- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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This October, in a game that shouldn't be played because of a contract that shouldn't have been signed, little Delaware State will face Michigan in the Big House.
If you made a list of the 10 dumbest things ever done by university administrators, Delaware State's decision to play Michigan would be Nos. 1-5. It was so dumb that nobody from the school can (or will) explain the anatomy of a football deal that forces it to forfeit a conference game. DSU has to forfeit its Oct. 17 game against North Carolina A&T because school negotiators somehow forgot to rearrange the team's existing schedule.
OK, that's a tiny bit unfair. They didn't forget as much as they simply didn't do it. But instead of giving up its $500,000 guarantee from Michigan, Delaware State said it would rather forfeit a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game and, in the process, compromise the integrity of its league and its final standings.
"The regrets are numerous at this point on the mistake that was made," says new Delaware State athletic director Derek Carter. "And no question a mistake was made."
Carter had nothing to do with this mess. This was a deal made by, well, who knows? At the time -- and University of Michigan officials say they sent the contracts to Delaware State early last fall -- DSU didn't have an athletic director, per se. Instead, said a Delaware State spokesperson, "the university handled the larger projects, i.e., the Michigan deal."
But when you try to talk to Carlos Holmes, the university's public relations officer, he sends word that he has nothing to say, that any questions should be directed to Carter. More dumbness.
So in review, Delaware State wants Carter -- a guy who was the athletic director at Bowie State last fall, who only started work at DSU on May 11, who nearly fell off his chair when he was told about the Michigan agreement and subsequent conference forfeiture -- to explain why the Hornets are already 0-1 three months before the season starts.
"I can tell you what I know," says Carter.
For starters, he knows that he doesn't know who pulled the trigger on the ridiculous deal.
"The administration was kind of collectively overseeing athletic operations," he says. "I am truly unclear if one person made the decision."
He knows there was "a miscommunication" with other conference schools regarding schedule changes. Delaware State, a Division I Championship Subdivision program, apparently thought it had an understanding with MEAC opponents Norfolk State and North Carolina A&T. Norfolk State would give up its Oct. 3 bye week to play the Hornets; Delaware State would then switch its originally scheduled Oct. 17 game against North Carolina A&T to Nov. 14; and Norfolk State would use Nov. 14 as its actual bye week.
Problem is, Norfolk State officials say they never agreed, verbally or otherwise, to the proposed changes. The switch would have meant Norfolk State would have had to play 10 consecutive weeks without a break. So it said no.
Conference commissioner Dennis Thomas couldn't broker a settlement. Delaware State couldn't break its dumb deal with Michigan without paying a buyout penalty. Instead, Delaware State sold its soul and its conference out for $500K.
"It's essential that you're committed to your conference," says Carter. "You never abandon your conference schedule ... Obviously this wouldn't happen under my watch."
It would be one thing if Delaware State's athletic department balance sheet was underwater, if the school was trying to salvage its sports programs with Michigan's $500,000. "But I don't think that's the issue that we're facing," says Carter.
No, there aren't any plans to cut any of the 18 varsity sports at Delaware State. So where is the Michigan money going? Well, there's a budget meeting this week ...
"I would hope as athletic director that the athletic department will benefit from the guarantee," says Carter.
Good luck on that.
The truly unnerving part of this story is that other schools might be tempted to copy Delaware State. Just take the money, stick it to the conference schedule, plead stupidity and cash the check.
As it is, an asterisk ought to be placed next to the 2009 MEAC final standings. Just think if that forfeit to North Carolina A&T (according to A&T's records, the first-ever forfeit-related victory) affects who wins the league championship. How many apology notes will DSU acting president Claiborne Smith have to write to the other conference members?
Understandably so, Carter says he'd like to move forward, "to take a negative and make it a positive." But there is no positive. The Hornets will get to play in the 106,201-seat Michigan Stadium -- a football memory, to be sure -- but at what cost? The Delaware State administration stuck it to its conference, to its own football coach and team, and to its new athletic director.
"Don't make the same mistake twice," says Carter, when asked about the lessons learned from the fiasco.
Or in this case, don't make the mistake once.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.