EDITORIAL: Dropping the ball – Moving rivalry game to Detroit upsets students, locals

Pennsylvania senior Tre Garzel reacts to an off sides call at the MAC Championship game Saturday, Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Central Michigan athletics officially announced Feb. 26 that the storied rivalry football game against Western Michigan is going to be played Oct. 17 at Ford Field in Detroit. 

It goes without saying that coaches, players, alumni and students who attend the game are going to have a unique, special experience. Ford Field, which has a capacity of 65,000 people, is an outstanding venue surrounded by excellent restaurants and bars. 

It is a little early to put this decision down as a win for CMU. It would be polite to call the social media response to the announcement “mixed.” Many students and local business owners are flat-out angry.  

Central Michigan Life has often published editorials and opinion columns about the football program, and more specifically, the lack of attendance from students and alumni at home games. That’s not a criticism of students or alumni – it’s math. It’s also an indication that overall interest in CMU football is declining. 

One of the few home games that is well-attended, however, is the Western Michigan rivalry game. If there was ever a game to not move out of Mount Pleasant, it’s the Western Weekend game. On top of not hosting Western Weekend, we will only have three Saturday football games in Mount Pleasant. 

Many students’ best memories come from Western Weekend. It’s more than just a football game. It’s three days’ worth of camaraderie, competition and socializing with friends. That experience is one that many Chippewas will tell you is the best part of their four years here. That experience will be taken away from seniors graduating next year. 

Western Weekend embodies student life and campus culture as much as the colors maroon and gold. We are willingly giving up home-field advantage for a two-hour drive to Detroit to watch the game in what will likely be (at least) a half-empty stadium.  

President Bob Davies hadn’t even gotten the opportunity to experience his first Western Weekend at CMU before he allowed it to be moved to Detroit. 

As part of a student body that annually subsidizes the Athletics Department with $20 million of its $30 million budget, we are left wondering, who is this football game really for?

It’s not for students. That’s been made extremely clear with this decision. Is it for recruitment to address our declining enrollment? 

Is it for alumni engagement and soliciting donations?  We thought homecoming was for alumni. 

Is it for marketing or recruiting? We traded home game attendance for viewers watching ESPN2 (or ESPN3, or worse) and began scheduling mid-week games to earn TV revenue. We were told that televised bowl games would help us promote our university’s brand nationally. 

The Western Michigan football game was one of the few things that students truly appreciated and participated in. This already feels a loss, and kickoff is still eight months away.

College football is supposed to be about scoring touchdowns, not burning bridges. Logistically, this is a nightmare for students and their friends from Western. Students will have to break the bank to pay for gas and parking and will spend nearly five hours of their Saturday driving to and from Detroit. There are no Safe Rides to transport us from Ford Field to the Towers. Local businesses – many of which advertise in CM Life and also sponsor CMU athletics – are rightfully angry. For the shops, hotels, restaurants and bars, this will be a weekend of lost opportunities and unearned revenue. 

Only CMU would invest $32.5 million into its football stadium and then move one of its most important games to a stadium two hours away. It’s a shame that our new videoboard will go unused during one of the biggest games of the year when we could be showcasing the improvements made to Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

Instead of asking us to walk across East Broomfield Street and show our student IDs, CMU is asking us to pay and spend more than four hours on a bus on a Saturday in October. Essentially, CMU is telling students to watch on TV. 

Maybe, we should stream the game on the new videoboard. At least that way there will be some football in Mount Pleasant on Oct. 17.