There are a number of connections (including the use of unconstitutional speech codes)between Northern Illinois and Idaho, with current president Doug Baker previously serving in administration there, and Idaho's football team, parlous reputation or not, sometimes playing the spoiler, and sometimes serving as a pre-conference crash test dummy (that is, to the extent we can speak of any Mid-American team scheduling crash test dummies.)
But when a writer at a sports weblog notes that professors might have a gripe when it comes to spiffing up that front porch, perhaps reality is dawning, even among the True Fans (who often have much to learn about generalizing from their own experience.)
First of all, the campus faculty is almost always the group opposed to unchecked athletics. After all, it's the professors working in 1970s-era science labs and moldy classrooms with wheezing AC. You can't blame professors for feeling marginalized at what is supposed to be an institution of higher learning.The reality also dawns on Doug Baker's successor.
Which lead us to the University of Idaho, who recently announced its intentions to drop from FBS- to FCS-level athletics. "Our relevance will be complemented by our football program," said University President Chuck Staben, "not defined by it."The author suggests the weakest prop in the Mid-American, Eastern Michigan, observe and emulate.
When the Sun Belt declined to bring Idaho into the conference early this March, it clamored the death gong for a program too small and too isolated to find another FBS conference or go it alone as an independent. The Vandals grabbed their football and returned to the Big Sky.
For 20 years, the football Vandals have averaged less than 4 wins per season and were left out in the cold (along with New Mexico State) when the WAC dissolved in 2012. The Vandals accepted a less-than-ideal "football only" invite to the Sun Belt, only to see the arrangement fold once conference officials fully absorbed the weight of the Vandal problem: Idaho was too damn far, didn't win enough, and it didn't spend enough money (about $19M annually).
Idaho did what many of us, for lack of fortitude or forethought, cannot: step back into a situation that fits. About 2,100 miles east of Moscow, Idaho, the Eastern Michigan Eagles are considering following Idaho's lead. The Eagles spend about $34M, which is roughly the standard in the MAC, but it is subsidized more than 80 percent.More on Mid-American subsidies, and Eastern Michigan serving as crash test dummy, in my archives.
For the past 19 years, the Eagles have enjoyed one winning season. One! In 2009, they were a perfect 0-12. Eastern Michigan joined the MAC in 1972, but it has just one conference championship (1987) to show for it. Last year, the Eagles reported the lowest attendance of any FBS program: 4,897 souls per game. The Eagles aren't winning, and there are no fans to care.
Mr Harper suggests, however, that Eastern Michigan administrators clinging to their football (perhaps because they don't want to write off their indoor practice facility, which served as a reason for Northern Illinois to build one) are living in Wolkenkuckucksheim.
If you're an FBS program, you are, technically, a member of the same fraternity as Oregon and Michigan and Alabama and Texas. It would punch quite a dent in your ego to admit that you simply cannot afford to drink with these guys every night.No joke about the soup kitchen ... there's a food bank for students, which the article calls "unfunded."
But consider the slope EMU must climb to be relevant even in its own city. Michigan, the Horrendous House of Harbaugh, is a 16-minute drive. The state of Michigan is home to five FBS football programs, two of which play in the mighty Big 10. Securing the second-best or third-best or even fourth-best talent in the state is a Herculean task. Even in football-rich Michigan, that has to suck. Why not drop down and enjoy the thrill of competing?
It's hard to give up that BMW. Take another look at EMU's statement in response to calls for dropping down: "(We) have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels with neighboring institutions in the Midwest." The Eagles haven't competed since the 1980s! Real Sports just made your campus look like a soup kitchen!
I have to wonder how much the deanlets and deanlings spent on that "education first" tagline, which the administration's revealed preference for athletics gives the lie to.
Our universities are being run by stupid people.