By Patrick Kollmeier
When I sit back and reminisce on my time spent in a picturesque, brick-cloaked college town with parties, 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 always a weekly celebration. The music starts early, the beer flows continuously and a heavy contingent of the student population unites to party like it’s Syllabus Week.
But just a few blocks away, far from the bustle of Uptown, sits a barren Yager Stadium in all of its forgotten tradition and prestige. Unlike another Ohio stadium located 116 miles to the northeast, the ‘Cradle of Coaches’ enjoys very little fanfare.
Sure, I know what you’re thinking — the MAC is not the Big 10. And, you’re right. It surely is not.
But something has been astray for the past few years in Oxford, and the lack of excitement surrounding the RedHawks has quickly become a trend.
“Where even is the football stadium?” asks a 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.
I chatted about this with former WR Andy Cruse.
“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,” said Cruse. “When I was older, I didn’t count on the fans being there as much, and I just motivated myself.”
From playing for fans of 1,200 to more than 20,000, Cruse saw it all during his four years here, and he believes in the balance between academics and athletics, despite some tough times.
“The games with 20,000 plus fans there were absolutely electric,” he said. “Miami is an awesome place, but it is not the greatest place to be a student-athlete at the moment.”
In his eyes, Miami’s major sports have potential to be exceptional. But the lack of student support all points to one thing, and that’s winning.
“This is going to sound very simple, but student attendance all comes down to winning,” Cruse said. “It 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. 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,” he said. “Why go to a game on Tuesday night when you have schoolwork or other obligations versus 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.
Former Miami Men’s Basketball team managers, Rich Radis and Ryan Pool, believe that Oxford’s athletic traditions must be more celebrated.
“The program is one rich in history and success that has been overlooked in recent years,” Pool said. “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.”
Radis noted that the focus at Miami usually surrounds the Cradle of Coaches, when the players deserve their share of recognition, too.
“We all know about the coaches, but we have had some great players come through Oxford who probably don’t get recognized enough,” Radis said. “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.”
Steps must be taken to improve the overall gameday experience. The addition of beer sales at Yager this season is a step in the right direction, but it will take hard work, consistency and commitment to make students pile into the stands again.
I guess only time will tell.
Patrick Kollmeier is an alumnus of Miami University (Class of 2012). Another version of this article appeared on medium.com. You can read more of his work at www.patrickkollmeier.com.