College Sports

Why BC football decided to not participate in a bowl game this season

"It’s the right thing to do to get these kids home."

Head coach Jeff Hafley helped guide the Eagles through a most-unusual season. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Boston College football has elected to not play in a bowl game this season, becoming the first eligible program to publicly decide to do so.

Director of Athletics Pat Kraft and head coach Jeff Hafley cited the draining nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to continue to prioritize mental health, and the desire to carve out much-needed family time as major reasons for the decision.

The Eagles will finish the season 6-5 in Hafley’s first year, and the consensus among those involved is that their success in mitigating the pandemic in their bubble – with only one positive case before the season and one from a player’s home during Thanksgiving – will have the greatest lasting effect.

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“It took more out of them than anybody has any idea,” Hafley said.

Since June 28, the Eagles have conducted close to 9,000 tests. As COVID-19 has ravaged the nation and college football, the way BC has navigated the situation has been the exception not the norm.

Players were unable to hug or spend significant time with their parents from June to December. Hafley is thrilled that they’ll be able to do so and will have a concrete, legitimate break before next season potentially gets underway later this winter. He said he has no regrets on anything this year, and he knows he won’t regret this decision.

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“It’s the right thing to do to get these kids home, to finish finals, go be with their families, take a deep breath, and go be kids again,” Hafley said. “They deserve it.”

Hafley said he met with the leadership council, which features one player from each position, and discussed their options. The consensus was that playing in a bowl game didn’t seem nearly as pressing as seeing their families, so Hafley spoke with Kraft and then the council one more time to come to a collective decision. Players drove the decision, and Hafley, Kraft. and Co. fully supported it.

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The Eagles didn’t want to find themselves in a situation where they prepared for a bowl game, missed Christmas, and then later found out that the game was canceled. They don’t believe that the pros would have outweighed the cons even if they were able to play.

When graduate student and established leader Max Richardson told his teammates that they could go home to see their loved ones, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

“It was an uproar of excitement and kind of emotional for me,” Hafley said. “At that moment I knew that, 100 percent, this is the right decision.”

Hafley described how he often found himself refreshing his email “100 times” throughout the season to see if his test results had arrived. Once he found out he tested negative, he’d text his doctor to confirm, text Kraft, and then proceed as scheduled.

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That happened three times a week for almost six months, and Hafley acknowledged it was repetitive and tedious. He said he wouldn’t change the process but admitted it certainly tired him out.

Even more so than his own fatigue though, Hafley noted how exhausting a stretch it’s been for players. In such an atypical year, with college students stuck in their dorm rooms, BC players have had to be extra cautious – avoiding large gatherings, skipping going out to dinner, and only hanging out with one another.

Football provided a distraction, and helped them work toward a collective goal, but a significant portion of the equation was still missing.

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“It’s mentally exhausting going from June to December without seeing your family and just grinding,” junior center Alec Lindstrom said.

Ending the season with a loss to Virginia – and knowing that their bowl game two years ago was canceled and last year’s was delayed before an eventual loss – were factors, but the realization that they were able to get through 11 games in a season when almost every team didn’t left them at peace with their decision.

“I think the closure is in how we handled the overall situation,” Richardson said.

Kraft said that the message to the players from the start was that they would control their own destiny. The fact that they bought in, and the season went as smoothly as it possibly could have, validated to Hafley and Kraft that they were in the right place.

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“I’m really, really proud of our players to make the decision and do what’s right for themselves,” Kraft said. “I’m proud of what they accomplished.”

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