Saturday, September 22, 2012
The Eastern Michigan Eagles are coming to town and I have a feeling they are in for a whipping from an angry Michigan State team. This is probably the worst possible scenario for EMU to play MSU, as I'm sure the Spartans will be in a foul mood after last week's Notre Dame debacle.
On the subject of Eastern Michigan, it's remarkable that they even still have a football program. EMU has not won a MAC title since 1987, and that is the only MAC championship in the 40 years that Eastern has been in the conference. The average attendance for home football games is less than 10,000 per contest. EMU, in order to help pay the bills, depends on big paydays from games like tomorrow's probable drubbing at Spartan Stadium.
I have a graduate degree from EMU, so I have some perspective on the culture in Ypsilanti, or at least as it existed between 2000-2004, when I attended school there. When I was a student, I never noticed any buzz or enthusiasm towards EMU sports, even when the game was against an intrastate rival like Central or Western. Of course, this may have something to with the fact that (surprise, surprise) EMU sports teams were terrible, and I was spending the majority of my time with graduate students who were not interested in sports.
The biggest strike that EMU has going against it is that the shadow of the University of Michigan looms large over all of Washtenaw County. Unlike fellow Mid-American Conference brethren Central Michigan and Western Michigan, Eastern is only eight miles away from an enormous university with twice the student body of EMU--and this is not just any enormous university, but one with just about the most storied and famous athletic programs in the nation. There's really no way EMU can compete against that, and not only can they not compete, they can barely keep themselves afloat.
But EMU also has themselves to blame. I trace it back to 1968 when Eastern decided to demolish its football stadium, located on the southwest corner of the main campus at the corner of Oakwood and Washtenaw. By this point, EMU was transitioning into primarily a commuter school and desperately needed parking, so Briggs Field was sacrificed to make way for a commuter lot. Briggs Field's replacement, Rynearson Stadium, was built several miles west of the main campus making it difficult for students to get to games and killing any excitement on the main campus on football Saturdays.
Eastern didn't help itself by getting rid of the Hurons nickname. I know this brings up the whole issue of political correctness--and in general, I'm not a big fan of Native American nicknames, but eliminating "Hurons" in favor of the bland and boring "Eagles" alienated many EMU alumni.
Ron English is the new coach at EMU, and has injected some signs of life in the program, but it's hard to imagine EMU's football program ever becoming a consistent winner or a draw for fans. There just seem to be too many inherent disadvantages in Ypsi for this to be possible.