Ron English was fired as Eastern Michigan football coach this fall, following several unsuccessful seasons, plus a profanity-laced tirade aimed at his team. (Mark Bialek / Special to Detroit News)
Ypsilanti — I am sitting in an auditorium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University with people who care about Eastern Michigan University athletics.
They are students, former athletes, administrators and professors. Some want EMU to continue funding football and keep it at Division I. Some want it to drop to Division II and others just say scrap it altogether.
I cannot help but think: How did we get here? Why is EMU football so awful that people want to get rid of it? Football solves all problems everywhere else. It boosts student enrollment at other schools. It rallies alumni to donate more money and have athletic fields and academic buildings named after them.
But football does not rally the student body at Eastern Michigan.
The team is bad.
Eastern Michigan football does not enhance the student experience on campus. Kids get in for free but refuse to walk one mile from campus to the stadium. The school plans on using shuttle buses from the dorms to Rynearson.
I bet there are a lot of empty seats next season in the stadium and on the bus.
Some on campus believe that if Eastern spends $1 million for a coach it could erase these problems. I disagree but something has to be done. Eastern is searching for a coach after firing Ron English. He was supposed to be the next green hope because of his Michigan pedigree.
Eugene Evans, sports editor of the Eastern Echo student newspaper, wrote a column saying EMU should drop football.
“Nobody shows up to games,” Evans said. “That’s obvious. There’s no interest. It’s very sad in reality. Nobody supports the team.”
EMU averaged 4,051 spectators who came out to support a 2-10 team. It was the second straight 2-10 season. Imagine if Michigan basketball averaged 4,000 people at Crisler Center. There would be panic in Ann Arbor and head coach John Beilein would lose his job.
There’s a vicious circle here. A new coach comes in and people are excited. After a couple of years they want him fired because he loses. The school fires him, names a new coach and within a couple years people want that coach fired.
Mark Higbee is a professor of history at EMU. He’s not a huge sports fan but he showed up at the forum sponsored by the Eastern Echo because he cares about the school.
“There is no value for football,” Higbee said. “Most students here are sports fans. But most of them would rather sit in the dorms and watch games and flip the channels. There is not a great game day experience at Eastern, especially when you go to games that are not competitive. I am not trying to be funny. The athletes work hard but the games are not competitive.”
There are better things to do than watch EMU football on a Saturday afternoon. Michigan is seven miles down the road and it is much cooler to sit in the Big House and watch Michigan play Notre Dame, Iowa or Ohio State than to watch EMU get smashed by Ball State, Ohio or Bowling Green.
Even the support of Al Willman, the managing editor of the Eastern Echo, is less than solid. He wrote an op-ed piece in his paper saying the school should keep football.
“But if they don’t get it right with this next coach then they should get rid of it,” he said. “This is the last straw.”
The last straw? And this comes from a supporter.