The Red Brick Revitalization
Miami University truly has it all, so when I sit back and reminisce on my time spent in a picturesque red-brick Oxford, OH college town filled with sensational parties, delicious eateries, campus traditions and lifelong friends, nostalgia quickly begins to strengthen its grip.
From the hot and humid summer months to the cold, dark days of winter, Saturdays at Miami are celebrated as the next best thing aside from the Christmas holiday. The music starts early, the beer flows continuously, and a heavy contingent of the student population unites to party like it’s 1999.
However, scattered somewhere throughout these weekend festivities lies a barren Yager Stadium in all of its tradition and prestige. Unlike another Ohio stadium located 116 miles to the northeast, ‘The Cradle of Coaches’ enjoys a little less fanfare than its counterpart in our state’s capital.
Sure, I know what you are thinking. The MAC is not the Big 10. And, you’re right. It surely is not.
However, something has clearly been astray for the past few years in Oxford, with the lack of excitement surrounding the Redhawks quickly becoming a growing trend.
“Where even is the football stadium?” asks a young freshman.
“Umm, I think it’s down that way,” replies another student on his walk uptown.
Catch my drift? These conversations were commonplace throughout my early Miami years until our MAC Title Championship back in 2010. Since the departure of Head Coach Mike Haywood, the Redhawks have not enjoyed a winning season.
Located off-campus, nestled away from the excitement of the uptown bars, shops and campus atmosphere, former Miami WR Andy Cruse ponders on the potential crowd size for Saturday’s hypothetical matchup.
“I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of crowds there would be before we ran out of that tunnel, especially when I was younger. When I was older, I didn’t count on the fans being there as much, and I just motivated myself,” said Cruse.
From playing for fans of 1,200 to more than 20,000, Cruse saw it all during his four years here as a Miami Redhawk, and truly believes in the school’s excellence balance between academics and athletics, despite some tough times.
“The games with 20,000+ fans there were absolutely electric. Miami is an awesome place, but it is not the greatest place to be a student-athlete at the moment,” said Cruse.
In his eyes, Miami’s major sports have so much potential to be exceptional, but ultimately, the lack of student support all points to one thing, and that’s winning.
Added the former WR,
“This is going to sound very simple, but student attendance all comes down to winning. Winning solves everything. If I could give any advice to the Miami program, it would be to just win! Winning will solve all the problems and bring the fans.”
I also spoke with Michael Mesrobian, a former student at Miami, and asked him his thoughts on the current state of the program.
According to him, several factors are involved in the lack of enthusiasm for the Miami football program. First and foremost, he mirrored Cruse’s statements and pointed to their recent losing ways.
Second, he mentioned the MAC’S new deal with ESPN as an underlying factor.
“The TV deal is worth $670,000 per school, per year, but the games are on school nights. Why go to a game on Tuesday night when you have schoolwork or other obligations vs. the more traditional Saturday game?”
“Winning changes the calculus, but without making a run like in 2010, student buy-in was de-prioritized in favor of the ESPN deal,” said Mesrobian.
If you’re unfamiliar with the new deal, here’s a good explanation on the deal in its entirety.
This season, Miami will officially sell beer in Yager Stadium, which usually helps make any event pretty entertaining, so they shouldn’t have any problems there.
However, several campus rule changes have helped change the course of the college football experience up in Oxford. When Fraternity houses became “dry”, students could no longer drink on the premises. This was a major factor in diminishing opportunities for football’s student body support. Tailgates were also a hotbed for Oxford Police, where arrests were made, and bad vibes quickly spread throughout the student population in regards to the tailgating scene.
I spoke with former Miami’s Men’s Basketball team managers, Rich Radis and Ryan Pool, who believe that Oxford’s rich program tradition and underrated players must be more celebrated.
“The program is one rich in history and success that has been overlooked in recent years. Martin has the program headed in a positive direction and the Quentin Rollins story is one of the most intriguing to come out of the NCAA in some time,” stated Pool.
“We all know about the coaches, but we have had some great players come through Oxford who probably don’t get recognized enough. We are in a prime spot to be a top recruiting destination and we graduate an absurd number of athletes, which is truly the most important thing.”
For alumni like Andy Hyde, next season’s matchup at Notre Dame is great for the program, but doesn’t outweigh the fact that the Redhawks haven’t been able to compete on a large stage, let alone, win any of these big games throughout the years.
As an alumnus of Miami University, it is my responsibility to help generate some buzz around the program and throughout the community. With a major ESPN deal, a new head coach, stadium beers, and awareness from players and students alike, the future does look bright for the Redhawks, folks.
Steps must be taken to build awareness and improve the overall gameday experience, and it will take hard work, consistency and commitment in doing so.
Or, like the late Al Davis used to say,
“Just win, baby!”