Competition in Higher Education

The decision to expand the coaching staff in 1963 was an indication that University President Rev. Raymond A. Roesch and the Board of Trustees recognized the increasing importance of athletics to the success of colleges and universities nationwide. [12] By the first half of the 1960s the number of students attending college continued to grow thanks to the efforts of the Federal Government through plans of the President’s Commission on Higher Education [13]. So too had the number of universities competing for those students. In previous decades the Marianist brothers had cannily positioned the school as the institution of higher learning in the city of Dayton by changing its name from St. Mary’s College to the University of Dayton. However, by the 1960s there were signs that it’s local hold on higher education was coming to an end.

Initiatives to build additional institutions of higher learning in Dayton were gaining momentum and would ultimately lead to the expansion of Sinclair Community College and the merger of Ohio State University and Miami University branch campuses into Wright State University. Regional competition was also increasing. Schools such as Miami University, University of Cincinnati, University of Toledo, and Ohio State University were expanding. Like other schools around the country, these institutions were also building new athletic facilities to attract students to campus. Although already inadequate by the late 1950s, the Fieldhouse was dearly loved by many. One Flyer alumnus recalled the impact the building had on him. “I kept a scrapbook as a little kid and attended the first win at the Fieldhouse on Dec 6, 1950, against none other than Bowling Green, 57-45 with almost 5,000 in attendance. The Fieldhouse had just opened 4 days earlier on Dec 2.” The memory of that event as child had influenced the boy’s decision to attend UD. [14] By the mid-1960s a few at the school had begun to realize they needed a new venue in order to attract another generations of students.

(Above) Newspaper clipping from roughly 1965 emphasizing the youth movement in UD atheletics, “Young of Both Heart and Body” Source: Frericks Family Private Collection. (Right) Publicity still of Tom Frericks taken around 1956, “Young of Both Heart and Body” Source: Frericks Family Private Collection.

The administration recognized the need for more proactive steps to grow the athletic program while carefully managing costs. In the spring of 1963, Blackburn had met with University administrators and explained that “we outgrew our fieldhouse a long time ago[.]” If our opponent “starts to build new fieldhouses […] we will find a pinch in recruiting. It is harder for me to recruit now than it was five years ago.” [15] These goals contributed to the decision in 1964 to hire Tom Frericks, Don Donoher’s superior and head basketball coach at Chaminade-Julienne High School, to be the UD’s new Athletic Director, a position he would ultimately hold for 28 years. [16]  Although Frericks lacked the experience at for the job he struck the stewards of the institution as the business-oriented leader the school needed. It proved to have been an inspired choice. Frericks was a detailed strategist with a good eye for evolving trends in the business of college athletics. Most of all, Frericks had  the vision to imagine how UD might take advantage of these developments.

Frericks Takes Charge

By the time Frericks took the job as Athletic Director, enrollment at the university had swollen to over 7,000. Only about 1,200 seats in the Fieldhouse were be allocated to students, leaving most students unable to attend games. Attendance figures of home games throughout these years remained virtually unchanged from night to night at 5,882. That figure—a number well above the stated seating capacity of the building—reveals that the athletic program was missing out on $10,000 in revenue. Consequently, Frericks began to press the administration to build a new arena. In a letter written to the University Business Manager Brother Francis J. Perko in March of 1965, Frericks requested a greater proportion of revenue from ticket sales to go to the athletic department and made it clear to the board that the university was missing opportunities to increase its revenue.

“Fieldhouse Original Seating Plan” Source: Dayton eCommons,

Of the 2,000 seats allocated for students and staff at each of the teams fifteen home games only about 1,200 seats actually went to students, at the cost of $2.00 each ($15.74 in 2018). [17] Due to limitations, some students could only attend every fourth or fifth game. As a result, the university, and the athletics department, was losing valuable funding. For example, if the seating available to students increased to 3500, equal to the number of seats available for students at away games at the University of Cincinnati in 1965, gross student ticket sales would increase by $4,600 ($36,200) each game. [18] Frericks argued that the lack of students was also affecting the university’s bottom line. Many of those who were turned away from the Fieldhouse doors were potential donors as well.

Limited as his options were Frericks immediately took action to improve the future opportunities of the basketball program. Examining the Fieldhouse floor plan, Frericks noticed that space between the team benches was largely wasted. Squeezing the two benches together created thirty-two additional seats. Because the revenue from these seats was inconsequential, Frericks gave half of these seats to Coach Donoher to use in recruitment. Frericks doled out the remaining sixteen seats to potential program donors. Reading through athletic director’s correspondence it quickly becomes evident that Frericks frequently used the offer of free tickets to cement the good will of city officials, business leaders, and wealthy Daytonians. These seats were part of his bigger plan. “From the day he took over the job,” Donoher explained, “Frericks had a vision. He knew the university had to get a bigger place to play if it was going to survive.” “Frericks was not a schmoozer,” Donoher continued. “He was a master strategist.” [19]

Frericks recognized that the limitations the Fieldhouse placed the UD basketball program and the university more broadly at a competitive disadvantage relative to other schools who  were already playing in larger arenas or were in the process of building them. A larger arena would provide the university greater revenue needed to pay for the growth of athletic programs. It also allowed the school to recruit better athletes. Moreover, prestigious programs that played in larger venues might decide not schedule the Flyers to into their series. Notre Dame, the country’s premier Catholic Institution, had already done so. Back in 1949, Athletic Director Baujan had said much the same thing about the need to build the Fieldhouse. “This should go a long way toward improving our intercollegiate basketball program,” Baujan said after it was built. “It will make it possible for us to book games with larger schools, and should give us a par with any school in this section of the country.” [20]

It was a testament to how big college sports had become in such a short period that the Fieldhouse was now a liability. Coach Donoher illustrated the dilemma when he recalled a story about of the December 28th 1966 visit by the legendary Al McGuire and his Marquette Golden Eagles. At the morning shoot-around, Donoher recalled that he arrived to hear McGuire telling Roesch, “We are not going to come down here and play anymore. This is nothing but a gym. Why should I play here and you come to Milwaukee and get to play in an arena?” [21] McGuire, then in only his third year as head coach, was sensitive to the emerging landscape of money, prestige, and pressure in college basketball. Playing a home and away series against the Flyers made little sense in strictly business terms. That night the Flyers came away with 95-76 win over Golden Eagles squad. While the victory no doubt took some of the sting out of McGuires’ words it did not make the Fieldhouse any bigger. They both understood the future success of their program was in danger and that they seemed powerless to do anything about the situation.