Last week, UD’s administration unveiled plans for a much-needed, $60 million upgrade to Delaware Stadium, which still resembles the type of stadiums that were around when players wore leather helmets and had nicknames like Bronco and Crazy Legs.
A lot of that money will go to creature comforts for fans and media, which is nice and needed. But the real game-changer will be the new athletic training and weight rooms. That, more than a new press box (which, we assume, will finally include an elevator) is what will attract good players to Newark, and without good players and winning teams the other stuff doesn’t really matter.
Delaware’s coaches, especially in football, have been handicapped for years because of UDs’ substandard facilities, and now the Blue Hens will finally be able to recruit on a level playing field, and recruiting if the lifeblood of any college sport.
For years, former Delaware football coach K.C. Keeler privately complained about UD’s facilities, even though he never publicly ripped the administration for Delaware’s antiquated (by 21st Century standards) stadium, weight room, etc. And Keeler sat by helplessly while one of Delaware’s biggest rivals, James Madison, poured millions into a refurbished stadium and state-of-art athletics center.
Those kinds of things are especially important to a Division I-AA program when it comes to recruiting, and it’s not a coincidence that JMU is the defending national champion and currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. A big-time Division I program can entice recruits by telling them how many players it sends to the NFL or how many times it plays on national television. But for a kid being recruited by I-AA teams, things like nice, shiny facilities can make all the difference.
Keeler used to say that Delaware had two things going for it when it came to recruiting – a winning tradition and a large and loyal fan base that few I-AA schools could match. But, in the end, Keeler also knew that didn’t mean as much as those facilities, and his constant harping on that to the administration certainly played a part in his getting fired after the 2012 season, even though he had won a national championship and made it to two more championship games.
By the way, we always enjoy pointing out how successful Keeler has been since getting the boot from UD. While it appears that Delaware has a good chance to make the I-AA playoffs this season, Keeler’s new team, Sam Houston State, is a shoo-in for the post-season — his Bearkats are 9-1 and ranked No. 4 in the nation. It will be the fourth time the Bearkats have made it to the playoffs in Keeler’s four seasons there and he’s compiled an overall record of 43-11 in that time. Last season, Keeler won the Eddie Robinson Award, which is named for the late, great Grambling coach and is given to the nation’s top I-AA coach.
Now, finally, Keeler’s dream of better and more competitive Delaware facilities will be realized, even if he won’t be around to see it.
Actually, it will be a while before anybody sees it, since this process is just beginning and everything won’t be finished for several years, which, of course, won’t help recruiting now. But at least the first steps are finally being taken and that’s what counts.
By the way, Delaware is still in the fund-raising process, so if you have any rich friends who are also rabid Blue Hen fans, tell them to get in touch with UD athletic director Chrissie Rawak. We guarantee she’ll return their call.