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Wayne State football: Go Warriors!

If you are a football fan, you probably know that the Detroit Lions won a thrilling comeback victory yesterday, and are having their best season in something like a million years.

If you know a lot about University of Michigan athletics, you may know that the athletic department has a budget of $110 million, of which football takes the biggest share. Michigan State’s athletic budget is about $80 million.

And then there is Wayne State University, the smallest of Michigan‘s big three constitutional universities, the one that is in the middle of Detroit. They do have a football team, but until very recently, almost nobody paid attention. This year, the football team’s entire budget was less than $200,000.

I have to confess that I have taught there for many years, but I have never seen a game. That’s not because tickets were hard to come by. Most of the time, the team was regarded as something between an afterthought and a joke.

For a long time, they won almost no games at all.

Then a year ago, something odd happened.

The team, which a few years ago changed its name to the Warriors, began winning. They had almost no money and less marketing and propaganda apparatus. About the only major publicity they got was when the team’s popular cornerback, Cortez Smith, was shot to death outside a nightclub last spring.

Witnesses said he had been trying to break up a fight and was doing nothing wrong. Somehow, his death seemed to galvanize the team. They won and won and ended up in the NCAA playoffs, where they won four more games.

Unfortunately, these were the Division Two playoffs, and in college football, separate is most definitely not equal. You don’t get on television, not unless you make the very final playoff game.

Players don’t get their faces on magazine covers, offers of endorsements and scouts begging you to drop out and turn pro.

Wayne State doesn’t has a single player who has a full scholarship. Oh, they could have a few, but they divide up the money so all the players get some help.

Well, this year Wayne State did get on television, because they made that final playoff game, which was played in Alabama two days ago. I watched part of it on a big screen TV at an Applebee’s restaurant in West Branch. The Warriors started strong and fought hard, but in the end, they lost.

They lost the game, that is. They may also now lose their coach, who may jump to the University of Akron. But they haven’t lost their heart, and their university hasn’t lost its soul. Wayne State’s athletic director, Rob Fournier, told Crain’s Detroit Business that he hoped the football team inspired alumni and other fans to donate money -- to things like the law school or the physics department.

“Football isn’t going to run the campus. Academics are,” he said. Somehow, I can’t imagine Bo Schembechler saying those words. Wayne is never going to jump to Division One football, and I am glad. But the school has its priorities straight, and I think we  should consider adopting the Warriors as Michigan’s official team.

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