As we reach the final days before tip-off of a new year of college basketball, fans across the country begin looking ahead to the upcoming season. Some fanbases look forward to seeing their team defend a conference championship or earn another bid to the NCAA tournament. Others anticipate building on momentum carried forward from the previous season even if they didn’t ultimately meet their goal in March. For fans of Drexel University basketball, however, the run up to the new season has been the least anticipated in over a decade.
Several years ago, President John A. Fry wrote to the Wall Street Journal.
“College sports can foster community and build allegiance and visibility for the institution,” he said.
We agree wholeheartedly. All of us co-signed are former leaders of the DAC Pack dating back to the group’s early days. We have seen first-hand how basketball can do exactly the things Fry mentioned.
From the mid-2000s to the early 2010s both the men’s and women’s basketball programs fielded teams that were among the best in the school’s history. We used the phrase #PackTheDAC and for most games it was indeed full. And loud. Really, really loud. Students were having fun. We’d march down 33rd Street and take over the Palestra. We had multiple busses taking students down to the conference tournaments. ESPN would televise games from the Daskalakis Athletic Center. The DAC Pack was ranked as one of the best student sections in the nation. It’s not an exaggeration to say that most of the alumni who follow the program came through Drexel during those years and were standing and cheering night in and night out.
Unfortunately, that atmosphere and goodwill toward the program has mostly vanished. Alumni are choosing to save their hard-earned money instead of putting it toward season tickets. Last season, men’s basketball attendance fell to its lowest point in 25 years — last in the city and in the conference. But don’t get it wrong, alumni still care and follow the program. Several alumni-run fan sites, blogs, social media accounts and other initiatives have maintained strong readership and engagement. When the men’s team set an NCAA record for the largest comeback in a game against rival Delaware, people popped out of the woodwork to text about it or share it on Facebook. When the women’s team was in the CAA Championship game at the DAC in March, the building was full with the best atmosphere in years. There is definitely still a desire among the university community for a thriving Drexel basketball program.
If D1 hoops is to be the nexus of pride that it is on so many campuses, and as it once was at Drexel, then President Fry and the university at-large must lean into that desire. Where are the TV games to garner interest from lapsed fans? Where are the billboards on Philadelphia’s major highways to drive awareness about the renovated DAC? Where is the strategy for driving ticket sales within the 75,000 alumni living in the Philadelphia region? Where is the on-campus branding and support?
The name of that Wall Street Journal piece Fry wrote was “We’re Glad We Say No to College Football.” The majority of Drexel’s most diehard sports fans would agree with his opinion that we should not pursue that sport. We had hoped that it meant he would care about the sport that has the most potential visibility and where success can fuel growth of all athletic programs and the university as a whole. We didn’t realize his follow up actions as Drexel’s president would be eagerly saying “yes” to squash at what appears to be the expense of institutional support for, and promotion of, Drexel Dragons basketball.
The announcement of the Armory conversion to the Arlen Specter U.S. Squash Center drummed up a lot of attention among the alumni base and it was overwhelmingly negative, matching the anger, dismay and general questioning of the university’s motives that students shared in a Sept. 28 article from The Triangle titled “Armory to become new U.S. Squash National Center.”
At its core, the issue isn’t that the dream of the Armory as a basketball arena and convocation center is officially dead. No, the underlying issue is that the university apparently has the resources to give the Armory and its multipurpose use away to an outside organization while committing capital toward an alternative space for students, all while our most prominent sport is seemingly an afterthought. It’s not unfair to say that squash has limited appeal as a sport people will watch or come together as a university community to support.
Drexel already has a sport that can do those things. Those of us that are still committed to the idea of a strong Drexel basketball program aren’t going to let it die. We’ve adopted #TakeBackTheDAC as our new motto. If President Fry still cares about what he wrote a few years ago, hopefully he and the university will join us in making that happen. Those of us co-signed, with the help from the university, made it happen for more than a decade. We’d welcome a chance to meet with President Fry before, during or after the season to discuss how to do it again.
Written and/or co-signed by the following former executives of the DAC Pack,
Mike Wychulis 2004
Nick Intrierri 2005
Dan Crain 2006
Tino Cerimele 2007
Japkeerat Singh Bindra 2008
Rob Falcone 2009
Bill Torr 2010
Marshall Fleming 2011
Anthony D’Angelo 2012
Matt Morabito 2013