Four times this year, and, well, every year, NU plays an out-of-conference opponent. The question arises: who are these guys? Some people only want to know who they are in a football sense, but, to truly understand our opponents on the gridiron, you have to know where they come from, so football strategy can wait. I plan on getting to know these universities a little bit better with posts on each college, mainly with info gleaned from their wikipedia pages.
This week's victim: Eastern Michigan University.
Where: Ypsilanti, Michigan. Ypsilanti, a town of 22,000 is about 35 miles from Detroit and eight from Ann Arbor. In fact, it's only around 5.5 miles from EMU's Rynearson Stadium to Michigan Stadium, meaning EMU students can easily see two 3-9 football teams within ten minutes driving time. The Wikipedia says that Ypsilanti is called "the Brooklyn to Ann Arbor's Manhattan" in a local Board of Commerce pamphlet, and as a native New Yorker and major snob, I feel the need to point out that this is among the top five stupidest things ever written, for literally thousands of reasons I can't be bothered to explain.
When: EMU was founded in 1849 as the Michigan State Normal School, which, if you ask me, is sort of a slap in the face to Michigan State. It has since changed names to the Michigan State Normal College, Eastern Michigan College, and now, Eastern Michigan University. Unfortunately, in this very same bit in my last post, I said that Towson was briefly called "Towson University Ochocinco". It wasn't funny then, and also, I don't have a joke to make here, so, lose-lose situation.
Enrollment: EMU has 18,245 undergrads, or 2.2 Northwesterns.
Stadium: Rynearson Stadium was built in 1969 and holds a little bit over 30,000. However, no football game has ever attracted more than 25,009, so, once again, NU's attendance problems can cry EMU a river. The stadium briefly played home to the Detroit Wheels of the WFL in 1974. The WFL lasted only two seasons, but the Wheels were even more short-lived. You can already tell the team was off to a bad start, because they couldn't afford to rent out a stadium in freakin' Detroit, but the Wheels tried to make a go of it in Ypsilanti. They got a dismal 10,000 fans to come to their first game, and after dropping their first ten games, numbers decreased to levels that were low even for WFL games. In an attempt to increase attendance, the team's ninth game was moved to London, Ontario, where they drew only 5,000 fans, the team's 13th game was moved to an away game at Shreveport, Louisiana, and then, in week 14, the league decided they'd had enough already and scrapped the team, canceling the rest of the 20-week schedule.
Interesting Alums: I'm starting to think the lists in this category say more on my sports-centric worldview than on the nature of each alumni base, but, most of the EMU alums I've heard of are athletes.
George Gervin isn't really an alum, as he transferred to Long Beach State before getting kicked off the team there, but the Iceman is probably the most famous person to have attended EMU I see on the list. Gervin led EMU to an NAIA Final Four in 1972, and went on to be one of the NBA's 50 Greatest players, and one of the NBA's Two Greatest players to have a last name that was six letters long that contained the letters "ervin" and either began or ended with the letter G. EMU grad Earl Boykins carved out a ten year career in the Association despite going undrafted and being only 5'5, the second-shortest player in NBA history. He's mainly remembered for being able to bench close to three times his body weight and for standing next to Yao Ming one time. Another famous athletic Eagle is Bob Welch, who won the 1990 Cy Young, and whom I'd never heard of.
An interesting alum in relation to NU football is Ronald Beard, who graduated from EMU and went on to go get a Master's Degree at Prairie View A&M. Soon after he got the degree, Prairie View, a historically black I-AA school, decided to eliminate their athletic department, which was over 3 million dollars in debt. However, the school cobbled together funds to keep the football team operating, as the Panthers (not the best team name for an historically black university if you ask me) had a good football tradition, winning five national black titles in the 50's and 60's, and hired Beard as the head coach before the 1991 season. They soon discovered that putting together a team was a bad idea. In Beard's first year on the job, the Panthers put up 48 points on the season, and gave up an average of 56 points per game. The team lost every game that year, including a 92-0 loss to Alabama State, and went on to lose and all 44 games under Beard's four year span as the head coach. Beard isn't totally to blame - he was dealing with a team with no scholarship athletes, and also pulling triple duty as the school's head golf coach and a teacher who spent 28 hours a week in the classroom. But 0-44 is pretty bad. The streak finally ended in 1998 with a 14-12 victory over Langston State, by which point the team had lost 80 straight, a D-I record which more than doubles NU's record losing streak and might never be broken. Unless he is hired elsewhere, which is unlikely, Beard will forever hold a share of the record for worst collegiate head coaching record of all time, as his 0-44-0 winning percentage works out to .000 in the record books.
