As an alumnus, former walk-on football player and sports editor of The Eastern Echo, I am almost speechless when looking at the state of the Eastern Michigan University athletic department as it pertains to the revenue sports of football and basketball.
Over the last two decades, I have witnessed some of the greatest sporting moments and players in Eastern Michigan history. From the California Bowl victory of 1987, the Sweet 16 loss to Dean Smith’s North Carolina team in 1991 to the victory over Duke in the 1995-96 NCAA tournament.
There were standing-room only wins against Michael Finley and Wisconsin at Bowen Field House and goal posts being torn down at Rynearson Stadium.
We sent Earl Boykins, Grant Long, Carl Thomas, Charles Thomas and Derrick Dial to the NBA between 1988 and 1997. We also sent Charlie Batch, LJ Shelton, Ron Rice and Lional Dalton to the NFL.
The football games were drawing 20,000 plus and basketball was selling out Bowen Field House in the early to mid 1990s.
Then what happened?
Today, we are drawing less than 5,000 to most football games and sometimes as little as 200 to basketball.
We have an athletic director more interested in a football practice facility than putting a winning program and a quality coach on the field.
This is the kind of pressure an assistant football coach coming from a larger program can put on your athletic budget.
How about using a formula that works? Hiring winning coaches from smaller programs that want to be at Eastern Michigan. It worked for Central Michigan and Brian Kelly, and it will work when a mid-major school gobbles up Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin, who is 56-4.
Oh, and yes, it worked for Eastern Michigan when it had two of its most successful runs hiring Jim Harkema from GVSU and Ben Braun from Siena Heights.
These guys went on to be two of the most successful coaches in their respective sports and put EMU in the national spotlight with games on ESPN and CBS during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It’s time for this administration and athletic director to stop worrying about the thrill of having Lloyd Carr on the search committee and to stop scheduling games that can’t be won against BCS opponents, only to take the $500,000 check and spend the game networking in the press box for their next job.
The only thing sadder than the state of these sports is if the administration is only now realizing the issues.
When you lose a fan like myself, who has spent thousands of dollars in the past two decades on season tickets, booster clubs, capital projects and more, you’ve lost almost everyone.
My family, friends and I have driven and flown all over to support EMU on the road. We are a dying breed from an era when Eastern Michigan was successful.
Now I ask administration to take the necessary steps to allow this student body the opportunity to pack the arenas and stadiums.
Look no further than the University of Cincinnati and Central Michigan University to see that this not only helps your athletic programs, but it also elevates enrollment, morale and the overall campus experience.
It’s time to rebuild the brand or leave your resignation at the door.
Ray Setlock, Class of 1992