I’m sitting here watching Eastern Michigan’s football team getting absolutely humiliated by that quaint liberal arts school in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan. As I write this sentence right now, it’s still the first quarter (and the proverbial “anything can happen”), but so far, it’s been EMU four ‘n out, and then two scores by U of M. It’s 14-0 right now with over 8 minutes left in the first quarter, and I am quite sure it will be 21-0 by the time I finish this post.
Now, I realize that the University of Michigan has had a good football team for a long long time, and it looks like they have a pretty good one this year (though, as their loss to Notre Dame last week demonstrated, not as good as a lot of folks in Ann Arbor think). And I also realize that EMU has some very strong sports teams in things other than football– women’s basketball (men’s once in a while, too), swimming, and track and field to name a few. Actually, the track team at EMU is quite good.
But football– not so much. They’ve had a terrible team for a number of years now. By the way, it’s 21-0 now.
This is not normally the sort of thing I would cover in a post on my official blog, nor is it something I would really care about one way or the other. I mean, I’m not much of a football fan in general, but I’ll watch college games on TV, I went to see the Iowa-Michigan game last year, and it’s kinda fun to go see an EMU home football game once in a while. But I guess a game like this makes me wonder why EMU has a football team– or at least a NCAA Division I football team.
Now it’s 28-0.
Last year, there was a controversy about attendance at football games that forced the resignation of the former athletic director. The student newspaper, The Eastern Echo, reported the story here. In brief: it turns out that the NCAA has a rule that says in order to be a Division I football team, a school has to have an average game attendance of 15,000. EMU said that the average attendance at home games was 16,060. Anyone who has ever been to an EMU homegame would probably wonder about those numbers, and it turns out with good reason. According to The Echo (who had to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to do this report), the total number of tickets issued and sold for home games last year was 22,258. Even my meager math skills tell me that with these numbers, the average attendance per game was quite a bit lower than 16,060.
I have no idea what the NCAA’s reaction to this is; perhaps we are on some sort of probation.
The other thing is that the new president at EMU, John Fallon, has made it one of the goals of the institution to “Strengthen the University’s Athletic Programs,” and it’s no secret that for the board of regents, this means in part making sure that EMU stays in Division I football. I think it probably means that for Fallon, too.
The thing that’s sad about this though is that, given all the demands on limited resources and the real inability of for EMU to compete at this level, the logical and smart thing to do would be for EMU to drop down to the next division– I guess it’s IAA or II, I’m not sure which. If we did that, we’d save a ton of money (because I guarantee you that the football team is not a self-sustaining program here) and we’d probably even be competitive.
At the half, it’s 38-0. I think I’ll turn the channel.
First off, the final score was 55-0.
Second, the Ann Arbor News had a story on the front page this past Sunday titled “EMU looks to boost its football program– and fading fan base,” and that story pretty much explored the same questions I did about playing football in Division I. And the quote from EMU president John Fallon is pretty much what I expected:
Some campus critics ask that given such challenges, why stay in the NCAA’s Division I? Why not pull away from big-time sports?
“I don’t think we should,” Fallon says, noting schools such as Northwestern have revived struggling football programs. “I’m not the kind of person that would want to give up running with the big dogs.”
I like Fallon so far, I really do, but this is the kind of “folksy wisdom” that really glosses over the issue. And actually, the “issue” is commented on earlier in the article:
Winning aside, Fallon and other EMU officials and students acknowledge the university faces some special challenges in drawing fans to major sports events.
For one thing, fewer students live on campus than on most Division I schools. Last fall, about 3,500 students lived on campus and another 3,100 lived in Ypsilanti, about only 28 percent of EMU’s total enrollment of nearly 24,000, according to university figures.
In addition, the university has a large number of non-traditional students who already have a family or a job. “They can’t shoe-horn in more conventional college experiences like a college basketball or football game,” Fallon says.
Look, besides having a tradition of winning, the vast majority of students at that liberal arts school in Ann Arbor are “traditional” in that they live on or near campus, they are 18-22 years old, and they have the time and money to be a fan. A huge percentage of our students– typically not 18-22 and not on campus– are working on Saturdays so they can actually attend college in the first place. They don’t have the luxury of being fans, and there’s little reason to believe that’s going to change anytime soon.