COLUMN: EMU football will rise again

Al Willman can be heard every week on the Eastern Echo Sports Podcast with Sports Editor Eugene Evans. The podcast can be found on SoundCloud or by searching for the podcast on iTunes.

The Eastern Michigan University football team just fired its head coach, the last thing the fans need are people calling for the team to drop down a division or, even worse, cut the program altogether.

I understand one of the arguments some people have made in that regard.

The team hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1987 or had a winning record since 1995. While certainly far from ideal, that hardly merits dropping the program.

Since 1995, the last year EMU had a winning record, the Eagles are 53-152, following Saturday’s win over Western Michigan University.

Despite that record, the team has still managed to produce 32 current or former NFL players.

Most notable on that list is recently retired QB Charlie Batch, who graduated from Eastern in 1998. After playing for the Detroit Lions from 1998-2001, he went on to play 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning a Super Bowl with the team in 2006.

Current Tennessee Titans WR Kevin Walter (2002), Detroit Lions DT Jason Jones (2008), as well as Green Bay Packers teammates T.J. Lang (2009) and LB Andy Malumba (2012) also wore the Green & White.

Former QB/WR Alex Gillett (2012) is currently on Green Bay’s practice squad, as well.

Eastern players have also made it to the Canadian Football League.
Eric Deslauriers (2006) and Johnny Sears, Jr. (2009), as well as Corey Watman and Jabar Westerman (2012) are all currently playing in the CFL.

Not bad considering the best record since 1996 was the team’s 6-6 finish in 2011.

Attendance is the other main argument among those saying Eastern should drop its program, or send it to the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

According to the NCAA, as reported by SB Nation in August, Rynearson Stadium was averaging less than 7,500 fans per game in four of the last eight seasons, including 2011 and 2012 – good for last in the MAC.

On that same list, which can be found at, Central Michigan University was ranked fifth and Western was tied for third.

According to the blog College Football Universe, Eastern ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in attendance last season with an average of 3,923 fans in paid attendance, with a high of 6,011 for the game against Kent State University.

Comparatively, WMU was ranked 115th with an average paid attendance of 14,579 while CMU was ranked 110th with an average of 16,036.

The lowest ranked MAC school aside from Eastern was the University of Akron, just one spot ahead of EMU with an average of 9,275.

I would argue that wins and fans go hand-in-hand. If you want fans in the seats, you have to put some wins on the board.

EMU Vice President and Director of Athletics Heather Lyke said she wanted to create a “sports atmosphere” in an interview with the Echo earlier this year.

I think she took the first real step in making that happen when she fired former coach Ron English last Friday.

Once that atmosphere is created, which will admittedly take some time, I think we will all see the program go in the direction many of us think it will – a direction which will see the Eagles actually being competitive in the MAC.

Firing the coach was the right move to make, cutting the program is not. Give Lyke some time to get the right people in the right places so that atmosphere can be created the right way and the team can get some wins.

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Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho

Al can be heard every week on the Eastern Echo Sports Podcast with Sports Editor Eugene Evans. The podcast can be found on SoundCloud or by searching for the podcast on iTunes.

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