Sports Commentary: For the first time under Rawak, no news may be good news
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
The lackluster performances among the Delaware spring teams began to feel insignificant Saturday night, when Danny Rocco’s football program returned to Delaware Stadium for the annual spring game.
Despite the combined 43-63 record among the baseball, softball and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams through April 23, Rocco’s return to the gridiron, albeit during a meaningless spring scrimmage, reminded Blue Hens fans of the promise last fall delivered.
While three of the four spring sports have a legitimate shot to make their respective conference tournaments (softball’s 11-30 mark won’t make the cut), this spring season has been defined by mediocrity. There is no dominant team, much like the Delaware field hockey teams of recent seasons, nor the hope that a powerhouse program would suddenly wake up from an extended slumber, much like the Delaware football team did this past season.
Rocco’s job is the most important among any coach in the Delaware athletic department. His program generates the most tangible and intangible benefits that an athletic department can generate; out of all school sports, the football team costs the most money and brings in the most money. A good football program can save an otherwise struggling athletic department, while a bad football program can distract from the successes in other sports.
In 2016, as the football team floundered to a lousy 4-7 mark, the field hockey team’s national championship, as impressive an accomplishment as it was, did little to shift the national perception of the Delaware athletic department.
Yet a football national championship would overhaul the perception of an athletic department.
Similarly, the lack of energy surrounding the sports this spring can easily be masked by the hope of a successful fall football season. Rocco’s first season was filled with hope –– hope that the team would return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 –– and the team was close. This season, as hope continues to permeate through the program, a successful season also begins to appear more realistic; a return to the playoffs isn’t just a hope, it’s an expectation.
And this, in its essence, is what all strong athletic departments have in common. Just look at James Madison University –– almost identical in enrollment to the University of Delaware –– as the football engine revs, other sports soon begin to fall into place. With the recent announcement of a new basketball arena, the Dukes have shown what a successful football program can bring: money, national attention and more money.
As Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak approaches the two-year anniversary of her hiring, she’s finally finished cleaning up the mess from athletic directors of the past. She’s beginning to see how a solid departmental foundation –– with the most apparent focus on football and basketball –– can provide stability.
Rawak shined through the first phase of her tenure: the recovery phase. In her first year, she hired seven head coaches. The announcement of a soon-to-be renovated Delaware Stadium and a brand new athletic center was the first major victory of her tenure’s second phase: the development phase.
If the baseball team makes another run in the CAA tournament this spring, mark it down as another small victory for Rawak, much like the CAA championships won in baseball, men’s soccer, field hockey and women’s golf, since her arrival at Delaware.
Yet if the spring passes without any major news, be it on-field successes or off-the-field headlines, and the football program continues to rise in the fall, it’ll be Rawak’s final victory of the development phase, and the beginning of the third phase: contention, where it counts the most.