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Amid concerns of costing Mount Pleasant big business, CMU sees 'upside' in moving WMU game to Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — When Robert Davies took over as president of Central Michigan in 2018, he told his employees to do two things: Be creative and be innovative.

And, for better or for worse, this sure qualifies.

"In athletics," said athletic director Michael Alford, "we're doing our part."

Central Michigan played in Ford Field last season, losing to Miami of Ohio in the MAC championship game.

Central Michigan officials announced Wednesday that they are moving their biggest football game of the season off-campus and to Ford Field in Detroit, with CMU "hosting" rival Western Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 17. Game-time remains TBA, and will be determined by television, as the game will be of interest to ESPN's platform.

The news first was reported by The Detroit News on Tuesday, and was met with significant buzz online, a lot good but some bad, too.

The game, which dates to 1907 and is played for "The Victory Cannon," has never before taken place outside of Mt. Pleasant or Kalamazoo, and for good reason. It provides a significant impact, especially economically, to the local community.

"There were some comments, 'Why are you moving it?'" said Davies, who was joined at the Ford Field announcement by Alford, Lions president Rod Wood and Detroit Sports Commission senior vice president Dave Beachnau.

"There is a lot of upsides. I see a lot more upsides than any negatives."

Representatives with the Lions have been trying to get this game — the second-biggest rivalry in the state, behind, of course, Michigan and Michigan State — to Detroit for at least 15 years, but Western Michigan wasn't much interested.

So the Lions approached Alford after he got the job in 2018, and he proved much more receptive, having come from Oklahoma, which in football plays Texas in the Red River Showdown at a neutral site.

CMU wanted WMU to enter into a multi-year agreement on moving this game to Detroit, with each school giving up a "home" game, but again WMU balked. At least, for now.

"I'm not going to tell you we won't ever do it," said Kathy Beauregard, WMU's athletic director who wasn't at the press conference. "We'll see how it does.

"It could be a great environment. We love Detroit."

Beauregard said concerns on her end of moving the WMU home game with CMU out of Kalamazoo are multi-fold, including commitments to suite holders, the big weekend that it is for students, plus the economic impact on hotels, restaurants and bars. She said the home gate alone for the CMU game is about $275,000, and that's just a sliver of the overall financial impact on Kalamazoo.

At CMU, those concerns are there, too, particularly among local business leaders.

"We do believe it might make an impact," said Jamie Pierson of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce. "There won't be as much traffic in town and people won't be spending money here, as well."

But Davies and Alford said they have spoken to business leaders in the Mt. Pleasant community, and explained where they're coming from.

Namely, CMU wants to use its chief football game to build more of a footprint in Metro Detroit, where more than 150,000 CMU alums reside, and where more than half of all current CMU students come from. (WMU might have an even bigger Metro Detroit base, at least if attendance at recent Mid-American Conference championship games is any indication; WMU drew 45,615 at Ford Field in 2016, and CMU 22,427 in 2019.)

The game, which will anchor a week's worth of CMU-themed events in downtown Detroit and the surrounding area, will essentially be used as a major recruiting tool for a school whose enrollment is down 13 percent (WMU's is down 17 percent) — even if it means giving up a traditional home game. Then again, CMU hasn't beaten WMU in Mt. Pleasant since 2010, anyway.

"The upside," said Alford, "there's too many of them to not make this happen."

The game will be CMU's home game, and it will get the gate. General-public tickets will range from $10 to $40, with student tickets available starting this fall.

CMU has secured a sponsor that will get free tickets to the first 2,000 students to sign up this fall. After that, student tickets will be $10. CMU also plans to secure buses to shuttle students from Mt. Pleasant to Detroit.

The game is the latest initiative for the Lions, who not only host their own games at Ford Field, but also the Police Athletic League youth championships, the high-school state finals, the MAC championship game and the Quick Lane Bowl.

"We're very much focused on football at all levels," Wood said. "We're looking forward to a long-term partnership with them."

Added Davies: "This is much more than a football game. This is about Central Michigan's commitment to the Metro Detroit community."

MAC schedules

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Sept. 5: vs. San Jose State

Sept. 12: at Nebraska

Sept. 19: at Northwestern

Sept. 26: vs. Bryant

Oct. 3: at Eastern Michigan

Oct. 10: at Northern Illinois

Oct. 17: vs. Western Michigan, at Ford Field

Oct. 24: vs. Miami (Ohio)

Nov. 4: vs. Ohio

Nov. 11: at Toledo

Nov. 18: vs. Ball State

Nov. 24: at Kent State

EASTERN MICHIGAN

Sept. 5: at Kentucky

Sept. 12: vs. Coastal Carolina

Sept. 19: vs. Northern Illinois

Sept. 26: at Missouri

Oct. 3: vs. Central Michigan

Oct. 10: at Ohio

Oct. 17: at Army

Oct. 24: vs. Toledo

Oct. 31: at Western Michigan

Nov. 10: at Ball State

Nov. 21: vs. Bowling Green

Nov. 27: at Miami (Ohio)

WESTERN MICHIGAN

Sept. 4: vs. Colgate

Sept. 11: at Cincinnati

Sept. 19: at Notre Dame

Sept. 26: vs. Syracuse

Oct. 3: at Ball State

Oct. 10: vs. Toledo

Oct. 17: vs. Central Michigan, at Ford Field

Oct. 24: at Kent State

Oct. 31: vs. Eastern Michigan

Nov. 10: vs. Northern Illinois

Nov. 21: at Akron

Nov. 27: vs. Buffalo

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984