Eric Ziady promises he’ll care about you, assuming you are one of the old-timers who has supported University of Delaware athletics in general and football in particular for years and even decades. He promises he’ll respect the tradition of Delaware athletics, and once again we’re mostly talking about football, the big dog in the UD neighborhood. And Ziady said he will respond to your loyalty.
In other words, Delaware’s athletic director promises to be different than his predecessor, Bernard Muir, who used Delaware as a stepping stone to a bigger and better job and stepped on the toes of a lot of Blue Hens faithful along the way.
Times have changed in Newark and in campus towns across the country. College athletics is big, big business now – again, it’s mostly football, although basketball can also generate revenue. And that’s fine. But Delaware’s success and reputation as one of the top mid-level athletic programs in the nation was built on the support of those long-time fans, some of whom have been going to Delaware games for more than 50 years.
Muir never understood those fans and that’s why so many of them have stopped coming to football games – of course, sadly, a lot of them aren’t with us anymore. Delaware has always been among the top schools in attendance and it’s still pretty good, but there are rows and rows of empty seats at Delaware Stadium now because people got fed up with the way they were treated by the administration under Muir, or at least their perception of that treatment, which amounts to the same thing.
Kevin Tresolini, who covers Delaware sports for The News Journal papers, wrote a terrific column about that not long ago, after Muir resigned to take the AD’s job at Stanford and before Ziady was hired last week. Tresolini wrote about the disconnect long-time fans feel for the Delaware athletics program now and how it was crucial for the new athletic director to mend the fences that Muir helped to knock down.
Ziady said he will do that. At his first press conference at Delaware he said “I need to come spend some time listening” to the fans. He even talked about he was going to enlist the aid of his staff and “I’m going to be out on the streets with them every day.’’
Still, despite all the warm talk about respecting the traditions of Delaware athletics, Ziady’s job isn’t to be nice to people as much as it is to get money from them. UD president Patrick Harker made that clear when he hired the former Boston College administrator.
“We’re so glad that Eric is joining UD as our new athletic director,” Harker said. “He’s wholly committed to students’ academic and athletic success. He’s an incredibly strong financial administrator and a proven revenue-generator. He understands the conference landscape, and can help us navigate through the issues of conference alignment. And he absolutely shares our most fundamental goal: to educate student-athletes who will lead in competition, in the classroom and in the community.”
Now, of those statements Harker made, which do you think he thinks is the most important? You got it – when he talks about generating revenue and dealing with conference alignment, which is really the same thing, since the conference jumping we’ve seen all over the country is all about generating more revenue.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. This is America, after all. Plus the money generated by football helps pay for non-revenue sports, which is pretty much everything else. It used to be that the athletic director made up the schedules and made sure the buses were there on time, but college athletics has changed dramatically in the last 10-20 years and now an AD has to be a CEO, as well. And that means bringing in revenue.
But that revenue is still mostly generated by attendance at football games and all those Blue Hens sweatshirts and t-shirts people buy. And if you get those people mad at you, they’re not going to open up their wallets for you.
Bernard Muir, sitting up in his ivory tower, never understood that. Eric Ziady, who says he will walk the streets to connect with the fans, seems to. What that means for long-time Delaware fans remains to be seen.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.