Perception becomes reality. And the perception that Delaware football is back on track has turned into something very real – people care about the Blue Hens again.
Information released this week backs up that we-care-again theory – Delaware has already sold more than 900 new season tickets for the 2017 season, which is double the number of new season tickets they sold in 2016. That’s significant, especially since attendance (and hope) had been steadily dwindling over the years as Delaware became just another middle-of-the-pack team.
Also, current season ticket holders have renewed their commitment to UD football in encouraging numbers – 88 percent of season ticket holders will be back for the 2017 season and that’s the highest total since 2010, when Delaware advanced all the way to the national championship game. That was also the last time the Blue Hens made it to the I-AA playoffs.
Delaware was in a funk the last few years under former coach Dave Brock and former athletic director Eric Ziady. The perception (there’s that word again) was that Ziady was only interested in using Delaware football as a marketing tool to bring in money for the athletics department. There was also the perception that the only reason Brock got the UD job – he had never been a head coach before – was because he and Ziady were buddies from back in the days when they both worked at Boston College. Finally, there was the perception by the fans that Delaware’s administration didn’t care about them anymore, although it did care about how much money they would be willing to spend to root for their heroes.
So, not only did the Blue Hens perform poorly on the field (in three-plus seasons UD had a combined record of 19-22 under Brock and never finished above .500 in the Colonial Athletic Association), they also did something that was thought to be impossible – they alienated much of their loyal fan base. Delaware has always been one of the top draws at their level of college football, but attendance dwindled and the worst possible thing happened – a lot of people stopped caring.
Ziady and Brock were finally fired and replaced, respectively, by Chrissi Rawak and Danny Rocco, and the Delaware fans noticed. Rawak said all the right things and made some strong moves, and Rocco looked like a football coach and sounded like a football coach and had a winning resume as a football coach. So, for the first time in a long time Delaware fans truly believed their team could regain its former glory and once again be a national power. Ah, the good ol’ days…
When Rawak hired Rocco, she hit the nail on the head when she said “We are excited to see the direction he takes us under his leadership. His impact will be felt immediately.”
We’re assuming that impact will be also on the field – starting when the Hens open against Delaware State on Aug. 31 — even though the CAA coaches’ pre-season poll predicts Delaware will finish fifth in the conference. But the impact has already been felt by the fan base, which has responded to Delaware’s new leadership in a big way. Those fans know Rocco never had a losing season in 11 years at Liberty and Richmond and they know Rocco’s Richmond team was one of the best teams in the CAA — his Spiders went to the NCAA playoffs each of the last three years, while their Blue Hens haven’t been to the postseason in the last six years.
Nobody expects Rocco’s Blue Hens to compete for a national title this year, although his first team needs to win more than Brock’s last team and, at the least, finish above .500. So, it will be interesting to see if the UD faithful have patience in the present as well as hope for the future.
However, the increase in ticket sales indicates those fans will do their part, which is to show up and be supportive. Now it’s up to Rocco and his players to do their part, which is to show up and win.