I was directed by a fellow Drexel alum to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal written by Drexel President John Fry. It's a fascinating article because it gives us some good insight into his views on athletics. He spends most of the article beating up on other schools that are blowing millions of dollars on college football while painting a rosy picture of Drexel because it doesn't do the same.
You won't find a bigger college football fan than I am - I've been lucky enough to see games all over the SEC, a conference whose teams probably spends more money on football than anybody - but even I recognize how wasteful it is. It's become a have vs. have not business like everything else in the American economy and unfortunately there are many more programs struggling to survive. Bowl games are an outright scam where schools shell out thousands of dollars to play a meaningless game in mostly empty stadiums. I agree with Dr. Fry that Drexel is doing the right thing by avoiding the business. They'll never beat Alabama or Ohio State in football anywhere outside of video games.
The problem with Dr. Fry's apparent self-righteousness about avoiding football is he's currently sitting on a basketball program that's a disaster. As decisive as he makes himself sound in this column, he could not appear any more indecisive in how he's managed Drexel's only Division I
sport of financial concern.
Let's not kid ourselves that being nationally ranked in anything other than football or basketball gives our administration permission to brag about their business practices to other schools. Most of us aren't going to dress ourselves in Drexel gear from head to toe and run down Market Street screaming after a big squash win. I don't mean to diminish their accomplishment, although I inevitably am and unfortunately offending these athletes is almost unavoidable, but their success must be put into perspective of what it means on a larger scale. I hope the young men and women from sports not named men's basketball use the lessons they learned playing sports to represent Drexel positively in whatever career they choose.
But as we experienced in 2006, beating Villanova and Syracuse at basketball will fill the DAC and bring back Drexel alums who have wandered astray. Beating them at pretty much any other sport will undoubtedly be a milestone event for those participating, but will cause only a fleeting sense of pride
for the rest of the university community. So in the only sport that can have the greatest positive (or negative) impact on the perception of Drexel University, we fail. Our last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 1996 when most of the DAC Pack alumni were still in grade school.
The only postseason tournament run the men's basketball program has had of significance was the 2012 NIT which ended in an epic collapse that saw the team blow a 20 point lead. Many other seasons have ended in first round CAA Tournament losses to lower seeds that the team should've handled easily. The struggles of this season have been well documented so I won't get into it too much. They're 2-12, but worst of all, they're still guided by the same head coach who has made the same excuses after failed seasons for a decade and a half. His postgame interviews put the blame squarely on his student athletes because they "didn't make a shot". Bruiser Flint couldn't get away with his performance record at any university that's making an effort to have a successful program. We've been beyond patient as supporters. Firing a coach after 2-3 years of mediocrity is another example of the dark side of college athletics, but what we've had to watch in the DAC for years has given even the most enthusiastic Drexel supporters no good reason to continue following the program.
Which brings us back to Dr. Fry. He seemed careful to focus on football rather than basketball as he only very briefly mentioned the sport that's sadly become so embarrassing to Drexel. It couldn't have been by accident. A more interesting column would be his philosophy on the major Division-I sport he does have. It wouldn't make his overall business model look too great so he's smart for this omission.
We're only left to speculate, and given his attitude towards football along with the mediocrity turned failure he's allowed over the last few years under Bruiser Flint, my guess is he would pull the plug on basketball in a heart beat. It would be really unfortunate if he's keeping basketball around just to collect enough TV money to keep the squash team running. I'd call that hypocrisy and wanting to have your cake and eat it too.
It's been even more frustrating to watch the Drexel program fade because we've have a front row seat to VCU basketball's rise to prominence. Even La Salle has been treated to a Cinderella run within the last 5 years. We've chosen to let ourselves become stale which should sacrifice our right to tell any other university how to go about their business.
One last note: it drives me nuts that this article was in a business magazine. Higher education is not a business. It shouldn't be wasteful and should be wise with how it spends money, but mixing business with education is dangerous. It ignores things like the value of having an actual professor teach you a course instead of a computer. And it ignores the value of setting a campus on fire with enthusiasm during an NCAA Tournament run or the life experiences and friendships that are made by supporting your school all over the country. Some of those friendships have unfortunately faded because we don't have a basketball program we're proud of to talk about. A once vibrant online message board where fans from as far away as Asia and Europe gathered to talk Dragons basketball just recently
went offline after months of little to no traffic. I've driven hundreds of miles to see us play Kentucky and I'll get up at 3 AM to see a game from over here in Japan while proudly wearing my Drexel gear in a foreign country.
Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but I haven't set any alarms for squash matches.