premier League and the European sports organizations; I am referring to the concept of relegation and promotion.

The general premise behind promotion and relegation can best be described below:

In many sports leagues around the world, promotion and relegation is a process that takes place at the end of each season. Through it, teams are transferred between two divisions based on their performance that season. The best-ranked teams in the lower division are promoted to the division above, and at the same time, the worst-ranked teams in the higher division are relegated to the division below

The fatal flaw of the Beanpot over the past 20 years has been its predictability as BU and BC inevitably prevail each and every year. Northeastern and Harvard have, for the most part, have struggled to generate any level of excitement and have not been a consistent threat to the two Beanpot giants. The problem is, despite their performance, both schools are paraded back into the tournament on an annual basis with no penalty or incentive to speak of.

Would the threat of relegation or exclusion provide the incentive needed for the two bottom schools? I think it would be the perfect remedy and would kill two birds with one stone.

This would not only create a new “buzz” around the Beanpot, but would help to add some much needed relevance to the lowly consolation game. Simply speaking, my thoughts are to relegate or exclude the loser of the consolation game from playing in next years Beanpot. Sounds crazy, it might be just that, but just ponder the possibilities…what if, much like the GLI tournament, the Beanpot annually allotted a slot to a 4th team. Consider the scenarios…you could include the other New England schools who have forever been prohibited from the Beanpot or even look to some non provincial, nationally acclaimed college programs as potential invitees.

What if HE’s newest member, the renowned Fighting Irish of Notre Dame were invited to participate next year. It would create a buzz never witnessed before in Beanpot history. With the geographical flattening of leagues and the proliferation of super conferences, the sports scene is less provincial and more national anyways, why not evolve the Beanpot in much the same manner. There would be a tenacity and energy level among the 3 local Boston teams that could only be compared to the Texan defending the Alamo. I mean, they would literally be fighting to keep the Beanpot trophy within the city of Boston for the first time ever. I get excited just thinking of the possibilities, wow!!

Don’t cringe – How bout change the venue?

The stage has been forever altered as the Old Garden is not coming back anytime soon. The Beanpot could take a page out of the books of another legendary college hockey tournament, the Great Lakes Invitational which just announced today it will play its 2012-2013 tournament outdoors at Detroit’s Comerica Park. The GLI is played annually at one of hockey’s only remaining relics, the Joe Louis Arena but in conjunction with the Winter Classic and Hockey Week Festivities, they have decided to move the event outdoors next year.

The obvious choice for a venue change, and this doesn’t necessarily have to be a permanent change of venue, would be Fenway Park of course. I know outdoor games have been knocked for jumping the shark and seem a bit overdone, but you could argue that Fenway Park is perhaps the only venue in Boston that can compete with the charm and character of the Old Garden.

In continuing with the transition to an outdoor Beanpot, Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill would provide an interesting back drop that may create some buzz around the event. We have witnessed successful hockey events that have played out quite well in football stadiums around the country -Lambeau Field for the Wisconsin/Minnesota game and of course Ralph Wilson Stadium for the inaugural Winter Classic several years ago.

Some other slightly delusional considerations – Matthews Arena, perhaps just rotate between the 4 schools and play on site, Boston Common (much like Central Park has been rumored to host the Winter Classic, what better stage than the historical Boston Common).

Now you’re really going to hate me –Why not change from the Monday/Monday format to a Saturday/Saturday schedule.

I know, the Monday format is sacrosanct and can’t be altered, right? Why not!! Listen, everyone moves a litter slower on Mondays and the energy levels in offices or college campuses around the country are several levels lower on gloomy Mondays. The fact that February is perhaps the gloomiest month of them all makes February Mondays even more intolerable and depressing.

Why not change to a Saturday/Saturday format and stage the event on a night that is historically known for galas and festivals. People would have time to get more lubricated up and the decibel levels at the Garden would be off the charts good. The buzz around the arena would be improved considerably as students would not have to worry about morning exams or homework. Heck, even Harvard might send a decent crowd to the Beanpot for once.

To reiterate, I am an avid fan of the Beanpot and would be perfectly content if everything remained the same. People in Boston are indeed very traditional and rigid when it comes to their local traditions, specifically when it relates to sports. Even the old blue laws remained in effect and we couldn’t by booze on Sunday up until a few years ago. That said, we must look at this in a long term perspective and consider what changes are necessary to ensure the Beanpot not only survives, but thrives in the years to come.

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