After years leading to decades of futile college football efforts at Eastern Michigan, the faculty and students paying to support the team have had enough. Faculty and student government officials at Eastern Michigan has asked the university to drop competing in Division 1 football entirely and join the Horizon League.
“Eastern Michigan should drop Division I football, and join the Horizon League, where football is not required,” the report says, according to The Detroit Free Press. “Alternatively, EMU can still play football, but at the Division II or Division III (non-scholarship) level within the Horizon League, which would save even more resources. The advantage of joining the Horizon League is EMU athletes could still compete at the Division I level in Olympic and other non-revenue sports, but spend much less.”
“Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint,” faculty member Howard Bunsis said to the Board of Regents on Friday. “It is a losing proposition – always has been, and always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane.”
Eastern Michigan has had two non-losing seasons since 1990, one of which was a winning season with 6-5 mark in 1995. pic.twitter.com/SdYXSsyoyK
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) April 25, 2016
What is being heard at Eastern Michigan is alarming but not at all shocking. The Eagles have had just two seasons of non-losing football since 1990, and the one winning season was a 6-5 season without a bowl trip. Between that track record and constantly draining the budget for the university while still taking a reported $917 from students on the campus, it is almost a surprise this concern has not been raised before, at least to this extent.
A school dropping its football program is not at all unprecedented (UAB just did it a couple years ago, before deciding to bring it back), but dropping down a level in competition is quite the rarity. It is something a school like UMass should strongly consider, but the reluctance to do so due to potential embarrassment and having to admit failure tends to get in the way for some schools. As the divide between the haves and the have-nots in college football continues to grow, struggling programs like Eastern Michigan may face some harsh decisions in the future. A couple other programs that should take a hard look at their situations are Idaho, New Mexico State and UMass. Idaho is already considering a possible drop to FCS after being banished by the Sun Belt Conference.
But should Eastern Michigan be quick to drop to Division 2, where it could potentially compete against the likes of Grand Valley State and Michigan Tech? Or would it be possible to find a stable-enough home in the FCS and continue to schedule games against FBS competition in exchange for big paychecks, as it already typically does?
If Eastern Michigan does drop its program down one or two levels, the question for the MAC will be what happens next? The MAC would drop to 11 football-playing members and would create some imbalance in the league as far as scheduling is concerned. That is, of course, unless the MAC opted for expansion. The conference would most certainly have a few candidates worth discussing, including former MAC member Marshall, now in Conference USA. Conference USA could also be home to another attractive option, in Western Kentucky. With the TV deal in Conference USA crumbling, the MAC would likely be a realistic destination for either program without having the MAC extend too far beyond its current region.
But one step at a time. First, Eastern Michigan’s leaders need to have a real discussion about whether or not it is time to make some big changes with its football program. The faculty has spoken. The students have spoken. Now it is time for the grown up leaders of the university to swallow their pride and come to a decision that is best suited for the university first, and the athletics department second.