My take: For UD athletics, it was ‘go big or go home’


News about the University of Delaware joining Conference USA exploded online beginning on Monday when reports that a deal was near. The report was confirmed the next day (See story below).

There were mixed emotions among some about joining a conference that’s unknown in these parts to all but die-hard college sports fans.

Its members are scattered around the country and come from as far away as West Texas and New Mexico.

One familiar name is Sam Houston State. That’s where former UD football coach KC Keeler landed and enjoyed success after being fired here a decade ago.

In the end, Delaware had little choice but to move up to Division 1 status and change partners. Nowadays, even mid-sized land grant universities seeking to attract students and donor money can’t be content with second-tier football status. The price of admission will be a  $5 million pay-to-play application fee from the NCAA.


$5 million entrance fee. 

The change will also distance the Newark campus from its ambitions to be viewed as a “Little Ivy League” school that liked playing smaller fry in New England. It will work to keep that status alive on the academic side.

An overriding factor was the scramble to join conferences. UD’s one-time rival in Virginia, James Madison, went the Division 1 route and joined the Sun Belt Conference, which now has more than a dozen members.

The domino effect nationwide is leading to the likely collapse of the once-powerful Pac 10 on the West Coast and continued reshuffling elsewhere.

Conference USA is eager to gain members after seeing half a dozen other schools going elsewhere earlier in the decade. 

UD had been preparing for this day for years by spending heavily to bulk up its athletic facilities, despite previous indications that students do not place  a big priority on athletics. UD also lacks the sometimes fanatical major university fan base that will scramble to get season tickets.

A good fit for Conference USA

Still, the university  seems to be a good fit for the new partner and adds some prestige to a conference loaded with little-known schools. UD will immediately rank as a top academic and research institution within Conference USA. It is also a standout in supporting women’s sports.

We have learned from media reports that UD spends heavily on athletics compared to its peers at Conference USA, even though it abruptly cut a beloved track and field program years ago. Moreover, football and basketball are not cash cows. Over the long term, TV contracts and other spiffs will aid UD’s bottom line. 

Some would have preferred the elite small college status of the Tubby Raymond football era.

But it doesn’t work that way in  2023  and UD had no choice but to go big or go home. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.