By: Chris Zimmer – Columnist, Junior
It’s 1 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, which should only mean one thing for Dayton Flyers athletics – football.
The Flyers are 6-2 after crossing the halfway point of the season, and are dominating their opponents. The offense is averaging more than 30 points and 400 yards per game, and the defense has forced 13 interceptions and scooped up 12 fumbles.
The team is sitting at the No. 3 slot in Pioneer Football League with a 4-1 conference record, and the package of a conference championship and Division I FCS playoff birth could be waiting at the end of the season if the team can finish strong.
The highlight of the season so far is kicker Will William’s fumble recovery for a touchdown against Marist, which went viral on the Internet and was featured on ESPN’s Sportscenter.
However, there’s a more subtle highlight currently going on for the team: an undefeated record at home.
Currently, the team is 4-0 at Welcome Stadium, and its remaining opponents don’t have a good track record on the road.
A win on the road against Butler, who has a 4-5 record (2-4 in the PFL), Nov. 15 would surely help as well. Butler has been struggling and a win would help vault the team higher in the league’s upper echelon.
So, what’s been the x-factor for the Flyers playing in Welcome Stadium this season?
It might be the crowd attendance.
“There’s great competition and ambiance at Welcome Stadium,” WUDR Sports Director and Flyer News Assistant Sports Editor Keith Raad said.
An average of 2,986 attendees have gone to a home football game this season, but only once has it been filled halfway.
During ‘Family Weekend’ at the University of Dayton, 5,839 people showed up for the victory against Robert Morris.
“The Family Weekend game really promotes itself,” Ryan Phillips, the Red Scare president said. “Everyone loves to go out and tailgate – especially with their families.”
So why is it so hard to get students and the Dayton community to attend a football game?
“It’s tough to convince students to ride a white bus over to the game on Saturday afternoons,” Phillips said. “The games are fun, but it’s hard to feel the same amount of school spirit and energy as you do with other fall sports, or even men’s basketball.”
Even though head coach Rick Chamberlin makes regular appearances on local radio and TV, the bottom line is the Flyer football program is a tough sell to the region compared to the Ohio State Buckeyes, Cincinnati Bearcats and Miami Redhawks – who usually play during the same time as the Flyers.
“Some say it’s the distance between campus and the stadium, but I don’t believe that,” Radd said. “Other schools have the same kind of problem.
Both Raad and Phillips notice students tend to identify themselves with other schools when it comes to football because they’re closer to home and the level of play.
“The FCS is always going to be a lower-tier football division because of competition, but it just goes back to the livelihood of everything involved – economics,” Raad went on. “To produce a good product you need investors and a marketing plan. The funds attached to advertisers will fall in next.”
It’s not hard for the team to find motivation though, despite playing in front of a half empty stadium at home.
“No one is forcing us to play,” four-year starter, senior quarterback and captain, Will Bardo said. “We’re all here because we love the game.
There is never a lack of motivation or energy on the field whether there is 1,000 or 5,000 people in the stands.”
Bardo said the UD football program and school are unique compared to other universities.
“It’s a lot different here,” he said. “It’s unlike a lot of schools where you either have a good football team or good academics. It’s usually one or the other.”
Phillips thinks if the team keeps winning, the students will notice and attendance will go up.
Except there is one problem: Dayton football is a historically successful program. If they’ve been good in the past and people haven’t been coming, why would that change if the team is good in the future?
They made it to the NCAA Division III Championship five times, winning in 1980 and 1989, and losing in 1981, 1987 and 1991.
After the birth of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League in 1992, the team won 11 titles in ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97, ’99, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’07, ’09, and ’10.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the Flyers have the third best winning percentage in the FCS (behind Harvard and Montana), and produced 22 Academic All-Americans – the most out of any college football team in the country.
“We all knew what we were getting into when we decided to play here,” Bardo said. “Most of the guys on the team had the chance to attend schools where they could receive an athletic scholarship and play in front a big crowd.”