Current NFL Players: Four: Charlie Batch, the Steelers' backup quarterback, Kevin Walter, a solid WR for the Texans, TJ Lang, a rookie OL for the Packers who took Tyrell Sutton's roster spot, and Jason Jones, DT for the Titans.
Current Mascot: Swoop, the eagle pictured at the top of the page, whose beak looks a little bit like when comic strip characters are confused or disappointed or something.
Charlie Brown's mouth is the inspiration for Swoop the Eagle's beak, although luckily, Swoop isn't drawn with worry lines on his forehead.
EMU teams were known as the Normalites and the Men from Ypsi up until 1929, when the team became the Hurons. However, in 1991, this name was struck down in the name of political correctness and unoriginality, and since then, the team has been known as the generic Eagles, and the team has only had one winning season. These people are still quite peeved about the whole name change thing, but it appears the Eagle name isn't going to go anywhere until political incorrectness starts being cool again. Meanwhile, the Hurons are somewhere in mascot heaven, plotting to kill Chief Illiniwek from now until eternity.
Mascot if I ran EMU: This has been discussed already.
Difference between the amount of times this school has been to the NCAA Tournament and the amount of times Northwestern has: Four, all between 1988 and 1998, and they've had some success. In 1991, the last team known as the Hurons made a sweet 16 run, defeating Mississippi State and then Penn State in overtime, before falling to UNC. Then, in 1996, Earl Boykins dropped 23 on Duke to send the Blue Devils home in the first round for the first time since 1955, before losing in the second round to UConn. The '88 team and '98 teams lost to Pittsburgh and Michigan State, respectively.
Elsewhere in EMU sports: Eagles teams have little success on the national level: they were D-I runners up in cross country in 1940 and in the College World Series in 1976, but other than that, there's just a bunch of D-II and NAIA trophies. The most successful EMU team is the men's swimming and diving team, which has won 25 MAC titles, the most by any school in a single sport.
My advice is to wear gloves: EMU's forensics teams are off the charts good. They've finished in the top ten nationally every year since the National Forensics Association began giving out awards in 1971, they've brought home ten national championships and 66 individual championships, not to mention 36 out of 37 state championships. When I read this, I pictured EMU being a lot like CSI: Ypsilanti, but unfortunately, "forensics" actually refers to individual speech competitions.
Yeah, but we have a BK: People the world over owe the hunger of EMU students and fellow Ypsilantonites for cheap, slightly edible pizza delivered within half and hour. In 1960, Tom Monaghan and his brother, James, bought an Ypsilanti pizza store named Dominicks. A year later, Tom bought out James' share for a used VW Beetle. A few years and a name change later, Monaghan opened up the first Domino's franchise across town, and when Monaghan sold his share of the company in 1998, he got approximately a billion dollars for it, meaning he could by a used VW Beetle, and then still have about a billion dollars left over. Sadly for Ypsilantonians, or whatever they're called, Domino's moved their corporate headquarters down the road to Ann Arbor, because, after all, Ann Arbor is apparently the Manhattan to Ypsilanti's Brooklyn.
NU's Attendance issues, in perspective: We frequently complain about our difficulty making our 47,000 stadium look close to full, and with good reason: all that emptiness is mighty depressing. But EMU has bigger issues.
If your D-I institution average less than 15,000 football fans a game for a whole season, your school goes on to some sort of NCAA probation that could prevent them from hosting postseason games, and, if uncorrected for ten years, could result in them losing D-I status. EMU has a pretty good formula for low attendance, despite having 18,000 undergrads: they're a commuter school, meaning students are out of town on weekends, their home stadium is six miles away from a college football stadium that holds 110,000 fans and is nearly always sold out, and their team is consistently awful. This has led to drastic measures: an alumni group bought 5,000 tickets for some games for local high school students when the team went 1-11 in 2006, and the team has taken to occasionally hosting home games at Ford Field to cater to the school's Detroit-centric alumni and commuter base. There, the attendance is around 25,000 a game: low for Ford Field, a cavernous stadium that seats 70,000, but great for EMU. (You probably remember an NU tilt being held in Detroit in 2007.)
Anyway, that's all the random stuff I could dig up on EMU. On Wednesday, I'll discuss their actual football team, but there will be other posts up before then, so, come back, folks.