College notes: WMU fans miss old, droopy-eyed Buster

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
The new Western Michigan mascot, right, is a little more intense than the old one, left.

There's good change, like going from a little-known football program to a New Year's Six participant. Then there's tougher change, like watching your football coach bolt for greener pastures after said New Year's Six appearance.

That's the price of success at the mid-major level, as Western Michigan found out. It wasn't totally unexpected, P.J. Fleck leaving. Fleck took the job at Minnesota and was replaced by Tim Lester.

What athletic director Kathy Beauregard didn't expect, though, was the negative backlash that arrived when Western made another change – unveiling a leaner, ripped Buster the Bronco mascot at the football team's home opener last month.

"It was, I thought, a really creative makeover," Beauregard said. "But when he came out of the tunnel on the first night, people weren't really ready for it. It's such a change from the other guy.

"But it's good that people care."

Boy, do Western students and alums care.

Within hours of the home opener Sept. 16 against Idaho, a petition was started at to bring back the old Buster, and quickly solicited more than 1,000 signatures. At last check, the petition had more than 1,600 signatures.

Beauregard started getting bombarded with emails, precisely none of them singing her praises.

While the buzz has died down a little bit, the passion among the fans is clear – they liked the lovable old Buster, who was a bit plump, like he'd spent one night too many at Sweetwater's Donuts, and had droopy, yellow eyes, like a college student who just rolled out of bed after a night of, well, let's just say not studying.

In other words, he had a friendly, approachable look.

New Buster looks like he came out the winner of "Biggest Loser." The biggest difference, though, are the eyes. New Buster has much more intense eyes. The joke around the Internet is that both Busters look a bit high, just on different drugs. We'll leave it at that.

The old Buster had a good, long run but Western Michigan decided it was time for a change.

Beauregard, Western's athletic director since 1997, said the university hasn't had a mascot makeover in 20 years, and it was time for, at the very least, new costumes. The old Buster costumes, she said, had become unsanitary and were falling apart. They stitched and patched as much as they could, before it finally was time to start looking at a new order a little over a year ago.

And what Western found when it set out for new costumes was that the company it was working with couldn't make the old Buster design anymore.

So that set forward plans for a new design, purchased from a Calgary-based shop called Street Characters. Western purchased two, at $7,000 each. The second hasn't yet been shipped.

If Western made a mistake, Beauregard said, it probably was not giving students proper warning that a change was coming. So it caught them totally off-guard at that first football game, like hearing a friend had passed away without you getting a chance to say goodbye.

Truth is, New Buster is more in line with the mascots of today's college athletics. In a word: Buff. Depending on who's under the head, the potential is there for more athletic routines. Just think about that recent viral video of the BYU cougar's dance chops.

"We could no longer get the same costume. We tried and we tried," Beauregard said. "(Old Buster) was big and fat and couldn't move, couldn't run, couldn't breathe. The head had fallen apart. It was so unsanitary to be using it again and again. It was embarrassing. You should've seen it up close.

"We couldn't fix it anymore, and we couldn't get the same one.

"(New Buster) can run around and jump and the kids have adjusted."

Just for kicks

Quite a bummer that an intriguing men's soccer match between Oakland and Michigan State, scheduled for Tuesday in East Lansing, was cancelled. It won't be made up this year, but the series will resume next year.

The reason for the cancellation was the weekend postponement of Oakland-Detroit Mercy, who had to make up their match Monday – and played to a double-overtime, 0-0 tie.

Oakland didn't want the back-to-back, so it cancelled the Michigan State match for the welfare of the student athletes.

The latest college soccer top 25 has Michigan State No. 4, Western Michigan No. 11 and Michigan No. 13. And while Oakland isn't ranked yet, it does have a 1-1 tie against No. 9 Louisville and a win over Michigan on its resume.

On the women's side, there are no local teams in the top 25, but there was a thriller Sunday in East Lansing, where Michigan State upset Michigan, 2-1. The Spartans improved to 9-3-1 all-time at home against the Wolverines.

This and that

* Eastern Michigan will hold its basketball kickoff for fans at 7:30 Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Convocation Center – an event called "Crash the Convo." Fans are encouraged to dress up for Halloween, with the best costume receiving a $300 Meijer gift card. The free event will feature food and giveaways, the introduction of the men's and women's teams, and a skills competition and dunk contest.

* The Michigan women's field hockey team won a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship with Sunday's 3-2 victory over Iowa. It was the Wolverines' ninth Big Ten title, and first since 2011. Michigan is ranked third in the nation.

* Senior Michigan State golfer Michael Sharp was having himself quite a tournament at the Crooked Stick Invitational in Indiana, where the event was to wrap up Tuesday. He opened with consecutive rounds of 70, Monday's including a hole-in-one.