Commentary: Now is the time to invest in Delaware athletics
Sports at the University of Delaware are an enigma. You would think, as a major state school with over 18,000 undergraduate students, that sports would be a major pastime here. When you look at schools like Penn State, or even Villanova and Temple right next to us, you can see school pride for their sports all around.
But, when you make your way to Delaware Stadium on Saturdays in the fall for a Delaware football game, the student section is usually half empty, if that. It’s been that way for a few years now, but my optimism tells me that soon, everything will change. Now is the time to invest stock in Delaware athletics.
A big reason why is the, now three-year Athletic Director, Chrissi Rawak. In her first year alone, she changed the leadership of about 40% of the schools varsity teams, with a few more casualties since then. She is not afraid to let long-time coaches go as evidenced by both Tina Martin’s 21 year stint and Bob Shillinglaw’s 39 coming to an end under Rawak in 2016. She also is playing a big part in the success of the Delaware First campaign.
The Delaware First campaign is an attempt at bringing long needed changes to the university’s athletic facilities. These include, revamping Delaware Stadium to a resemble a more modern fit, and the creation of the Whitney Athletic Center, a building serving as a hub for student athletes in their training and academic endeavors. This initiative shows that the administration cares about Delaware Athletics and is willing to invest a lot of time and money to try to improve the sports culture. Culture is something that you cannot build very easily, but this campaign is a great step towards something special.
The last part of the equation that will bring the fans back is winning. The football team made their first postseason appearance since going to the National Title game in 2010, and the men’s basketball team gave Hofstra a run in the CAA Semifinals game, securing the team’s first winning record since making the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14. Field hockey won the National Championship in 2016, and men’s lacrosse just wrapped up a successful 10-5 season. The success is theirs and the team’s should see improvement next year. The sports that draw the most interest, football and basketball are in good hands with Danny Rocco and Martin Ingelsby leading the way.
Maybe I should keep my expectations low, but Delaware sports are on the rise. The last two years, we had two NFL Draft Picks in Bilal Nichols and Nasir Adderley. There was palpable buzz with Adderley being drafted as high as the 68th pick, and tying the school record for most NFL prospects with 7. It’s feats like this that will get the students to say “hey we got NFL talent, that’s pretty cool,” and come watch the football team play. When March Madness came around, all my friends were filling out brackets, yet no one was excited when Delaware was playing throughout the season.
That’s what it takes, to win and make it to the big tournaments like March Madness. That’s what will bring the fans back. And it seems that the Athletic Department understands this, because now is a better time than ever to be a Blue Hen.