It’s history and, more importantly, it’s also geography.
The University of Delaware and Delaware State University have agreed to play each other six more times in football, starting in 2024. They have already played six times since their first meeting in 2007, and they were scheduled to play each other in 2019 and 2020 before their contract ran out, so its good news that they have extended their rivalry.
But the really good news is that Delaware has allowed fair play to trump greed – for the first time, the state’s only FCS teams will play in Dover. The first two games of the extension, in 2024 and 2025, will be played at Delaware State’s Alumni Stadium instead of Delaware Stadium, site of the previous eight games between these two teams and the next two.
That’s a major concession by the Blue Hens. Delaware Stadium, which is currently undergoing major renovations, holds 21,000 fans, whereas Alumni Stadium holds just 7,000.
You don’t have to be a math major to figure out that both teams will make a lot less money by playing at Delaware State. And it’s stunning that in this day and age, when teams’ marketing departments are almost as big as their coaching staffs, that a school would not go for the fiscal jugular.
It certainly makes sense for both sides to continue the rivalry.
The Hornets are usually guaranteed their biggest payday of the season when they play Delaware, and the Blue Hens have always been guaranteed a victory, which is critical when it comes time to determine at-large playoff berths. For years, Delaware played West Chester because it was usually an easy victory, but the Rams are a Division II team and that worked against the Hens when it came to figuring out the playoff formula. Delaware State, on the other hand, is an FCS school and a victory over the Hornets helps the Hens qualify for the postseason.
Of course, the odds are even better that the Hens will win at home, so they were willing to give that up, as well as a lot of money.
Delaware had absolutely nothing to gain and a lot to lose by this agreement, and the Hens deserve a lot of credit for agreeing to what seems like a fair deal – home-and-away games – but is, in reality, a pretty big sacrifice for UD. And it’s a sacrifice they didn’t have to make since the Hornets would gladly take the bus trip to Newark every year because of the big payday and the prestige of playing what historically (although not recently) has been one of the elite programs in the division.
And the Hornets would have done it gladly even though they know the odds are better than good that they will lose and maybe even be embarrassed when they play Delaware. They’ve played the Blue Hens eight times so far and lost all eight, almost always by lopsided scores. Delaware has outscored its downstate neighbor 301-85 in those eight games, an average score of 38-11 per game. The closest game was the second one of the match-up, in 2009, when Delaware won by 10 points, 27-17. But the next year the Hens rolled 45-0 for their biggest margin of victory against Delaware State, and none of the other games were really competitive, at least going by the scoreboard.
There’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue for the foreseeable future. Delaware is coming off a 7-4 season and its first playoff appearance in eight years and the future appears bright in Newark as Danny Rocco enters his third season as head coach. Delaware State, meanwhile, finished 3-8 last year, which was actually their best season in a while – between 2014 and 2017 they had an overall record of 5-40, and now they’re on their fourth coach in eight years as Rod Milstead enters his second season.
It remains to be seen whether Milstead can do what his predecessors could not – turn the Hornets into consistent contenders in their conference, and a team that can finally stand up the Blue Hens, even if they can’t beat them.