Editorial / Voices

EDITORIAL: Trading tradition for Division I status

OnlineIf Central Michigan University’s athletics department wants our football team to remain in Division I, then it needs to begin treating it like a Division I program.

Although CMU reported a paid attendance average of 15,333 this football season – just above the NCAA Division I standard – some trends within the program are a cause for immediate concern.

Declining attendance figures and a dwindling student presence at football games have left the athletics department with the lowest attendance figures since 2004. Students didn’t account for more than 30 percent of the overall attendance in a single home game last season.

Football games need to regain a spot as a focal campus event. The athletic department needs to do more to recreate traditions and provide a positive game atmosphere for all ticket holders.

To help CMU continue to meet Division I accreditation and to further marketing efforts, the athletic department contracted IMG College, a collegiate sports marketing company that accounted for more than one-third of total ticket sales this season.

Fortunately for the university – and at the expense of an actual headcount – NCAA only factors paid tickets into their attendance equations. Essentially, our athletic department has entered a contract that ensures 33 percent in attendance regardless of whether or not people attend the game in person.

They are buying Division I status.

Instead of seeking ways to maneuver around the NCAA’s requirements, CMU’s athletic department should be focused on enhancing the overall experience for attendees. It’s more important to have tangible, cheering fans in the stands than to provide skewed and misleading attendance figures to the NCAA.

CMU and its athletic department need to regain its focus in attracting not only students, but alumni and the Mount Pleasant community as well.

When it comes to recruiting sought after high school players, a majority are invited to games and given sideline passes. How many would commit to a school with such an uninterested crowd?

In 2009, the university caused more problems by severely restricting the pre-game tailgating policy. In 2008, the reported attendance was averaged at 20,448 per game. By 2011 – after limiting alcohol and external sound systems – CMU reported average attendance at 10,466.

The athletic department needs to do more to market what it’s like to attend a football game in Mount Pleasant. It needs to do more to engage students to increase the actual attendance figures.

Last year, Michigan State University added two large video boards and a new sound system to their football stadium. This year, MSU’s athletic department plans to invest $2 million in a Wi-Fi system to increase fan interaction.

Last month, the University of Texas became the third team in the Big 12 to allow – and sell – alcohol at nearly every athletic event on campus. Many others, including schools in the Big 10, sell beer at their stadiums.

It’s up to CMU if we want to retain our shrinking fan base and revitalize the football program. So far, as the statistics show, our athletic department isn’t selling a product students buy into.

Whether it’s increased fan engagement, varied halftime entertainment or simply the offer of being able to drink a cold one at the next game – more can be done to actually increase our attendance beyond sidestepping NCAA requirements.

Some point fingers at the quality of talent put on the field, but fill the stands with roaring, chanting fans the entire game and you might be surprised how it triggers our athletes.


  1. florence schneider says:

    Nice editorial. However, as long as Dan Enos and his outdated offense are leading CMU football, the Chippewas will struggle, on the field and in the stands.

    Winning, and winning the right way, will bring fans back to Kelly/Shorts. It did during the Kelly/Jones era.

    In December 2009, this very paper quoted Dave Heeke saying Butch Jones built the Chippewa program for “sustained success.”

    Where has that “sustained success” been under the leadership of Dan Enos?

    • You mean winning and winning the “right way” during the Dan LeFevour era.

      I had my butt in the stadium for every minute of every home game from 2007-2012 plus a few games in the late-90, early 2000s and last year. Here’s what I notice:

      1. The more the team gets put on TV, the less people are in the stands. Why would you stand in the cold or rain when it’s way warmer in O’Kelly’s and you can watch the game on the big screen?

      2. The student section was legitimately into the games when they could get decent seats on the sideline behind the team. Kudos to whomever made the decision to change it back to that configuration for ’14.

      3. If a school like Michigan can fill its student section for every game under Rich Rodriguez through three seasons (3-9, 5-7, 7-6) there is no excuse for CMU students to stop showing up because we went (3-9, 3-9, 7-6) in a conference which every team is usually expected to lose 2 or 3 of its non-conference games.

      4. The “golden days” of CMU football did not feature booze in the stadium. Why people think that will help now is beyond me.

      5. People who are intensely loyal to their school’s football team are usually intensely loyal to their school as a whole, regardless of whether or not the team wins a lot. Until CMU students can say, “Yeah, I go to Central. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” with honesty and pride, consistent athletics attendance will continue to be confounded by weather, team record, planetary alignment, the price of tea in China, etc.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ya that out of date offense that won a Rose Bowl this past year

  2. Gordon Sims says:

    Its simple, really. Win and the will come. CMU needs to find the next #13

  3. Disgruntled Alum says:

    The once-proud Chippewa football program is in decline on the field and in the stands. Since neither the athletic director nor the administration seems inclined to make a much-needed change in the coaching staff, perhaps we should consider downgrading the program to Division III. The game would then be played purely for fun, without attendance requirements or athletic scholarships.

    Either commit to winning at the highest level or throw in the towel and admit you can’t do it.

  4. CMU’s attendance averaged 13,224 per game in 2013. Grand Valley State University averaged 10,116. Fire up Chips?

  5. Anonymous says:

    How does Eastern stay D-1? This is BS. Win games.

  6. Just get rid of sports and concentrate on academics like a educational organization should. Athletics are a drain on funds that could be used to upgrade programs that are actually beneficial to this country. Sorry, but the ability to throw a football will not help our country find solutions to world problems. Academics will.

  7. michmediaperson says:

    Justin, this is the best editorial of the year. In fact, it’s the best editorial since the Chad Livengood days.

    Every paragraph, every sentence, every word–perfect!

    You presented a case explaining exactly the shape CMU football and the CMU athletic department finds itself in today. Too bad no Board member and George Ross understands.

    The editorial should be re-run on the front page of CM LIFE in late August—the first issue of the fall.

    Don’t know who wrote it—it’s an A-plus.

  8. Selling alcohol in the stadium might help, but you don’t see UofM or any other big10 schools doing it. The biggest thing for students is cutting down on the enforcement in the parking lots for tailgating. CMU back in 2009 was for sure the best tailgating school in the MAC and we took pride in that. Now the student body, especially students under the age of 21, won’t even attend the tailgate in FEAR of the police departments patrolling and harassing students in the parking lots. They will even go as far as disturbing the parents who have students eating/drinking at their tailgates. I personally witnessed police shutdown tailgate festivities last year at CMU BEFORE THE GAME STARTED. It’s unacceptable, you don’t see that at any BIG10 school in the nation and look at their attendance rates.

  9. Central has had a low to mediocre football history at best throughout the years. However, back in my CMU days in the early 80′s, football Saturdays at Kelly-Shorts Stadium was the place to be. The crowd was engaged. The student body was out in force. It’s such a shame that the University has failed to think about the audience it was selling that experience to. It has backfired on them and they need to do some damage control. If not, Central risks losing Division I status & the ability to recruit top talent to its program which further drives the nail into the coffin from which the grim reaper says there is no return.

  10. StudentMom says:

    I agree that the cmu safety officers are out of control. I tried to bring a group of adults to tailgate at one of the parking lots and was harassed by cmu safety as my son and some of his friends joined us. My son went on to tell us that it happens at all the home games. They are harassed walking down the streets on game days. I think these wanna be cops need to pipe down. Its football saturday for god’s sake. I wish my son would have gone elsewhere; they are really ruining one of the finest memories I have of my college days.

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